Make Every Word Count -- Guest Blog
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.