Part iii. How to Stay Clear & Concise

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As attention spans keep getting shorter, clear and concise writing becomes more and more important. In recent years, people have shown a tendency to ignore and scan any content which does not appear to be written concisely. But what is concise writing? Writing which cannot be any shorter or longer.

But it takes some time to use concise writing to your advantage. Ideally, you want your work to have as many readers as possible to judge its work. If your writing isn't concise, however, you may get some readers who like your work. The majority, however, will scan a sentence or two (this is especially typical online) and then run away to the hills, never to come back.

In contrast, if your writing is concise and interesting, these people will not scan or go away. They will read. Of course their reading it doesn't guarantee your success, but it is one step closer all the same. If your writing subject matter interests the readers and if there is something for them in it, then people tend to stay and think. And, if it is great, possibly spread the word as well.

Words, Words, Words

Use strong, active, concrete writing words when writing description. The stronger the writing, the better the description. Use concrete details—such as the detail about the cold ale trickling down Zara's chest as she gulps sloppily. Nouns and verbs are your friends. Adjectives and adverbs can be your friends, or your enemies, depending on how you use them.

What should you avoid? One of the most important things to keep in mind is that you should avoid the abundance of adjectives and adverbs. So many writers suffer from these writing sins, including me. Some writers are notorious for piling on adjectives. Not to mention adverbs, weak qualifiers such as "somewhat," and so forth. Using them in any part of the story weakens your writing. Using them in your descriptions risks putting the readers to sleep.

I won't tell you, like some other writing guides, to never use adverbs. Sometimes you will need adverbs. Sometimes people speak softly or walk slowly, or quickly. Sometimes saying "He walked slowly down the hall..." is right for the story and saying "He plodded down the hall..." is dead wrong.

Oh, and don't go to the thesaurus too often. Yes, I know, sometimes you need another word for "walked." Still, just because it's in the thesaurus under the entry for "walked," that doesn't mean it's the right word for your story. Besides, sometimes it becomes obvious that certain writers are too in love with their thesauruses. Their characters don't just shout—they exclaim and yell and caterwaul. Enough already!

Fit the Description to the Type of Story

If you're writing an action-oriented romance, too much description will get in the way of the pace. James Bond isn't going to stop in the middle of skiing away from gun-toting spies to ponder the beauty of the Alps. He's going to get away from them.

On the other hand, description will be a more important part of many slower-paced stories. If the book is about a hero coming to his hometown to lick his wounds after a divorce, we want to know what the area looks like and why it's so important to him. Also, a spooky paranormal tale might use description to build up the sense of unease—for example, you might linger on descriptions of dark hallways in the old mansion and hint that there are ghosts there.

Don't Let Description Hang You Up during a First Draft

If you're not comfortable with writing description, don't let it get in your way when you're writing the first draft. Remember, you can always go back and add it later. If you have any critique partners, however, you might want to warn them that your early drafts won't have all of the details built in.

Some Concise Writing Tricks

The first ingredient of concise writing is clarity. If clarity isn't in your writing, then, suffice to say, you're doomed.

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