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?
To journey far to the places in my mind,
to touch, smell, see, taste, hear, and find
the words that wait for the breath of life;
This is writing.
To give life through labored anticipation,
to join with God in the gift of creation,
in awe of the life-giving power of words;
This is writing.
To bring forth from my soul this offering,
to my God, the first-fruits of story I bring,
then bare my soul for the sake of another’s;
This is writing.
To watch what I’ve nurtured go on its way,
to caress, then release it–never forgetting to pray,
that, with God’s blessing, I can give life again;
This is writing.
The journey of being a novelist is often noted for its solitary confinement. We sit at our keyboards and attempt to give birth to a dream, a calling, a passion. We place words on a page like a painter carefully brushes colors across a canvas. It is hard work. And it is the kind of hard work that no one else can do for us. We have to write our stories.
There’s no graph in the front of any novel that charts the ups and downs the writer met during the writing of that book. And if we’ve done our job well, the reader will not think about the author when they’re nose is buried in the book and they are “in the story.” It is, after all, all about the story that God has given us to write.
One of the sources of encouragement that jolts us with bursts of energy is the opportunity to meet other writers who understand the journey. In other words, they’re as weird as we are. Some of these people are published authors, but many are still trying to get their foot in the door. I am blessed by them all in so many ways.
Friends like Joe Courtmanche, whose vibrant personality blesses me in countless ways. Joe has a blog www.commotioninthepews.com I encourage you to visit it and enjoy his wide-ranging posts. Joe is one of the most decent people I’ve ever met and I’m glad to count him as a friend. And I am confident that it won’t be long until you are reading one of his books. Another friend is Karl Bacon. Karl has written a book called An Eye For Glory. It’s an amazing book that captures a slice of time during the Civil War with characters that will grab your heart and open your eyes. Go get that book now….run, don’t walk to your nearest bookstore, or download it in e-book form. You’ll be glad you did. I happen to know that he has a second book done, and hopefully it will soon be available for readers.
I mention these two good men because they represent the kinds of people who work hard to tell great stories. They, like the many great writers in Christian Fiction, are wonderful examples of giftedness expressed through humble spirits. There are others I could mention, like Deborah Raney and Nancy Mehl, who are great examples of humble stewards in the Lord’s service.
Writers, at least the ones I’ve met, are people who love their craft, love their readers, and–most importantly–love their Lord. I’m honored to know them.