Five-Minute Writing Tips: Part One: Omit Needless Words from Your Narrative
I’m reading the novel All the Light We Cannot See. If there were a Strunk and White writing award for omitting needless words, Anthony Doerr would win hands down. Not only has he taken this edict to heart, he’s omitted words that at first seem necessary, or at least acceptable, but once removed are not missed. I’ve taken the liberty to add a few “acceptable,” words, which are indicated in italics, to one of Doerr’s crisp, compelling paragraphs.
The questions run round and round in his head. He musters the courage to walk to the station and when it is his turn at the window, he nervously buys a ticket for a single passenger on the morning train to Rennes, which will eventually take him to Paris. On his way home, as he walks the narrow, sunless streets back to the rue Vauborel where he is staying, he continues to glance over his shoulder. He will accomplish the task as soon as possible and get it over with, so he can go back to work, staff the key pound before locking things away. It should only take a week, then he will ride unburdened back to Brittany and collect his daughter Marie-Laure.
Now, here’s the original paragraph, sans forty-six needless words, as written by Doerr.
Round and round the questions run. When it is his turn at the window, he buys a ticket for a single passenger on the morning train to Rennes and then on to Paris and walks the narrow, sunless streets back to the rue Vauborel. He will go do this and then it will be over. Back to work, staff the key pound, lock things away. In a week, he will ride unburdened back to Brittany and collect Marie-Laure.
Doerr’s writing is smooth and clean, yet tense. After reading his paragraph, it is clear the words I added are nothing more than clutter. How does a writer learn to write crisp narrative? A good writing practice is to write the best paragraph possible and then cut half the words. Next time you’re in your local independent bookstore, pick up a copy of Indie Bound or visit their website and read the short annotations. They are written with the intention to grab readers with as few words as possible.
Next week’s Five-Minute Writing Tip Part Two: Omit Needless Words from your Dial
The staff at Cave Art Press is greatly saddened to learn of the death of local resident John Tursi. Over the last several months we have been working on a reissue of John’s memoir, Long Journey to the Rose Garden. This book was originally self-published in 1989 by John and his friend and co-author Thelma Palmer.
My husband Don and I have long thought John’s book to be a colorful real-life story deserving of wider readership, and John and Thelma agreed late last year to our proposal to re-publish it. The original book covered John’s hardscrabble Depression-era childhood in Brooklyn, his two years with the Civilian Conservation Corps at Deception Pass State Park, and his experiences as an Army engineer in World War II. We made some editorial revisions and added two new chapters at the end, based on recent interviews with John, that cover John and his wife, Doris’s, retirement years in Anacortes as community volunteers and philanthropists. We have also given the book a new title, A Long Way from Brooklyn: An Italian-American Journey. The book will be available to readers by the end of this month—so the timing of John’s death is unfortunate, not least because he never got to see the completed new edition of his life story.
It is not our intention to exploit his passing as a marketing opportunity, but we thought it important that his story be told. A Long Way from Brooklyn will be available at Watermark Book Company in Anacortes and from us at CaveArtPress.com. The eBook is in production and will be out shortly.