An Attack on Wordiness:
All the Better for Your Query Letter My Dear Author
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Adapted from the chapter on wordiness in the second edition of The Frugal Editor: Do-it-yourself editing secrets for authors: From your query letter to final manuscript to the marketing of your new bestseller, newly available as an e-book
As writers, we all know that we should avoid wordiness. The trouble is, we become so used to phrases that clutter our speech (and our writing) that we often don’t realize they need a good edit.
I thought I’d share with you some wordy phrases that can always be shortened, though–on rare occasions–you may not want to do that. An example of such an occasion might be in the dialogue of a character who is prone to wordiness. Very occasionally the wordy phrase might reveal your intent more clearly than the shortened one. It’s yours to decide, but when you see these phrases in your writing they’re clear warnings to take heed:
“The exact same…” That’s redundant, huh? “The same” will do.
“Due to the fact that…” Substitute “because.”
“In need of…Just “need to” will usually do.
“In addition to…” is a phrase that often forces you to repeat something you’ve already said.
“Used for purposes of…” How about just “Used for…”
“She is a woman who…” can probably be replaced with the woman’s name or just plain “she.”
“May be in need of…” Shorten that one to “may need.”
There are thousands more, but once you start searching for them, others will become more evident to you. Generally, active sentences are shorter and livelier than sentences that curl back on themselves (sometimes called passive sentences).
You may ask, if these little gremlins litter our speech unnoticed, why worry? Well, they may very well annoy an agent or editor if you use them in a query letter, as an example. These people have been around the publishing yard for a while and will often use wordiness as a determiner: Should they chuck the manuscript or give it a read? I, for one, would prefer not to take that risk.
Mmmmm. “May very well…” in that last paragraph of mine. How about just “may.” Or, better, “might.” It’s nice to write like we talk. It can even help us reflect our personalities in our work. But that “very well” couldn’t add that much to this piece–especially at the risk of ticking off a reader.
I bet you can find others in this post if you look. I’m collecting often-used, wordy phrases. Maybe for a booklet. Maybe for my Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In blog (www.thefrugaleditor.blogspot.com). If you think of any of your own, please let me know. If I include your suggestion, I’ll credit you and include the name of your book and a link to your Web site. Find me at HoJoNews [at] AOL. com or http://www.howtodoitfrugally.com.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of the multi award-winningThe Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t (www.budurl.com/TheFrugalEditor), winner of USA News Best Book Award and the Book Publicists of Southern California’s Irwin Award. The first edition of The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success also won a USA Book News’ award as well as a Reader Views Literary Award and nods from the Military Writers Society and Next Generation Indie Awards. The second edition has been Expanded! Updated! And Reformatted! for easy Kindle reading.
Instructor for nearly a decade at the renowned UCLA Extension Writers’ Program
Author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally books including the second edition honored by USA BOOK NEWS
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