Playing With Wordiness

I edit web copy for a living. It’s…enlightening, to say the least.

One of the most intriguing things I’ve noticed over the years is how writers will pack their prose full of unnecessary words and phrases — usually in the hopes of making themselves sound smarter or of meeting the required word count for a freelance job.

I want to play with the kind of wordiness I see on a daily basis. I want people to understand my frustration (even though it’s not a Frustration Friday week). And I want to see if I can even create the kind of concision I expect from writers.

O.G. (197 Words)

I know I started by talking about web writing, but academic writing is one of the best places to find the kind of wordiness I’m talking about (and it’s the kind I have the most examples of). Let’s take a look at the intro paragraph of an essay I wrote in college:

In biological terms, the word adaptation signifies the process of change that animals or plants undergo in order to better function in their environment. The adaptation of a book into a film is quite similar: the book must undergo some changes in order to work as a film. Generally, when speaking of a book-to-film adaptation, people refer to changes made only from a “fidelity” standpoint, ignoring the other reasons that filmmakers may have for changing details, or even entire plotlines. This concept, that there is more than just fidelity to the source text involved in adaptation, is also applicable to “remakes” of old films into new films. Kate Newell, in her article “’We’re Off to See the Wizard’ (Again),” says, “the governing question here is not ‘is this adaptation faithful?’ but ‘to what is this adaptation faithful?’” (Adaptation Studies 80, italics added). In the case of Alice in Wonderland, the Walt Disney production company has made two films. Each is different from the other, and both are different from the original novel by Lewis Carroll, because of the reputation and rules that the Disney company had set up for itself at the time of each film’s release.

Just looking at this makes me uncomfortable. It’s such a fat, blocky paragraph. Nobody wants to look at that! Bleh.

But we’re not here to talk about my issues with paragraph length. We’re here to talk about wordiness. I’m going to leave that paragraph there for reference and have another go at it, this time making it as long as I possibly can without making it completely unintelligible.

Word Up! (223 Words)

Alrighty. Time to stuff words in places. I am going to break this up into multiple paragraphs because there’s no way I’m going to be able to write it otherwise — and I wouldn’t want anyone to suffer through trying to read it.

The word “adaptation,” in strictly biological terms, refers to the process of change that animals and plants undergo in order to better function in their environment.  The adaptation of a book into a film is quite similar: the book must undergo a variety of changes in order to work as a film.

Generally, when speaking of the adaptation of a book to a film, people talk about the changes made in terms of fidelity, or faithfulness to the source material, and ignore the other reasons that the filmmakers may have had for changing minute details or even entire plotlines. But there is more to the adaptation process than just fidelity, and this becomes especially clear when we consider remakes of old films into new films.

Kate Newell, in her essay “‘We’re Off to See the Wizard’ (Again),” says, “The governing question here is not ‘is this adaptation faithful?’ but ‘to what is this adaptation faithful?'” (Adaptation Studies 80, italics added).

Let’s take a look at Disney’s Alice in Wonderland movies. The Walt Disney production company has made two Alice films. Each is different from the other, and both are different from the original novel by Lewis Carroll. They had to be different because of the reputation and rules that the Disney company had established for itself at the time that each film was released.

This wordy version is only 24 more words than the original. Apparently, 2011-Amber had already stuffed this essay full of extra words.

It’s gross and I don’t like looking at it, but it’s a good example of just how wordy you can be when you’re really trying.

The Real Slim Shady (104 Words)

Okie dokie. *cracks knuckles* Let’s do this thing.

“Adaptation” refers to the changes all living things go through to survive in their environment. Adapting a book into a film is similar: changes must be made.

Viewers are often concerned with how faithful a film adaptation is to the source novel, but fidelity isn’t the only factor at play. Adaptation doesn’t happen in a bubble, and a film adaptation isn’t faithful only to the original novel. There are many influences to consider.

For example, Walt Disney Studios has made two Alice in Wonderland adaptations, and each one is a reflection of contemporary trends and Disney’s reputation at different times in the last 75 years.

This slimmed-down version is 93 words shorter than the original and 119 words shorter than the beefed up-version.

And editing it was way harder than I anticipated. I took out the Newell quote entirely, and I rearranged a few key points to eliminate repetition. Because yikes.

I picked a tricky concept on purpose. I wanted to see how much I could simplify the language without losing the original meaning.

I would like to take this time to formally apologize to all my college professors. I knew not the horrors I was inflicting upon you.

Friends, don’t be like 2011-Amber. Weed out unnecessary words!

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