Shandy Lawson Challenge: Writing Compactly

Shandy LawsonSometimes the words just flow and flow. And in the end, you’re left with . . . er, a LOT of words. What do you do once you finish your first draft? How do you polish your piece to perfection?

At Figment, we love to get advice from published authors. These folks have often worked on several drafts and have smart thoughts on editing. Today, Shandy Lawson, author of the debut novel, The Loopshares his advice on word choice and trimming the excess adjectives and adverbs from your story.

Stay tuned to the end and check out our new writing challenge. You could see your story featured on the Figment homepage alongside The Loop!

My writing style is what I like to call compact. I enjoy the challenge of saying a lot with few words, though it can make for a pretty short book—The Loop comes in somewhere around 38,000 words. But the result is a story that moves quickly, driven by impactful sentences with impact and no redundancy.

A quick experiment: Open your current work in progress and search for every instance of the word that. You’ll probably find [that] in most cases, you can delete it. Example:

Here is the book that I wrote. < Here is the book I wrote.

I think I cut my very first manuscript down by eight percent when I did a search and destroy mission for that.

Adverbs and adjectives have to go, too. Yeah, I know back in high school they taught you to be descriptive by throwing adjectives everywhere, but try this instead: Rather than use two adjectives, pick the best one and go with it. Or find a new one altogether. Or don’t use any adjectives at all, and instead use the perfect noun. Example:

The fast red car drove quickly away.

What’s important here? Is it that the car is red, or that it’s fast? I’d like to think the reader is capable of making color decisions on his own, and fast seems to be the point the writer is trying to make. So I’d get rid of red. But then again, the fast car is possibly the most boring phrase ever; so let’s make it a Ferrari. And Ferraris are commonly red anyway, so we luck out and imply the color we were looking for to begin with. Score!

Of course, now we’re left with:

The Ferrari drove quickly away.

Compared to the first half of the sentence, the second half isn’t looking so exciting anymore. Drove quickly doesn’t really get my heart rate up, so let’s lose the adverb (yay!) and change the verb drove to something more descriptive. Like sped, or tore ass, or rocketed.

The Ferrari rocketed away.

I feel so much better now. Rocketed is kind of cliché, but compare that to the sentence we started with, and you’ll see what I mean. Adjectives prop up weak nouns, and adverbs prop up weak verbs. Pick the right nouns and verbs and you won’t need to add anything else.

Writing Challenge:

The Loop by Shandy LawsonTry cutting down the word count of a story, scene, or paragraph. Start a new writing on Figment. Write something (anything you want!) in 200 words or fewer. Then start a new chapter in the same story, taking what you first wrote and revising it to be no more than 150 words. In total, your combined chapters should make your entry no more than 350 words. Tag your entry CuttingChallenge.

The entry period is open until Monday, May 20 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Figment editors will read all the entries and choose four favorites to appear on the Figment homepage alongside The Loop.

The contest is open to all users. Please read the promotional guidelines for full contest rules.

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4 thoughts on “Shandy Lawson Challenge: Writing Compactly

  1. I’m having trouble getting my story Coffee Grounds entered – I tagged it Cuttingchallenge yesterday and it still hasn’t showed up. Have the entries just not been updated?

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