Monday, May 8, 2017

Uncluttering Your Writing Style, guest post by Sci-Fi author, Yvonne Anderson

Though I’ve been at this writing thing for a few years, I’m continually reminded I have much more to learn.

And re-learn. 

It seems we never have anything down pat.

When we’re babies, once we get up off the floor and walk—or talk—or throw food—we never forget how.  Once humans learn the skills, they perform them ever after without thought. As writers, however (as opposed to humans), even after we mature in our skill, we must always be careful to not slip back into our old childish ways.

My husband and I recently moved from a house to an apartment. As you might imagine, this required some painful soul-searching in regard to what we need to bring with us. In 2013, we downsized from a large house to a small one, and thought we’d gotten rid of all the nonessentials. But, no. We had only begun to rid out the stuff.

The “stuff” of writing, of course, is words. And just as we have to avoid cluttering our homes, we must be aware of the problem of word-clutter in our writing. We become attached to our wordiness; we find it painful to toss our favorite phrases in the recycle bin. But seriously, it’s amazing how much cleaner our prose can without all the precious ornamentation under which we tend to bury it.

In his book, On Writing Well, William Zinsser states that, "fighting clutter is like fighting weeds—the writer is always slightly behind." Having been a gardener before becoming an apartment dweller, I understand the analogy well. Keeping our writing neat and trim requires constant vigilance.

Like weeds, writing clutter can take a number of forms, including but not limited to:

  • redundancies (using two descriptors, as in, “a tiny little insect”); 
  • familiar clichés we tend not to think about (“I have never been so frightened in my entire life”); 
  • unwieldy phrases that are ingrained in our daily speech (“Tell me in your own words”);
  • over-explaining in description (no example necessary; you know what I mean);
  • telling the reader why a character does something (example: He hid behind a tree so she wouldn’t see him.”)
  • reiterating the events of the story, lest the reader forget what’s going on.


These are like streaks on a window. The more you wipe, the more you see.

Moving from a house to an apartment wasn’t the first eye-opening experience I’ve had recently. Several months before, I moved from working on a multi-book series to writing a 20,000-word novella.

Writing a novella is a little like apartment living. (Or worse yet, like living in a tiny house.) You need all the essentials, but only the essentials; and those basics should be small and compact. You need to lay it out cleverly. And the story, like a building’s frame, must be solid and strong enough to stand on its own without relying on frippery (don’t you love that word?) or false fronts. 

Writing a novella is an exercise in uncluttering one’s writing style. Ordinarily when drafting, I tend to disgorge a pile of indecorous stuff on the page, then go back with a bucket of bleach water and clean up after myself. When drafting the novella, however, I had to keep it clean from the start. It would be too much work otherwise! Though that was an unfamiliar concept for me, I found the minimalist experience oddly satisfying.

I hope you will, too, when I share the result of the exercise. My first published piece of contemporary fiction, "First Love," is one of seven novellas in the soon-to-be-released Coming Home: A Tiny House Collection scheduled to be released right quick by a group of my writer friends. Seven authors wrote seven stories with the connecting theme of tiny houses.  I hope you’ll check it out. The book’s not tiny, but it’s packed with a houseful of fun.




Yvonne Anderson writes fiction that takes you out of this world.

Usually, that means out of this world and into outer space, or to another planet, as in her acclaimed Gateway to Gannah series. (Book 1, The Story in the Stars, was an ACFW Carol Award finalist in 2012.)

Also this year, she’s launching a new multi-phase adventure, The Four Lives of Jemma Freeman. As with the Gannah series, the story is set on a fictional planet, but the characters are human. Very human. You probably know some of them. 

Look for the first part of Book 1, Stillwaters, coming soon on ebook.

Find Yvonne at these sites:

Website: YsWords.com



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