Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Words to Contemplate

250 words (or less)

What can you do with 250 words, besides eat them? At a recent fiction workshop we were given assignments to develop specific settings, characters, and dialogues, each with a 250 word limit. Some students waxed eloquent and wrote pages and pages of masterful prose, but the instructor stopped reading at 250 words. Her point: cut, edit, and make every word count.

A few words can pack quite a wallop. Some succinct examples:
The Gettysburg Address was 367 words in length. Reporters hardly had time to settle in their camp chairs and fumble with pad and pen before it was over. Yet it is regarded as one of the most moving speeches ever written. 

This moving passage from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address has 74 words: With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

The Preamble to the Constitution was accomplished in 52 words: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the united states of America.

Powerful emotion is contained in this line from Martin Luther King’s famous speech, captured in 34 words: I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Nephi’s introduction to the Book of Mormon is 95 words long: I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

Every night during the weeklong workshop I spent hours over my 250 word assignments, learning to eliminate redundancy, wordiness, and unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. What was left was clean, uncluttered, and to the point.

Shakespeare sums it up in six words: Brevity is the soul of wit.

1 comment:

Pam Williams said...

When I taught creative writing, I had two main "sermons in a sentence":
Strive for polished brevity.
Words that aren't working FOR you are working AGAINST you.

I use these like mantras when I'm revising.