Friday, May 7, 2010

Clear, Concise, and Succinct

On my way to becoming the next “award-winning-best-selling-author,” I try to make a little cash freelancing. I've learned that editors of online platforms want writing that is clear, concise and succinct. They want short paragraphs that enable the reader to skim quickly for information.

As an educator, this is disheartening. How will I ever get my students to read Robinson Crusoe or Little Women if all they are exposed to is material that only hits the high points?

I wonder if Homer, that great writer of the 8th century, would wring his hands after reading the above mentioned novels. A lot of changes took place in writing between the 8th and 19th centuries.

Writing changes over time because forms of communication change. Now, more than any time in the history of the world, we communicate via the written word. Texting, e-mail, and chat, makes communication briefer and more to the point.

This is bad if you’re a writer of deep, philosophical prose. Readers today want worthy stuff in exchange for their most valuable commodity--time. When they spend time reading what you've written, take-away value better be there. They don’t care too much about the the boring inner thoughts of a young heroine as she drinks in the sweet, fragrant essence of the violent sea as it crashes violently upon the gleaming rocky shore. Modern, tech-savvy readers want the bottom line. They want info in clear, concise writing. There isn’t time for the flowery stuff. Prose isn’t going to grab them.

And yet, we need to give the reader enough information about our characters--where they are, why they are there, and what they are thinking-- so that the story has meat. How do we do that?

Therein lies the challenge. How do we tell a great story with so few words? Writing a novel is different than writing an article or column, but if this is how modern readers are accustomed to reading, won’t it carry over into fiction eventually?

Today's readers challenge us to keep their attention. Mastering attention-grabbing-and-keeping-writing is what separates today’s great authors from those who tinker with little stories on their laptops. This challenge, when conquered, is what makes writing an art.

It’s certainly my daily battle. I’m brimming with good story ideas, but weaving the right amount of words into an attention-grabbing saga is a dragon I’m determined to conquer.

What are the dragons you battle on the way to your best-selling novel? Share them with me so I know I’m not alone!


  1. It's a struggle to find the right balance. On the up side, I think short straight to the point paragraphs are something young readers appreciate, there's a kind of honesty in it. But we need good descriptors to give a sense of imagery. Perhaps it's about balancing the two.
    I would like to find more YA fiction that is written quite simply, to encourage struggling readers.
    Good post, it really has me thinking :-)

  2. I REALLY appreciate your Hoosier Ink Blog insights! Right on -- from my perspective anyway!