The perils of aiming for quantity

Anyone who has participated in Nanowrimo knows how it feels to try to meet a word count goal each day, but the problem with aiming for quantity is that you often end up with a lot of filler. This is fine if you’re spending the next few months editing. It’s not if you think you have a completed book on December 1st.

As a verse writer, I must get the same message across in one sentence that a prose writer might take several sentences to accomplish. Because of this, I’ve become very attune to redundancy. For example, I recently read a sentence that went something like this:

The car lurched back and forth as it travelled across the many divots in the bumpy road.

There’s nothing wrong with the sentence except that it’s telling us the same thing three times:

  1. The car is lurching back and forth (so the road is either rough or the driver is drunk).
  2. There are many divots in the road (therefore the road is bumpy).
  3. The road is bumpy.

Additionally, we’re being told that the car is travelling which is already obvious from the previous lines that were discussing a character on a car ride.

When you aim for a high word count, a sentence like the one above is the kind of thing you may end up with. But what if you tried to say the same thing in the least possible number of words? What if you simply said:

The car lurched through the divots in the road.

Or, with a metaphor:

The car ping-ponged over the divots in the road.

This last line is 10 words instead of 17. This means that, if you had a 75,000-word book, you might be able to edit out 30,000 of these words. Think about it: 30,000 words of filler. That’s 30,000 opportunities for your reader to tune out because they’re not engaged. Is that what you want?

Category: On Writing