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?