“The Danger of Making a Long Story Short”

Word usage is of key importance in writing. We’re told to use active words instead of passive words, evocative terms rather than lifeless ones, and we even characterize our manuscripts by “word count” instead of number of pages. All of us have heard the critical advice to cut out “weasel” words, and, thereby, unclutter our WIPs. All of this is wise. But sometimes saying something in the least amount of words actually makes thing worse.

Here are some examples of what I mean. These are, reportedly, actual statements found on insurance forms where drivers attempted to summarize the details of an accident in the fewest words possible.

  • Coming home, I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree I don’t have.
  • I collided with a stationary truck coming the other way.
  • The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.
  • I was on my way to the doctor with rear end trouble when my universal joint gave way, causing me to have an accident.
  • The indirect cause of the accident was a little guy with a big mouth.
  • I was thrown from my car as it left the road. I was later found in a ditch by some stray cows.
  • The telephone pole was approaching. I was attempting to swerve out of its way when it struck the front end.
  • I’d been driving for forty years, when I fell asleep causing the accident.
  • As I approached the intersection, a signal appeared in a place where no stop sign had ever appeared before. I was unable to stop in time to avoid the accident.
  • My car was legally parked as it backed into the other vehicle.
  • An invisible car came out of nowhere and struck my car and vanished.
  • I told the police that I was not injured, but on removing my hat, found that I had a fractured skull.
  • I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and headed over the embankment.

It isn’t the amount of words, but the right amount of words that matters. Yes, often things can be said using fewer words. I’m all for efficiency. But there are also times that we edit ourselves into trouble, being more concerned about counting words than using words that count. Sometimes we get in trouble when we try to “make a long story short.”

What do you think?

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13 Comments

Filed under Christian Fiction, editing, Larry W. Timm, reading, Writing

13 responses to ““The Danger of Making a Long Story Short”

  1. Those are hilarious. They certainly put a smile on my face. The obsession with word count is so damning. I’m a YA writer, and I know YA writers are obsessed with not going beyond 100,000 words. But then you find these 500 page tomes written by first-time authors, and you find yourself questioning constantly the word count obsession. I agree sentences should be tightened, but it should be done without sacrificing your style, or the voice of your character.

    • Amber, Thanks for commenting. Obviously, writers who desire tranditional publishing will have to adhere to the “guidelines” of whatever publishing house they are with, but even those give some room. Like you, I think that using whatever amount of words makes the story stronger is the way to go.

      • Yes, I went the independent house route. I mean, my book is below 100,000 words, but I didn’t intend for it to be. It just came out that way, and I’m happy with it.

  2. Too funny, Larry! Especially since I toss half of what I write! (See? Just Tossed seven words!)

  3. Mary Gessner

    This is really good. And, funny, too. As usual, you made your point with just the right number of words. Good job! As always. :o)

  4. Thanks for the laughs.

    Going the other way, I read the unabridged version of a book by a famous author. I kept thinking, There’s a reason the editor cut this in the original version.

    As for me, I add words to my original too-short drafts.

    • I suppose that there are good reasons why “guidelines” come into being. And, yes, editors usually have a pretty good grasp of things, don’t they. Thanks for stopping by, Bonnie.

  5. These are hilarious! And they prove that the goal isn’t to say something in the fewest number of words but rather to say something with the best possible words. Helping writers find the best way to communicate their ideas is one of the things I love best about being a freelance editor.

    • Thanks, Candace. I have a great respect for freelance editors, and have used the same one (Deborah Raney) on both my manuscripts. Thanks for helping writers look their best. Blessings to you on your work.

  6. Why is it I can rely on you for wisdom & to make me laugh so hard I end up crying? I’ll have to show this to my non-writing husband!

    And you’re so spot-on right about the power of words.

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