I especially learned this about a week ago when I served as interim editor (the regular editor was on vacation) and laid out the paper. What happens when you have a 600-word column in a slot where it needs to be 500 words? Or how about an 800-word article where a 600-word article will fit? Your options center around that adage from the venerable Strunk and White: Avoid needless words. While it always hurts for writers to say goodbye to words they’ve fallen in love with, it’s actually a lot more painless than what you might imagine. First, look over the piece and see if a big chunk can be alleviated by ridding the story or column of any needless information. Anything that falls under “who cares?” or “this is great info, but it’s just not important enough to warrant keeping.” After you do that, you can look over your words and see where you can condense and tighten. “He considered the fact that Johnson’s idea had validity” could become “He considered that Johnson’s idea was valid”. “The meeting will be held tonight at 9 p.m.” could become “The meeting’s tonight at 9 p.m.”
This lesson makes me think of a science fiction novel I tried to read. Fascinating, but unbelievably boring in parts. There were sections where the novelist takes 15-30 pages to describe alien flight in the sky where maybe 10 would’ve sufficed. It’s the same in movies: pacing. Creativity and story telling are nice but you have to consider when the audience has the point.