Thursday, November 5, 2009

Economy...the scariest word of all

Are you scared?  Well, good, because you shouldn't be.  I want to talk about economy.  Specificallly, economy of words.

I first learned this concept in my poetry writing workshops I took in grad school.  Until this point I'd never really seriously tried my hand at poetry.  Fiction was my forte.  Always has and probably always will be.  But I learned something about myself in the process of this all: I am a pretty decent poet too.  I love the challenge of a poem.  Packing so much into so little space.  I very rarely write poems longer than a page.  I live for the economy of it all.

The challenge with economy is to pack that whallop of a blow into each and every word.  In fiction, we tend to have more room to play with this and be freer in our expenditures.  But that doesn't necessarily mean we should.  Economy of words can still have a huge impact on the pacing and emotion of a scene or the entire work.

One of those WiPs in the progress bars over there to the right is a chapbook collection of haiku and tanka.  They're two of the shortest forms I've ever come across in poetry.  The haiku we're all familiar with.  3 lines, 5-7-5 syllables each for a total of 17 syllables.  The tanka is its Japanese cousin.  Three lines of 5-7-5 followed by two 7-syllable lines.

The challenge is in the restriction, but you are so much freer to explore double meanings and even triple meanings because you have to search so deep for the perfect words.

It can be the same in our fiction.  Think of a scene where maybe a character is feeling a bit ostracized.  She goes in her room and closes the door.

Option 1:

She shut the door quietly.  In ten steps she reached the foot of her bed.  The sunlight filtered in through the drawn curtains as she sank to the floor and drew her knees to her chest.

Option 2:

She reached her bed.  At its foot, she crumpled to the floor in slow-motion with eyes closed.

I don't know about you, but I like the second option better.  It's word choice and also a bit of tone and such.  But it's really economy of words.  With the second option, you really have to work to get some of the same impact into fewer words and even sentences.

And so ends our post today.  Q4U: Which option do you prefer?  Do you struggle with economy of words?  Did you stop reading after the post title?  Other thoughts on the subject?  

FYI: If I disappear suddenly from the blog world, don't worry about it.  Everything's fine.  Just giving you fair warning that there could come a time when all you hear from me are crickets chirping.  It will be short-lived and it's nothing dire.


  1. The economy of words. I love it, and I always enjoyed option 2.

    I have heard that writing poetry helps enhance your writing. This gives me some good points in ponder.

    Return soon!

  2. Oh I alwasy liked more desciption personally. Good luck and come back soon

    Kate x

  3. Tamika, I really do think it's helped me some. I really focus more on the descriptions and on trying to come up with more unique ways of saying something.

    Thanks, Kate.

  4. Thankfully, no... at least I don't think so :)

  5. YES I struggle so much with economy. I use too many words. I love them and I pack them in there, so when it comes time to edit, I end up cutting hundreds and hundreds of unnecessary words. I also like Option #2 better. And I am impressed by your poetry writing skills! I'm truly bad at it.

  6. Great way to look at it. Yes, the 2nd option is much better.

  7. A great way to point out the importance of each word you choose as a writer. Word count aside, this is a much more clear depiction about the how.

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. I'm sure you don't, Bane.

    Julie, words are wonderful and beautiful things. Speaking of, I really should finish reading the dictionary one of these days. Don't be impressed. I'm not that great a poet.

    Susan, thanks!

    Windy, thanks! Word count discussions are good to help figure out a ballpark length, but they never tell you how to actually go about reaching that ballpark.

  9. Poetry is great for teaching economy of words. It is one of the main reasons (other than the fact that I love it) that I write it. The less lines you have to work with the more you focus on economy. I think it benefits my prose too. Wonderful post.

  10. Thanks, Tabitha. Very very true, what you said.

  11. My first drafts tend to be wordy- I had to do a whole revision just to chop words, but it was a great learning experience. I'm seeing a difference on book 2 though so hopefully the word-chopping won't require it's own revision.

  12. Yikes, Stephanie! Best of luck with book 2. I think it's absolutely wonderful you've found such a niche for yourself. I'm still sort of looking for mine. I'm sure I'll have to do a couple revision rounds just to chop words. I'm notoriously wordy.


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