Omit Needless Words

Scissors on paper“Omit useless words,” William Strunk Jr. implored. Our writing will be more polished and powerful because of it.

Unnecessary words make sentences lethargic by wasting time and energy. This is even more important in screenplays than novels where a lean, tight style cuts to the chase.

In his book, Your Screenplay Sucks, William M. Akers provides several examples:

A plush office. Sweeping views of the city through floor-to-floor glass windows.

“Glass” is redundant: A plush office. Sweeping views of the city through floor-to-floor windows.

Matthew falls to the floor with an expressionless face.
Better: Matthew falls to the floor, expressionless.

If something is understood in a story, don’t repeat it: He looked at the clock on the wall. Clocks are usually on walls: He looked at the clock.

Don’t repeat a point once it’s made: A hand taps Mark on the shoulder. He turns. Standing there is ALICIA SASSY, a 23 year-old Barbie doll with platinum-blond hair, a Playboy centerfold rack, and curves BeyoncĂ© envies.

Barbie dolls are blond and stacked: A hand taps Mark on the shoulder. He turns. Standing there is ALICIA SASSY, a 23 year-old Barbie doll with curves Beyoncé envies.

Don’t repeat something already mentioned in the slugline:

INT. FERRARI – MORNING

Dun has slowed the car down to normal driving speed.

We know he’s in a car. Rather write:

INT. FERRARI – MORNING

Dun has slowed to normal driving speed.

Although this sort of cut-and-thrust brevity is less of a requirement in a novel, any story will benefit by having needless words omitted.

Summary

Ferret out needless words to make your writing leaner and more powerful.

Image: James Bowe
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

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Stavros Halvatzis

I'm a writer, teacher, and story consultant.