“Prose is architecture, not interior design.” – Ernest Hemingway
Our words are in service to our story. Not the other way around. When we get too flashy with our adjectives and adverbs, we may distract and even confuse our reader in ways we might not be aware. We don’t ever want to replace substance with style. If every sentence is shouted from the rooftops, important content will get lost in the shuffle.
In painting, a color is understood in relation to another color. A particular green will mean something different depending on the colors with which it is in contrast. Just as darkness can only be understood in relation to light, if every sentence blares to us as a headline, we will have nothing to measure our climax against, and our story will lose its meaning.
If we keep it simple, each nuance will have maximum effect. In the rewrite, we are seeking clarity and meaning.
Stripping our prose to the bone does not mean that we are unconcerned with the rhythm of our sentences. We are interested in the flow of the words insofar as they are in service to our story, and nothing more. If we find ourselves trying to sound clever, or that we are falling in love with our words, it might be time to step back and ask ourselves if we are being clear. Long sentences do not confer genius, nor do big words. In fact, verbosity rarely makes our work more specific, but rather pulls the reader out of the story.
We are only able to see what is missing from our work when we remove what does not belong.
Choose a paragraph and just for fun, remove every unnecessary word. Explore how you can condense it to precisely what you wish to say. Once the paragraph shines like a diamond, ask yourself one last question: “Is this paragraph necessary?” If the answer is no, delete it.