“I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”—Mark Twain
I often think of this Mark Twain quote when I’m looking over a manuscript of too many words.
It truly is easier to write long than short when it comes to non-fiction. Editors realize this. That’s why they generally accept longer word counts for non-fiction – under 1,000 words – than they do for fiction – usually under 500 words.
That said, the under 1,000-word count is easier said than done, especially after you’ve done lots of research, you find yourself passionately in love with your subject and you want so very much to share each and every one of those amazing anecdotes and delectable tidbits.
Well, guess what? It takes longer to write shorter, but it’s part of the job. With the disclaimer that sometimes it takes me months to trim and discard, here are a few questions that will help you carve your picture book down to size:
1.Does it propel the story or is it a delightful distraction that slows you down? Save your distractions for the back matter, the teacher guide or your author visits.
2.Does it pertain to your theme? If not, it may belong in another story.
3.Does it exude that faint odor of a laundry list? Yes, we know you are proud of your subject’s many accomplishments and attributes, but this is a picture book, not a textbook of exhaustive knowledge. Go back to questions one and two and only keep the details that propel the story and pertain to your theme.
Yes, I know from experience that it’s easier and faster to throw everything in the story than it is to write something short. But consider the words of Mark Twain. Take the time to write something short, compelling and irresistible. You and your readers will be glad you did.
We are ten authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas and a strong belief in The First Amendment. The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.
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