How to Say More in Fewer Words

1. Use Words that have Specific Meanings.

“The bug moved along the ground, deciding which way it should go.”
“The ant crawled between the blades of grass, peeking left and right at every intersection.”

Bug is nonspecific. Ant is specific.
“…moved along the ground” is mildly specific, but not vivid.
“…crawled between the blades of grass” is specific and vivid.

2. Don’t Tell. Show.

“…deciding which way it should go,” tells you what the ant was doing.
“…peeking left and right at every intersection,” shows you the ant and leads you to conclude that the ant is deciding which way to go. You are, for a moment, seeing through the eyes of the ant. Giving human motives to inanimate objects is a powerful tool known as personification. “Your Rolex is waiting patiently for you to come and pick it up at Shreve and Company.”

3. Write Tight and Clean.
Short Sentences Hit Harder than Long Ones.

Adjectives and adverbs don’t accelerate communication. They slow it down. Use them with restraint.

What I’m doing now is giving you an example of a long sentence, (in essence, the kind of sentence often written by persons who are trying to sound educated, although in truth, sentences like this one just make you sound full of yourself,) for the purpose of demonstrating that complex sentences full of commas and parenthetic statements and verbose, multi-word, adjective-stacked descriptions have a much diminished impact and are not nearly so pleasant to read as short, clear statements like the 6-word sentence and the two 4-word sentences that preceded this horrific construction of 135 pompous, tedious and wearisome words that keep going on and on for so very long that by the time you get to the final point, you have forgotten several of the previous ones that were made.

4. Let the Subject of the Sentence Take the Action.
Passive Voice is a Bad Choice.

You speak in passive voice when the subject of the sentence is acted upon: “Wizard Academy is attended by interesting people.”

You speak in active voice when the subject of the sentence takes the action: “Interesting people attend Wizard Academy.”

Passive voice is noncommittal: “It got lost.”
Active voice is confident and clear. “I lost it.”

5. Feed Your Pen Surprising Combinations of Interesting Words

If you inform without persuading, you are hearing a newscast when you write. The goal of the journalist is to inform, not to persuade.

If you entertain without persuading, you are hearing creative writing as you write. The goal of the creative writer is to entertain, not to persuade.

The poet leads you to think and feel differently. The goal of the poet is to persuade. And the best ones do it in a brief, tight economy of words.

I’m not talking about rhyming.
I beg you not to rhyme.

I’m talking about using surprising combinations of vivid words to trigger assumptions and conclusions in the minds of those who hear you.

Edwin Arlington Robinson wrote Richard Cory in 1897. This was when “clean favored” meant good-looking, and how you were dressed is how you were “arrayed.”

Richard Cory

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In short, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Compare the images contained in that 124-word poem to those in the 135-word example in Point 3. – RHW

6. If you would become a better communicator…

if you would write better ads, persuade more people and make more money, read Good Poems, curated by Garrison Keillor. You can get the 3 books or visit the online archives.

7. Read a poem a day, every day.

It will take you about 60 seconds. Think of your daily poem as a vitamin. Don’t worry about understanding the poem. Just rub the salt of it on your mind. You will soon begin hearing a different voice when you write, and find yourself looking into sparkling eyes when you speak.

Photos that have been black-and-white are about to become full-color.

Roy H. Williams