"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all details and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."
Quoted from: The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, Fourth Edition.
This small book is my Bible. At times, it becomes useful, but at other times...I forget about it and begin to break all the rules.
I am a master at using useless words, sometimes called needless words.
Examples of how to avoid some useless words:
he is a man who he
in a hasty manner hastily
used for fuel purposes used for fuel
the reason why is because
the question as to whether whether
owing to the fact that since (or because)
the fact that I had arrived my arrival
I own two books that were printed in 1893. One is titled Reveries of a Bachelor. The writing is flowery and filled with useless words. And I love every one of them.
"Shall he who has been hitherto a mere observer of other men's cares and business, moving off where they made him sick of heart, approaching whenever and wherever they made him gleeful, shall he now undertake administration of just such cares and business, without qualms? Shall he, whose whole life has been but a nimble succession of escapes from trifling difficulties, now broach without doubtings, that matrimony where if difficulty beset him, there is no escape?"
Here's my attempt to rewrite the passage in 2012 language:
"Should I ignore other men's problems but eagerly participate in their partying? Should I stop playing around with women and decide if marriage is worth the effort?"
I avoided using too many useless words, but I also stripped the passage of it's poetic voice.
In Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing, he states, "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. A rule came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words. What the writer is doing, is he's writing, perpetrating "hooptedoodle," perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character's head, and the reader either knows what the guy's thinking or doesn't care. I'll be you don't skip dialogue." (Note from Celia: count the number of useless words in this paragraph. Leonard Elmore obviously likes useless words.)
I believe Steinbeck coined the word "hooptedoodle," for two of the chapters in his "Sweet Thursday," are titled Hooptedoodle 1 and Hooptedoodle 2.
And Elmore Leonard said he read every word.
Useless words? Useless phrases?
My weakness is using prepositional phrases:
the crowing of a rooster or..the rooster's crow
a master of music or..a music master
On the other hand, I'm reading more novels with short choppy sentences, as though an editor...or the author...has studied this topic too much and cut the heart out of the voice.
The first manuscript I submitted to a publisher was rejected because "it read like a textbook." Yes, that's what I knew--how to write papers, not fiction.
Fiction needs to be concise and non-repetitive. But like Steinbeck writes, sometimes I want to write all that hooptedoodle. And I don't mind a smattering of useless words.
How do you feel about the topics?