Less Is More

Getting feedback on your work is one thing every writer hopes for. So on the day my Hamline workshop group, led by Ron Koertge and Claire Rudolf Murphy, discussed my submission, I was eager for the feedback. And I got it—both good and bad. But it was what happened after the workshop that stuck with me. Ron handed my pages to me. They were covered with sweeping slash marks. “Just a little suggestion,” he said.
I spent lunch in my room that day, reviewing Ron’s “suggestions.” He suggested cutting two-thirds of my words. Oh. My. God. What about the pacing I’d so carefully structured? What about the cleverly constructed plot points? What about those poetic descriptions I’d labored over? What was he thinking?!
He was thinking that less is more. And he is right.
With Ron’s suggestions in mind, I recently set myself a task: to pare down one of my novels from its 79,000-word bulk to a svelte 60,000 words. It took about two months to accomplish and resulted in a tight, quicker-paced novel without sacrificing more than one or two scenes.
So what did I sacrifice? Nothing germane but many empty words—words that detracted from the story. Here are my top five takeaways from this experience:
  1. Words like um, ah, oh, gee, yeah, and uh do not makefor scintillating dialogue.
  2. Using two adjectives to describe something when one—or even better, none—would do undermines the story.
  3. Not every gesture should make it into the text.
  4. Strong verbs are generally better than weak adverbs but nothing beats a simple “said” in dialogue.
  5. Too much exposition makes your story sound like a badly composed set of DIY instructions. 
So yes, less is more. Thanks, Ron!

Georgia Beaverson graduated from Hamline’s Writing for Children & Young Adults MFA program in the summer of 2012. She is currently a freelance editor.