Back in the 80’s, I copied several pages from Larry Wilde’s 1976 book How The Great Comedy Writers Create Laughter. The book has several ideas that I figured would serve me well whether I was writing comedy or non-comedy material.
“The first thing a writer has to learn is an economy of words. Too many words convolute a thought.” This advice comes from writer Mort Lachman and applies to a wide range of written content.
“For audience attention, the use of simple English is invariably best,” says Sherwood Schwartz, creator-writer of The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island. “If a strange word is used, it takes their minds away from the thought at hand.” I know I’ve been distracted when reading magazine or newspaper pieces that use egghead words, when an everyday word would’ve worked just as well.
“If you want to be a writer, you have to really like to write.” This comment from writer Stan Dreben may seem obvious. However—I often encounter young people who tell me they would like to be writers. I ask, “Do you write much (other than school assignments)? Do you have a blog?” They generally tell me no.
My favorite piece of writing advice from the book is attributed to writer Stanley Ralph Ross who says, “Writing is rewriting and don’t ever forget it. When you’ve cut all the fat away, attack the meat. Then slash at the bone.”
In 2011, I clipped an essay from the Wall Street Journal by Katie Wech. She offers, “In screenwriting, you have to cover a lot of ground with very few words.” She quotes a mentor who describes the craft as “the thong bikini of writing.”
Regarding the economy of words and aggressive editing in her work, she writes: “I’ve thrown away exquisite pieces of dialogue, set pieces that made me giggle, characters I’ve lived with for months, because at the end of the day, they weren’t necessary to the story.”
She ends the piece (and I end this post) with these words: “I have cultivated… a keen love for the most powerful tool I’ve found as a screenwriter: the delete key.”