Dec 12

Economy of Language in Stories

Economy of Language in Stories


Economy of language in writing stories means keeping it concise and to the point, but there is no one way to do anything.

If you are writing a poetic description to evoke a lazy atmosphere and peaceful unhurried pace of life, as well as identifying plants and flowers, which should hint at the season and rural landscape, lulling the reader with gently buzzing bees and distant sounds of the breeze in the trees, you are probably going to ramble a bit, quite deliberately. Maybe it is going to be a prelude, and contrast, to a sudden violent event, and it may work superbly, but if it goes on too long and the genre is supposed to be a murder mystery or an exciting ‘race against time’ adventure the reader may have got bored and given up before anything happens!

If you are writing a thriller, an action packed adventure story, the reader would probably prefer that you get on with it, move fairly rapidly into the exciting part of the story. Good openings may begin with a surprise attack, shock tactics, perhaps a question, or some kind of cliff hanger so that the reader immediately thinks, ‘What happens next?’ Ideally, their interest is peaked at once and they are intrigued.

‘Nine deafening seconds after she walked into the restaurant with the gun in her hand, four people lay dead.’

Immediately there are questions, there is a mystery to solve. Who is she? Who are the victims? Why? Where? What is it all about? Start the story in the middle of some action, excitement, drama. How they all got there will become apparent . Do not waste time, before catching the reader’s interest, with a lengthy, chronological, introductory explanation. This is especially good advice in short story writing. You have a limited word count so make every word count!

‘As he plummeted towards the rapids, Milton reflected briefly that it would have been better if he had not had an anvil tied to his ankles.

‘ An anvil? Where and when? Is there a hint of humour in this fairly dramatic moment? Names like ‘Milton’ and stock cliff-hangers, like being chucked into a waterfall, suggest a tongue in cheek adventure, in which the somewhat witless hero never-the-less saves the day and gets the girl!

The reader has a chance of being able to tell in the very first sentence whether the book is his type of story.

You can create atmosphere with a few key words or phrases without lengthy description. Few words contain a more complete description of a typically ‘perfect English summer’s day’ than ‘balmy’. ‘Catastrophic’ implies lasting, devastating, large scale,and irreversible destruction of some kind….

If you purposely vary your sentence length to match situations, or character types, it can create dramatic effect and mood.

Occasional longer sentences, with more poetic language and evocative vocabulary will match a gentle, romantic or philosophical sequence.

Short sharp sentences create drama a sense of danger, pursuit, panic or pressure.

Mix and match and maybe add some alliteration and/or onomatopoeia into the language to evoke atmosphere.

Practice: A good exercise is to try to evoke

  • a famous place
  • a well known person
  • a time
  • a genre,
  • a climate

each in as few words as possible.

If you are in a group, read out your pieces and try to identify each other’s subjects. Share ideas and make constructive criticisms and suggestions.

Try editing what you have done after discussion, or maybe edit each other’s.


Category: Advice and Information. Tags: Styles,Description,Appropriate language,Practice

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