The Words We Choose

According to George Orwell in Politics of the English Language, a writer should ask him/herself a few questions with every sentence that is written.  (I haven't been able to put questions one through four into action yet, as I would rather finish my latest editing and then go back over it with a fine-toothed comb to ask questions such as these, but I thought I would share his advice now anyway.)

George Orwell says,

"A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 

1. What am I trying to say? 

2. What words will express it? 

3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 

4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? 

And he will probably ask himself two more: 

1. Could I put it more shortly? 

2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?"

As I re-read these questions today I realized I've already been working on the last two - especially the "could I put it more shortly" one.  I've read over my WiP billions of times (well it feels like billions) and I'm just beginning to see sentence after sentence (after sentence!) with *completely* unnecessary words.  It's as though I had blinders on, and someone took them off a few days ago, enabling me to finally see the whole picture.  

Deleting those unnecessary words is a relief for the most part, but now I have yet another problem.  Yep.  Word count.  I'm starting to panic about my word count again.  (Luckily I'm copying the latest draft over into my "current" draft one chapter at a time, so I have no clue what my true word count will be when I finish.  I can't imagine how much I'd freak out if I saw words dropping from my final word count right now. Gasp!)

So do any of those six questions affect you at all, my writerly readers?  If so, what have you done to resolve those issues?



Travener said...

I added a lot during the second draft, fleshing things out. Third and fourth drafts were slashing away at passive constructions, redundancies, unnecessary verbiage. Since the fifth through the -- I'm not sure, I think it's fourteenth -- last draft it's been pruning -- and looking for those "ugly" sentences. But I now think I've reached the point that anything I do will be so marginal that it's OK to wait to see if I ever get to have an agent's eyes and editor's eyes on all those words. Those are great questions Orwell proposes -- but if you actually put them to each and every sentence and thought about the answers -- well, you'd never finish.

Lydia Sharp said...

I just wanted to point out that "avoidably ugly" is an awesome phrase.

Jessica L. Brooks (coffeelvnmom) said...

I like that phrase too Lydia!

Travener, I know it would be very time consuming, but it's something to think about at least, while editing. And I know what you mean about waiting to see if it ever reaches an agent or editor's eyes. But we have to BELIEVE it will!

DL Hammons said...

Sometimes I think a writer has to read his own WIP a bazillion times before the switch gets thrown and he/she starts to recognize all the extraneous words. A decent critiquer can see them right away. Maybe the author has to get tired of them first, before blade comes out.