This is based on a Stephen King article I talked about in “Everything You Need to Know.”
King states that to be a successful writer, you must remove every extraneous word. Specifically, if “you want to write for money? Get to the point.”
There are several things King could be referring to with this statement. In the article, he gave an example of a piece he wrote for a newspaper where the editor removed the flowery language. To this point, your writing should match the style of the publication. Writing for a newspaper, magazine, your personal blog, and as a copywriter are all different. Some formats may allow for flowery language, but most do not. They are tailored to the reader and the reader want to get to the “what’s in it for me” point as quickly as possible.
For writing fiction, removing extraneous words might seem contradictory. After all, writers are always being told to “show” instead of “tell” and to show the reader something you have to describe it in detail for pages and pages so the reader has a perfect image of the item, place, person, etc.
Not exactly. There are ways to show the reader the image without spending pages describing a leaf. Some years ago, I read the Earth’s Children series by Jean M. Auel. The first book, The Clan of the Cave Bear, was decent. A few descriptions were a little long, but Auel was setting the stage for a story set in the Ice Age and things were a tad bit different back then. Her attention to detail showed her devotion to her research and creating the proper setting for her story. The problem with the series is that books 2-6 are highly repetitive and overly descriptive. I finished the series because I like to finish a series once I start it, but I skimmed sections and it seem the skimmed sections increased with each passing book. For example, the last book was roughly 848 pages and I only probably read about 250-300 pages and skimmed the rest.
In a series, there will be references throughout the books to things or people from earlier books. That’s fine. The first time the thing, person, or place is introduced, give us the descriptors. When that thing, person, or place comes up in the next book, a brief description to remind readers what, who, where is sufficient. If the detail is important, include it. In a single novel, if your main character wearing a green striped shirt is important, leave it in the story. If that detail doesn’t define your main character or give the reader a clue to some future event, take it out.
Oh, and one more thing…watch out for the word “that.” Make sure “that” is actually needed every time you use it. I find most of the time [that] it isn’t needed.