Whilst listening to William Zinsser’s non-fiction audio book today called On Writing Well, I heard the following: “Trust the information that you’ve gathered to make its own point. Don’t explain why it’s interesting or unusual or emotional”. Make your writing exciting, but don’t say it’s exciting; let the reader work this out for themselves.
Zinsser suggests that you “trust your material” and yourself and let the reader “bring their own emotions and intelligence to your story [article, blog, etc.]”. Once you have removed all the words that don’t need to be there, you can look back and see how powerful and strong your writing is. If you explain everything then “the reader is deprived of the pleasure of making that discovery and readers resent that” says Zinsser.
As a writer, it can be difficult to stop yourself explaining everything to the reader, i.e. if you are making a point, don’t say ‘I’m making a point…’ and if it’s funny, don’t say ‘This is a very funny article….’. Let the reader work this out for themselves and try to leave out your excitement or views.
Examples of how not to do it:
- This is so hilarious… (let the reader read it and then say ‘that was hilarious’)
- I learnt something so exciting today… (let the reader discover by reading your work that it is exciting)
- An interesting point I found was… (just make the point and let the reader decide if it is interesting or not)
- The sad thing about this story is… (your reader may not find it sad – let them come to that conclusion using their intelligence)
Try this out for yourself
Review some of your writing today and see how many unnecessary pieces of information you have added that don’t need to be there. By giving your reader the concise and clean version, they can learn what they need to learn, understand the points they need to understand, and laugh when they find something funny.
I hope you enjoyed today’s blog.
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William Zinsser – On Writing Well (audio book), US
That’s so true. It applies not only to novel/ short story writing, but also to news/feature writing.
I need to go back over my stories with this in mind. Thanks for the tips, newbies like me need all the help we can get. Thanks!