Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, September 14, 2007

Make Every Word Count -- Guest Blog

by Janet Jensen

First, I’ll be completely honest. Kerry invited me to fill in today as a guest blogger out of pity; I came in dead last in the bad sentence competition. In other words, I couldn’t even write a good bad sentence. So today’s topic is good sentences.

What can you do with 250 words, besides eat them? At a fiction workshop we were given daily assignments to write settings, characters, and dialogues, each with a 250 word limit. Some students waxed eloquent and wrote pages and pages of masterful prose, but the instructor stopped reading at 250 words. Her point: cut, edit, and make every word count. A few words can pack quite a wallop. Some succinct examples:

The Gettysburg Address was 367 words. Reporters hardly had time to settle in their camp chairs and fumble with pad and paper before it was over. Yet it is regarded as one of the most moving speeches ever written.

This moving passage from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address has seventy-four words: With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

The Preamble to the Constitution was accomplished in fifty-two words: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Powerful emotion is contained in this line from Martin Luther King’s famous speech, captured in thirty-four words: I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Nephi’s introduction to the Book of Mormon is ninety-five words: I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

Every night during the week-long workshop I spent hours over my 250 word compositions, learning to eliminate redundancy, wordiness, and unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. What remained was clean and concise. Shakespeare sums it up in six words: Brevity is the soul of wit.

P.S. see you at next year’s bad sentence contest.

NOTE: Portions of this article were published at, 2003

Janet Kay Jensen enjoys writing essays (serious and humorous), short stories, and the occasional poem. Her first novel, Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys, will be published by Cedar Fort this fall and she is working on the sequel! In her "spare" time she likes to travel, take photographs, and attend the theater. Other recent projects include teaching an occasional poetry class to county jail inmates and serving as a tutor for Bridgerland Literacy. She is also on the executive board and a contributing writer at, and a member of LDStorymakers.

Imagine how thrilled I was to "meet" Janet when I realized that she is the co-author of one of my all-time favorite books: The Book Lover's Cookbook! (I'm still negotiating for an autograph!)

Check out her web site HERE & her terrific blog site HERE!


At 9/14/2007 6:17 PM, Blogger Cheri J. Crane said...

I enjoyed your blog, Janet, and I'm intrigued by your book, "The Book Lover's Cookbook." It sounds fantastic---something I'll definitely have to get.

At 9/14/2007 6:30 PM, Blogger Jon said...

I've participated in a couple of the short story contests over on LDSPublisher and I have to say - the 500 word maximum is really, really HARD. I usually write it around 800-1000 words then pare it down from there. (And oh, that's painful.)

Yes, I so can't wait to edit down a full-length work. Bleh.

Nice anecdotes in your blog, though. =)

(I'll comment on Ms. Crane's comment, too: The nice thing about cooking with books is all the fiber you get out of it. James Dashner would do well to get this fine book, you know, with his problem.)

At 9/14/2007 6:45 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

I happen to know that James has added a lot of cabbage and prune juice to his diet to deal with that unfortunate condition. (So James, does that mention count toward your free book contest?)

At 9/14/2007 7:28 PM, Blogger Cheri J. Crane said...

Leave it to the menfolk to tie this into bathroom humor. ;)

At 9/15/2007 10:33 AM, Anonymous marlene said...

Janet, I'm quite sure I at least tied with you on the contest. On such things I can't figure out if you are really suppose to do your worst-worst or your best-worst, or would it be worst-best? Any way, my only merit was putting in the frog and lots of dark and drearies.

As for being wordy, you got me there, too. And to have to lose some of those wonderful sentences that I spent hours designing; its like sending your child off to college!

At 9/15/2007 11:35 AM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Yeah, sometimes I think I'm waxing eloquent when all I'm really doing is being wordy. Thanks for the reminder to trim and streamline.


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