Friday, February 26, 2016

Portly Prose – Does Your Writing Need a Diet?

by Lori Hatcher @LoriHatcher2


When you face a writing assignment with a word count of 250, do you clap or groan? For me, writing with a short word count is much more challenging than writing with a long one.

For several years the editor of a popular anthology invited me to submit 225-word devotions for her consideration. “Two hundred and twenty-five words?” I’d say. “I can’t even build a porch with fewer than 225 words, and you want me to build a whole house?” Crafting a devotion with a hook, scriptural insight, personal application, and conclusion in only a few hundred words seemed impossible.

But I took the challenge. My first attempt tipped the word count scales at an obese 350. I tossed out one of my favorite illustrations. That shaved off 50 words. I reworked the conclusion. Down 25 more. I briefly considered cutting the Scripture verse, but realized that would defeat the whole purpose. My moment of insanity, however, revealed to me how attached I had become to my well-turned phrases. Cut my words or God’s Word? Uh . . . why am I even asking this question?

As I examined my dumpy devotion looking for traces of literary cellulite, I was surprised at what I found. Muffin top metaphors. Saggy similies. Portly prose. Roly-poly rhetoric. Chubby conclusions. My devotion, I discovered, needed much more than a nip and tuck. It needed gastric bypass.

Here are five tips I applied to trim the fat from my writing:
5 tips to trim the fat from my writing.
  • Focus on one main idea. Think snapshot, not panorama. Throw out anything that doesn’t directly support your main point.
  • Choose one verse, the strongest one that supports your premise. Resist the urge to throw the whole Book at your readers.
  • Eliminate wordy, conversational phrases. (“In my opinion,” “It appears to me,” and “It’s come to my attention,” are common examples.) These add unnecessary inches to your writing waistline and make your work bulge.
  • Substitute strong verbs for adipose adverbs. If you carefully select your verbs, you won’t need most adverbs. (“Jean silently and slowly walked toward John,” becomes “Jean crept toward John,” saving you three precious words.)
  • Cut most uses of the word “that.” Read the sentence aloud. If it makes sense without “that,” you know the word is dead weight. “To” is also often extraneous. (“Lord, help me to pray more,” becomes, “Lord, help me pray more.”)

These tips will help you tone and tighten your prose, whether you’re squeezing your thoughts into a Size 2(00) devotion or donning a billowy 3XXX teaching piece. Just like wriggling into jeans two sizes too small, writing tightly will be painful at first. But unlike those too-tight jeans that hinder your movement, cut off your blood flow, and make you grumpy, changing saggy writing to svelte will force you to write better, think more creatively, and feel more confident about your writing.

Now, if you’re up to the challenge of writing a 200-400-word devotion, check out these fine publications:

Christian Devotions (300-400 words)

Light From the Word (200-400 words)

The Secret Place  (100-200 words)


TWEETABLES



Lori Hatcher is the editor of Reach Out, Columbia magazine and the author of two devotional books. Her second book, Hungry for God…Starving for Time, 5-Minute Devotions for Busy Women released in December. A blogger, writing instructor, and women’s ministry speaker, her goal is to help women connect with God in the craziness of life. You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God…Starving for Time. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter (@LoriHatcher2), or Pinterest (Hungry for God).

18 comments:

  1. Thanks for the tips Lori. I have written more devotions than anything else. I love the challenge of a small word count. I have recently thought it might be fun to writing flash fiction. Do you have a list of publications that accept flash fiction pieces? Thanks again. Great advice.

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    1. Sheryl, I'm sure Lori will weigh on this later, but the first place I'd go to write flash fiction is the Splickity Publishing Group. They have three magazines and right now they're running a cool contest. Here's the link: http://splicketypubgroup.com (just copy and paste the link in your URL, it won't be live here in the comments section. Blessings E

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    2. Good for you, Sheryl, for trying something new. I'm not aware of any publications, but the Writers Market Guide might be a great place to look. Best wishes on your new writing adventure.

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    3. Thanks ladies for the info. I will definitely check both out!

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  2. Lori, I loved this piece. Your witty words made me giggle. "traces of literary cellulite... Muffin top metaphors. Saggy similies. Portly prose. Roly-poly rhetoric. Chubby conclusions." Thank you for the insight.

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    1. Cherrilynn, I loved these too! Blessings, E

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    2. Just the advice I need as I edit my lenghty novel. As a rather new author I was enamored with writing "poetic"phrases that slowed down the pace. I read your blog everyday. Thanks.

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    3. I must confess, Cherrilynn and Edie, I had a lot of fun with this piece ;)

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  3. I worked with an editor for a little while and we talked at length about the value of less. It completely changed the way I revise my work. So often more of "me" diminishes the message.

    Thanks for the reminder...Nancy

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    1. I struggle, too, Nancy, but thanks to the training of a great editor, I learned the same lesson. Make every word count.

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  4. I enjoyed this post too. I am coming to realize that more is not better, quite the opposite. Thank you for the reminder and the example. Editing my work is fast becoming the fun part of writing. -Judy

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    1. Judy, I edit a magazine, and I suspect some of my writers might call me "the slasher." I prefer to call myself their "personal trainer." (Smile)

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  5. Lori, I LOVE this! What a clever post. Especially like the part about literary cellulite. Great job, my friend. :)

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    1. Thank you, Andrea. Your kind words mean a lot.

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  6. This is great, Lori. I love the cleverness in the learning. Thanks!

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    1. Maybe a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down? (Smile)

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    2. I got such a kick out of this post! Especially, "Muffin top metaphors. Saggy similies." cracked me up! Great post about the word-fat that is so hard to cut out without drawing blood, that is, until you get the hang of it. This post will help as I force myself to the rewrite table. Thanks for the humorous truth.

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    3. Good job, Peggy. Nip and tuck away!

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