When Less is More

In a recent class about screenwriting, we discussed the implications of using fewer words to tell a story. Our professor showed us a short film he worked on for a festival. He was only allowed to use 100 words, and yet somehow in these five minutes of mostly silence, he set up a backstory for the character and caused viewers to feel a wide range of emotions.

We were then challenged to write our own stories using only 100 words. Some who tend to be wordier writers, like myself, struggled to make this goal. Others excelled.

One student wrote this story:

     “The look in her husband’s eyes was the look of the dog caught knocking over a full trashcan. But the dog doesn’t know any better. The dog doesn’t have a wife and children to think of before it plays with trash.

     Perhaps the confession meant he felt remorse. Maybe it meant it was over, that he’d moved on. Or maybe he’d moved on from something else.

With an ice-cold fire in her belly, Clara sat up straight and clasped her hands in her lap. She breathed in deep, closing her eyes before locking her gaze with her husband’s. ‘With whom?'”

by Paige McNinch, Professional Writing student

If you do it right, as Paige did, you can capture great amounts of emotion and tell an amazing story using only a few words.

But this idea of using fewer words to tell a compelling story can be difficult to execute. As writers tend to be lovers of words, we can also tend to become lovers of wordiness.

However, our goal as writers is to communicate something – emotion, ideas, opinions– to readers. Right? This is hard to accomplish when wordiness stands in our way.

So how do you reduce wordiness and write more concisely? In one piece of advice: write like a copyeditor.

A lot of a copyeditor’s job is to make things read more smoothly and concisely. This includes eliminating redundancies (such as changing the phrase “advanced warning” simply into “warning”), using the active voice instead of the passive voice, reducing the number of adjectives and adverbs, and cutting unnecessary words (such as “that”).

Though it can be difficult as a writer to hit the delete key on your precious words, it is amazing what writing concisely can do for you.

So do you think you have what it takes to write in 100 words?

Comment below with your 100-word story!

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Ellie Tiemens is a professional writing major at Taylor University. She uses her love for words as a staff writer for the student newspaper, The Echo, and as a manuscript evaluator for Illuminate YA. She works as a periodical student assistant in the Zondervan Library and as the secretary for the professional writing department. Ellie loves reading (naturally), writing (hence the major), and cats (because cats).

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