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It Pays To Be Stingy With Words

Way back in the mid 1800s, Gothic horror master and short-story pioneer Edgar Allan Poe advised writers to strive for a “single effect“—a particular emotion or mood—in every story they wrote. One important way for an author to sustain this desired effect is to pare away everything in a story that does not contribute to producing it. And we mean everything.

Of course, when you’re writing a first draft, you should probably let yourself go—throw in anything that strikes you as interesting or cool; you never know what might turn out to be useful and important. It is during revision that the cutting and chiseling should take place—and you should be ruthless about it. Any dialogue, description, and background that doesn’t directly contribute to the effect you’re trying to produce should be sliced away. At the sentence level, extra words should get a line run through them: Never use use two words when one will do.

While you may be so fond of some of that excised material that removing it feels painful, be assured that your story will end up lighter, stronger, faster, and more exciting because you had the courage to do the necessary trimming.

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