Change verbs from passive to active voice
This is the third and final post in a series about ways to cut word count. In “6 Easy Ways to Cut Word Count” and “5 Ways to Cut Wordiness,” we discussed moderating weasel words, dialogue tags and back story, and scaling down descriptions of small movements, filter words and repetition.
There is still more you can do to reduce word count: write in the active voice.
The Columbia Guide to Standard American English (1993) states that:
Active voice makes subjects do something (to something); passive voice permits subjects to have something done to them (by someone or something). Some argue that active voice is more muscular, direct, and succinct, passive voice flabbier, more indirect, and wordier. If you want your words to seem impersonal, indirect, and noncommittal, passive is the choice, but otherwise, active voice is almost invariably likely to prove more effective.
When writing in the passive voice: 1) the subject is vague; 2) the subject appears after the object; 3) the use of verb phrases and linking verbs (helping verbs) such as was, there was, there are or there is are required.
- The book was put on the shelf. [Note] We don’t know who put the book on the shelf.
- The book was put on the shelf by John. [Note] The subject is at the end of the sentence.
- There are just a few books remaining.
The active voice doesn’t require a linking verb or a verb phrase:
- John put the book on the shelf. (2 less words than above)
- Just a few books remain. (2 less words than above)
Change verbs from progressive to simple tense
The progressive tense shows continuous action. This action presents with verbs like begin/began or start/started, or with verb phrases like to be, plus a verb participle such as watching or watched.
When you write in simple tense you put the focus on the active verb and can eliminate the helping verb, which is usually was. Notice how much stronger the action is in the revised sentences:
- He was watching the game. [Revised] He watched the game.
- He started to wash the car. [Revised] He washed the car.
Avoid using empty expressions
Another way to reduce word count is to eliminate empty expressions. These examples state the obvious:
In my opinion
From my viewpoint
Needless to say
In a way [ahem], they lessen a statement’s impact. These read well in dialogue if this is a characteristic a writer wishes to portray in their character. Otherwise, the meaning of a sentence does not change when they are left out.
Tight writing helps you get published
Focus on the concept of more information and less filler; tight writing. Anything less than this will remain unread by an agent. You’ll know you’ve achieved this when not one word can be removed without changing the meaning. Make every word count.
The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do. ~Thomas Jefferson
Suggestions for other ways to cut word count are encouraged.
Photo Credit: Craig Ward
Tagged as: active voice, ambiguous, dialogue tags, editing tips, empty expressions, helper verbs, linking verbs, reduce word count, self-edit, simple tense, tight writing, weasel words, wordiness, wordy sentences, writing strategies