The Benefits of Brevity

If you follow the Twitterverse, you may know that recently there was a brouhaha over the decision of Twitter client, Tweetdeck, to include native access to so-called “long” tweets. It was exactly the kind of kerfuffle that inspires people to trot out words like “brouhaha” and “kerfuffle,” which is to say, it’s probably not really all that important in the broader scheme of things.

But as a writer, the discussion was more to me than just a fruitless debate about the “essence” of Twitter. It inspired me to start thinking about brevity in general.

For those of you who may not know, Twitter is a chat client that lets you post whatever you want to say as long as you can say it within 144 characters. That means that every letter, every punctuation mark, even every space, matters.

Having that kind of limitation forces you to focus on your writing. You’ll be sitting there looking at a tweet that’s just ten characters over the limit, and you’re thinking to yourself, “Which of these words can I cut out without damaging the overall meaning of the tweet?” And if you’re like me and you refuse to use abbreviations like “ur” for “your,” the challenge becomes even greater.

For some people apparently this limitation is a nuisance, but for me it’s like having a daily reminder to carve out the fat in my writing everywhere. And believe you me, there’s plenty of fat. It’s easy enough to throw words out onto an empty page, and to a point that’s okay. But now I’m in the process of editing, and I’m seeing that I’ve included words, sentences, even entire paragraphs that add absolutely nothing to my story.

Maybe you’re not a tweeter. Maybe you have no desire to become a tweeter. That’s fine and okay. But I believe that it’s a valuable exercise for all writers to participate in some form of limited composition. For instance flash fiction, which is fiction in less than a thousand words, is a great way to learn to limit yourself to the bare essentials of what is needed to tell the story.

It seems to go against the grain of the writer’s “free spirit” we all have within is, but in truth working within restrictions is a fantastic way to stir up our creativity. Because if you were faced with the challenge, “Tell a story about a robot” your mind could go in a million different directions, think of thousands of different scenarios. But what if the challenge became, “Tell a story about a robot in 100 words”, or, “Tell a story about a robot in 144 characters”? (Yes, It does have to be a story about a robot. There will be no argument on this point.) Now you’re forced to look at the problem in a completely different way. Those limitations help to focus the lens of your mind.

This isn’t to say that all stories need to be short. Plenty of stories need a lot of space to tell, and that’s fine. But even in writing those stories you should be cautious not to throw in piles and piles of words, just because you can.

No matter what king of writing you do, always ask yourself, “Is this really necessary to the story I’m trying to tell?” If it’s not, cut it out. It may hurt a little now, but in the long run it will make your writing far more focussed and powerful.

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10 responses to “The Benefits of Brevity

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Benefits of Brevity « Albert Berg's Unsanity Files -- Topsy.com

  2. I love that Twitter only allows 140 characters. And 140 characters can contain a big amount of information. I too refuse to use “ur” instead of “your” and other ugly abbreviations… It’s a challenge to make your message shorter and as a result it’s often better, because it gets the same message across with fewer words.

    Twitter as it is, FTW!

  3. I remember reading about that on Twitter and I personally like the brevity of it. It forces you to cut out all the fluff and say those very important things you need to say. Such brevity is a great practice for writers as well as flash fiction. Not only does writing flash fiction teach you brevity but also how to be clear and concise – because every word counts!

  4. Great post, Albert. I’m with you about keeping twitter short. Though, being an earthy sort, I do like the excuse to use words like “brouhaha” and “kerfuffle.” I mean, how often do you get that chance?

  5. This is a long post considering that your topic is brevity. 😀 Kidding aside, I like the shortness of twitter. It allows me to read hundreds of information about a lot of people in a short amount of time. Otherwise, it would be a blog site we have to muddle through.

  6. Lydia Davis’s Five Stories From Flaubert [Harper’s nov 2010] are fine examples of brevity

  7. This is a great post! I took a course in writing children’s literature that really helped to train me to leave out all of those beautiful, long, overly descriptive words I used to love so much. And it gave me the ability to convey a lively, engaging story without distracting the reader with unnecessary details.
    Am really enjoying your blog!!! Thanks :o)

    I have published three books so far, two children’s stories and one non-fiction self awareness book. Twitter is fun to try and convey and idea in a sentence…I really enjoy the fast pace and new people. It is a great tool.

  8. And the similar posts continue. It’s like you’re an alternate dimension version of me. Except probably a better writer. You say it all so well. Especially with words like “kerfuffle.”

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