Daily Archives: June 6, 2011

What’s the Nutritional Value of Your Writing?

This morning my tummy got grumpy with me.  After I sweated to the stairmaster, I refused to fill my belly with junk and thought I’d grab a granola bar.  One look at the nutritional info had me running for the oatmeal box.  Both are made with oats.  Both are lightly sweetened.  Both have a bit of protein, sugar and fat. 

Well, that’s not technically true.  The granola bar had tons of fat, while the oatmeal had virtually none.  The calorie difference was also pretty significant.  For two products with very similar ingredients, the nutritional value proved beyond all reasonable doubt that the oatmeal was significantly better for me.

Did you know that not all writing is nutritionally equal?

I’m currently reading a book based on the recommendation of a friend of a friend.  I love the story.  So far it’s compelling and the characters engage me.  BUT, it’s bloated with calories.  Calories that add nothing significant to the nutrition.  Instead, they are fat calories that make the reading feel sluggish. 

I’ll run through a few examples to show you what I mean.

  • Telling words like felt, seemed, found, could, decided. I could feel the cold hand of fear trail down my spine.   Feel is fat, as is could.  I felt the cold hand of fear trail down my spine.  Or even better, The cold hand of fear trailed down my spine. 
  • Trying, began, started to…these wishy-washy words drive me crazy.  I began to sit down should read, I sat downI started to walk toward the light versus I walked toward the light.  Pretty simple fix.  Same taste, fewer calories.
  • SAT.  I know.  What can I have against the word sat?  It shows definite action, right?  Depends.  When combined with other words, it robs the reader of a great experience.  I sat talking to the boy.  I sat staring into the darkness.  I sat thinking about the moon.  Ugh.  I talked to the boy.  I stared into the darkness.  I thought about the moon.  Sat, as illustrated here, adds fat to each sentence. 
  • Was/Were.  I was sitting there talking to the boy.  I talked to the boy.  While was and were can be necessary at times, most often, they can be eliminated and not change anything within the story.  In fact, when we cut these words from our diets, the writing flows much more smoothly and we feel more connected to the action.

Not that these are a big deal.  Individually, they can be a writer’s quirk.  But taken together and multiplied by the number of pages, they become a lumbering elephant that we can’t quite get around.  An elephant that ate too many granola bars.

What are your high calorie words and fatty phrases?  What things can/do you eliminate to lean up your writing and add more nutrition to your stories?

Curious minds want to know.