On my first day as a junior reporter at the now defunct Prescot and Huyton Reporter, I was taught a valuable lesson. My editor, who I’ll call ‘Brian’, was of the old school and as I arrived nervously in his office that first morning, he informed he that I had a ‘night job’ that very evening.
Talk about being thrown in at the deep end! I was to cover a horticultural show, get the results and write up a report. Which is where the lesson came in. My article about the event contained the phrase ‘a bouquet of flowers’ and I received my first dressing-down from Brian. A bouquet is sufficient, ‘of flowers’ is superfluous.
I learned, there and then, never to use too many words in a sentence, to cut out the flannel and get to the nitty gritty. It’s something I’ve done ever since – and it came in mightily useful when I left reporting to become a sub editor, then eventually a proofreader.
I was recently invited to give a talk to a local creative writing group and I compiled the following, which I think is worth sharing here.
Less is More
Don’t overwrite; cut out the flannel and filler
Avoid telling via adverbs. Anything that ends in –ly means you’re telling the reader how a character is performing an action, instead of showing them. Ie, “Mrs Barnes climbed the stairs angrily” would be more powerful if you demonstrated that anger: “Mrs Barnes stomped up the stairs, her knuckles white as she grasped the bannister rail.”
Cut out repetition that doesn’t add anything to your sentence and remove words that don’t add any meaning. For example: quite, almost, indeed, pretty, so, etc. See below for a more comprehensive list.
Words and phrases to avoid and eliminate
In the vicinity of – near
Totally/absolutely/almost unique – unique is an absolute and needs no qualification
Bouquet of flowers – bouquet
In order to – to
In the direction of – to
Making his way – walked/ran/hurried
Due to the fact that – because
Needless to say – the clue is in the phrase, it’s needless!
At the end of the day
First and foremost
In excess of – over/more than
Whether or not – whether