I recently finished reading William Strunk's Elements of Style. The book mostly teaches how to write concise paragraphs (e.g. by removing, changing, and rearranging words).

So I decided to apply that to my writing:

Saki practically spent everyday absorbed in other of her favorite pastimes: making porcelain dolls. She had set a mini-studio in her room which mainly consisted on a sewing machine, a large adjustable desk, and a flexible lamp. Hanging on a wall, she had a wide variety of fabrics in all patterns and colors. Beneath, she kept the doll's naked bodies and a tin can filled with tiny glass eyes. The finished dolls sat on the many shelves around the room; , and they were almost of all styles: Japanese, Chinese, Indian, African, even one shaped as a Tim Burton character. Her room had the characteristics of a was a true doll factory.

Although she had nearly a hundred of dolls, she never sold any. Nor had planned to do so in the future. She just enjoyed making them The joy of making them was enough for her. She liked the fact that how she could turn them into anything she wanted them to become. Or, as Saki put it herself: into anything they wanted to become. Each doll had a flower inside, waiting to bloom. All that Saki had to do was to bring it out. It felt so easy and natural to Saki she sometimes felt the dolls where the ones building themselves.

Are there times when it's better to be redundant in order to vary pacing or add flavor to the novel? Or is conciseness a rule every fiction writer should follow (with no exceptions)?

(Most of the time I try to write like I talk. Some say it's a good approach, specially for beginners. But that won't produce very concise sentences, since people ramble a lot while they speak.)

  • You can improve brevity without dropping context in some cases. E.g. "Nor had planned to do so in the future." actually adds useful information about Saki's goals/dreams. But "She'd never planned to." conveys the same more compactly. Also, an occasional foray into passive voice can bring more benefits in compactness than it loses in interest; I'd suggest e.g. "Many shelves were filled with finished dolls: Japanese, Chinese, Indian, African, even one shaped as a Tim Burton character." But it is also important to use a style that you are comfortable with and can maintain.
    – Rex Kerr
    Aug 2, 2013 at 17:34
  • @Alexandro Chen The very idea that any writing except a specified precis should be "100% concise" sounds such an unreasonable constraint, you might like to justify it. Can you? "Writing like you talk" is indeed a good approach for beginners, but you just spoiled that with "people" rambling. How do those "people" change the way you yourself talk? What have you been reading, that led you to think there might not be times when it's better to be redundant to vary pacing or flavour? Quite separately, if "concise writing" is your goal then please note, your example really doesn't work in English. Feb 22, 2021 at 23:07

2 Answers 2


There are almost no rules which have "no exceptions." (Which ones are the "no exceptions" is an exercise left to the student.)

Your writing tends to be flowy and lyrical. Tightening it up does add some motion and spark to it. I wouldn't tighten everything, because sometimes you want "flowy and lyrical."

I think tightening in general is a good thing, but just because you have a hammer doesn't make every sentence a nail. Be judicious, and check with your editor/beta readers.

  • 3
    +1. Most writers tend to err on the too many words side, but too few is just as much of an error.
    – STSagas
    Jul 12, 2013 at 23:17

In a way, the advice to cut out unnecessary words is solid advice. The trouble is working out what is "unnecessary". By the time you can work that out, you probably don't need the advice any more.

Too many writers think it means that every word needs to be communicating new information, which is fine if you are just trying to get facts across. But in creative writing the words can be there for lots of other reasons such as adding to the mood or helping the "flow" of the narrative. Quite a few of the words you have struck out as unnecessary I would leave in. Some you have left in I would strike out.

Rather than learning "rules" of good style, it's far better to learn to be aware of what effect a particular style has on the reader. Then you can choose your style for the effect you want at that particular point.

Before you get down to cutting out words, I think you need to pay more attention to grammar (or write in your native language if that's not English) because there are quite a few issues in that passage. Also, be careful of vague descriptions such as "wide variety of fabrics", "many shelves". The vague descriptions are telling us things it's good to know, but in a bland way. And are those fabrics hanging on the wall as a sort of patchwork wall-hanging, or are there rolls of them on hooks?

  • Thanks for your feedback. By the way, what are some of the issues you saw in my passage?
    – wyc
    Jul 17, 2013 at 3:38
  • "Everyday" should be "every day". "Other" in the 1st sentence doesn't make sense. "Set a mini-studio" would only make sense if it were a single item. "Set up a mini-studio". "Consisted on" should be "consisted of". "Nearly a hundred of dolls" should be "nearly a hundred dolls". "Nor had planned" reads awkwardly and would need rephrasing if it weren't struck out. Where you have struck out "so easy and" you need to keep the "so". "Where the ones" should be "were the ones". I might have missed some. Of course, if the narrator is /supposed/ to have quirky grammar, all bets are off!
    – digitig
    Jul 17, 2013 at 10:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.