September 25, 2017

Quotes on story length

What writers and others say

Less is more

“Deliver your words not by number but by weight.”
— H.G. Bohn, British publisher

“Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things.”
— George W. Bush, then-Texas governor who became president of the United States

“Brevity is the sister of talent.”
— Anton Chekhov, Russian playwright

“Words have to be crafted, not sprayed.”
— Norman Cousins, the late editor in chief of the Saturday Review

“Let the speech be short, comprehending much in few words.”
— Ecclesiastes

“The more you say, the less people remember.”
— Fortune in a cookie opened by a writer

“Loquacity and lying are cousins.”
— German Proverb

“All Enron proves is that in an age of increasing financial complexity the ‘disclosure paradigm’ — the idea that the more a company tells us about its business, the better off we are — has become an anachronism.”
— Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink

“We take it, as a given, that the more information decision makers have, the better off they are. … But what does the Goldman algorithm say? Quite the opposite: that all that extra information isn’t actually an advantage at all … In fact … that extra information is more than useless. It’s harmful. It confuses the issues.”
— Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink

“The most important lesson in the writing trade is that any manuscript is improved if you cut away the fat.”
— Robert Heinlein, author of “hard” science fiction

“A talk need not be eternal to be immortal.”
— Muriel Humphrey, to her husband, Hubert

“My father said whoever tells the longest story is the liar. The truth isn’t that complicated.”
— Bill Joy, chief technology wizard for Sun Microsystems, commenting on the testimony of a witness during the Microsoft antitrust trial

“Abraham Lincoln spoke only two minutes at Gettysburg; the main orator of the day, Edward Everett, spoke nearly two hours. Yet who remembers Edward Everett or what he said?”
— Paula LaRocque, newspaper writing coach

“He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know.”
— Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States

“It is better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and resolve all doubt.”
— Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States

“The struggle is against words, words, words. And every word has to count.”
— Samuel Menashe, New York poet, and recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s first Neglected Masters Award

“After all is said and done, a hell lot of a lot more is said than done.”
— H.L. Mencken, 20th-century journalist, sage, critic and curmudgeon

“Simple and clean … beats complicated and long.”
— Steve Milunovich, Merrill Lynch’s technology strategist

“Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.”
— Joseph Pulitzer, owner of The New York World who established the Pulitzer Prize

“Be silent, or say something better than silence.”
— Pythagoras, mathematician and philosopher

“They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.”
— Thomas Brackett Reed, former U.S. Representative (Rep.) from Maine and Speaker of the House

“Be sincere, be brief, be seated.”
— President Franklin D. Roosevelt advising his son, James, on speechmaking

“Men of few words are the best men.”
— William Shakespeare, English poet and playwright widely regarded as the greatest writer of the English language

“Don’t tell too much. Don’t tell Exactly What Happened. Exercise a little discretion; decide what’s necessary and what isn’t. The sign of a good researcher, some might say, is getting all the facts, but the sign of a good writer is selecting only the ones that are going to help the piece.”
— Art Spikol, president of Art Spikol Inc.

“Too many pieces of music finish too long after the end.”
— Igor Stravinsky, Russian-American composer of modern classical music

“Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech.”
— Martin Fraquhar Tupper, author and wit

“With a hundred words to do it with, the literary artisan could catch that airy thought and tie it down and reduce it to a cabbage, but the artist does it with twenty, and the result is a flower.”
— Mark Twain, American writer and wit

“Fewer words = clearer point.”
— Pete Weissman, a national political speechwriter in Washington

“I have often regretted my speech, never my silence.”
— Xenocrates, Greek philosopher, 396 BC to 314 BC

Have something to say

“There is nothing wrong with having nothing to say — unless you insist on saying it.”
— Anonymous

“Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.”
— Sholem Asch, Polish-born American novelist, dramatist, and essayist in the Yiddish language

“There is less in this than meets the eye.”
— Tallulah Bankhead, American actor, commenting about a play

“Barneyware: The purple dinosaur may have faded from the scene, but his legacy lives on. Barneyware is anything that has little or no substance. Example: A joint press release by two companies that have nothing new to announce, but in order to generate media attention declare their mutual admiration for each other. In effect, the release says nothing more than ‘I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family.'”
BuzzWhack

“bloated syntax: Anything that’s overwritten — often padded with unnecessary adjectives or laden with hyperbole. Also appropriately known as ‘BS.'”
BuzzWhack

“column fodder: Often pointless data entered into a spreadsheet to make it look more in-depth and impressive than it really is. ‘Columns A through C are the only columns that matter. The remaining 17 are column fodder.'”
BuzzWhack

“credenza-ware: An organization’s strategic plan that’s displayed prominently behind an executive’s desk, but sits untouched until it’s updated the following year.”
BuzzWhack

“Premumble: opening comments by speakers (or writers) before they begin their real presentations. Hopefully interesting, frequently not.”
BuzzWhack

“When you have nothing to say, say nothing.”
— Charles Caleb Colton, English writer

“The first rule, indeed by itself virtually a sufficient condition for good style, is to have something to say.”
— Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher and pessimist

Other tips

“Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice; journalism what will be grasped at once.”
— Cyril Connolly, British critic

“I’ve read 80-inch stories that I could have read another 20 inches on. And I’ve read 10-inch stories that were too long. So, it all depends on … how was it done? What’s the reporting? How’s the writing? Is it a topic that really engages and captivates?”
— Michael Days, editor of the Philadelphia Daily News

“If I sit down, I write a long opinion and don’t come to the point as quickly as I could. If I stand up, I write as long as my knees hold out. When my knees give out, I know it’s time to stop.”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

“Summarize Your First Sexual Experience In One Word Or Less”
“Less.”
— “Is this the world’s shortest poem?” St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 1, 1998
  • Cut Through the Clutter

    Is your copy easy to read? According to communication experts, that’s one of the two key questions people ask to determine whether to read a piece — or toss it.

    Fortunately, academics have tested and quantified what makes copy easy to read. Unfortunately, that research virtually never makes it out of the ivory tower and into the hands of writers who could actually apply it.

    Cut Through the Clutter - Ann Wylie's concise writing master class on April 17-18, 2018 in New YorkAt Cut Through the Clutter — a two-day concise-writing master class on April 17-18, 2018 in New York — you’ll learn “the numbers” you need to measurably improve your copy’s readability.

    Specifically, you’ll learn:

    • How long is too long: For your paragraphs? Your sentences? Your words?
    • Three ways to shorten your copy — and which is the most effective way.
    • How to avoid causing your reader to skip your paragraphs.
    • A tool you can use (you already have it, but you might not know it) to quantifiably improve your copy’s readability.
    • A seven-step system for making your copy clearer and more concise.

    Learn more about the Master Class.

    Register for Cut Through the Clutter - Ann Wylie's concise writing master class on April 17-18, 2018 in New York


    Browse all upcoming Master Classes.

    Would you like to hold an in-house Cut Through the Clutter workshop? Contact Ann directly.


%d bloggers like this: