Short Sharp Snap By Jessica Wright

When I started writing I read a book which talked about cutting surplus words to lower the word count. How stupid! I thought, I’m want more words, not less.

It was only when I had a first draft of my first manuscript (still fairly short) that I realized approximately half was drivel – the surplus words I had refused to cut. They now disappeared under the delete key.

Even though my prospective novel had now shrunk to novella size, I was happier with it than before. Short, sharp prose is better than long-winded novels. Snappy novella’s sell. Boring novels languish in drawers.

Below is one of the most agonizing example from my original manuscript (please don’t laugh!):

“Katherine twisted around. She found that she could not push herself backwards. She was stuck. She could not move forwards or backwards. There was no way out.”

This became, “Katherine was stuck.”

When writing my first draft I tried desperately to increase my word count, now I pride myself on every sentence cut. Twenty-seven words to three. Not bad.

Congratulate yourself on every lowered word count: a word you can cut is a word your readers will skip or, worse, a word that will jolt them out of your story. A writer is not judged by the quantity of his or her words, but the quality.

That isn’t to say that you should skimp on the early drafts – I’m a firm believer in getting everything down on paper so I can’t miss anything out. Neither should you cut anything which is vital to the story – simply slash the dead wood.

You remember what your teacher taught you about using a good vocabulary? Well forget it. A wide vocabulary is useful for finding that perfect word, but long words are often out of place and will slow your words down. Short, sharp snap is the answer. Your reader’s will appreciate it.

Read through the last piece of writing you finished with a more critical eye. What can be cut? You’ll find pet phrases – phrases which have no obvious use. A favourite of mine was, “it seemed that”. Not only do constructions such as this increase you word count, but they also weaken the story:

“It seemed as if the clouds might burst with rain.”

“The clouds were bursting with rain.”

Try cutting at least a few words for every paragraph – cheer when you lose an entire line! The phrases “…felt as if…” and “…appeared to be…” are fair game for this:

“He appeared to be a rat.”

“He was a rat.”

Which do you thinks sounds better? I thought so too. He either was a rat or he wasn’t – don’t be ambiguous.

Even if lowering your word count seems like a pointless exercise at the time, take it from me – your writing will be shorter, sharper and snappier for it.

Jessica Wright has published clips in magazines such as ‘The Rainy Day Corner Print Magazine’ and the ‘Young Writer’ magazine. She has recently won the ‘Biff’s Boards Fall Short Story Contest’ with her story ‘Checkmate’ ( While working on her children’s novel, Jessica copes with schoolwork, exams and a younger sister.

Copyright Jessica Wright 2002


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