500 Words Explained

A little while ago I had a mini-rant about 500 word essays. I promised I would explain/elaborate at a later date. I just didn’t plan on the date being this much later! Ah well, at least I remembered eventually – that’s got to count for something?

I have a problem. I have to write an essay. The essay isn’t the problem – an essay is just an argument in words after all and I like arguing and I like words – it is the length of this essay that is getting to me.

It’s only meant to be 500 words.

Yup. I haven’t written 500 words since, well, last time I did A-Levels (or GCSE’s for that matter). The last piece of work was my thesis where my introduction alone was nearly 2000 words! Now my introduction needs to be two sentences.

Which means concise.

Which means I am screwed as I have never been concise in my life. My blog posts are frequently over the 1000 word mark. It’s not uncommon for them to be 2000 words. I think the longest clocked in at just over 3000 words – though I admit that was stretching to the breaking point and beyond what you want to read on a blog.

If you’re counting, this makes approximately 155 words.

So yup, I am, as previously mentioned, screwed. Up a malodorous backwater without any means of propulsion. Shafted. And all other pleasant types of things (Oh, 180).

So what wondrous subject have I got to condense into 500 words (which approximates 2 handwritten – handwritten! I can’t read my own bloody writing half the time! – sides)?

It boils down to gender discourse in one of Angela Carter’s short stories – “The Snow Child”. A topic which, if you set your mind to it, it is easy to write 5 thousand words on. I’m not stressing the assignment. In fact I was enthused about it before I knew how little I had to say.

We even did a mock essay plan! It’s at these points the differences between me (two degrees, 24, writes for a past time) and the majority of the class (18/19, just done A-Levels, still to even experience Uni) become startlingly clear. In Uni you write essays constantly. Long, complex essays. A-level essays are smaller but at the same time more important – you write just two before your coursework. You are quite expressly NOT permitted to voice your opinion as that is considered arrogant, as we were told tonight. Work from the text, don’t use the text to support you. At most the reverse of MSc where opinions are liked and even necessary.

So the essay plan was “P.E.A.R” (point, example, analyze, refer) or “Intro, point 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, conclusion” and I had to struggle not to laugh out loud. 500 words just keeps ringing in my head. Five points plus intro and conclusion.
Say 450 words for points, 50 for the rest.
That gives me 90 words to make my points.
And don’t forget I have to quote things, so say two quotes for each point, fifteen words each.
That leaves 60 words for each analysis.

On fuck I am so monumentally screwed! If you are counting along with me now by the way, we are approaching the 475 word mark. Time for the conclusion?

Why did I write this post? To illustrate how little 500 words is to me now. It’s two and a half pages of my tatty handwriting. It’s taken me thirty minutes to scrawl. It’s just about enough to express my disgust at a 500 word limit but no way enough to do justice to “In what ways does Carter use language to present male and female in The Snow Child?”

Yes, I will also post my essay (when it’s written and marked) for the edification and amusement of you all *

Now I’ve got to go to bed and ask myself why I find it so hard to be concise. When did being verbose and being able to write 5000 word essays become a good thing? Surely brevity is also a virtue? Wasn’t the Gettyesburg Address also child-sized? To be able to quickly sketch your argument and clearly illustrate it… Now that’s a good skill to have, surely?

And the final word count of this post? Six hundred and eighty glorious words, give or take a handful.

* If I get a good mark that is. If I get a bad mark I shall crawl under my desk and die in shame. No really, I will.

11 thoughts on “500 Words Explained

  1. Well, my first bit of advice in cutting down your word count is to stop writing sentences talking about how many words you’ve written so far! πŸ˜›

    (/smartass)

  2. * If I get a good mark that is. If I get a bad mark I shall crawl under my desk and die in shame. No really, I will.

    No you won’t. You will post it anyway so that you can get some suggestions on where you could have cut back, changed or whatever. πŸ˜›

    Use your blog to your advantage.

  3. No you wonÒ€ℒt. You will post it anyway so that you can get some suggestions on where you could have cut back, changed or whatever

    Yes, yes I would. If I had proven incapable of writing 500 good words I would have put away my keyboard for good. What claim could I possibly make to being a writer if I failed at the first AS-level assignment, which is something 16/17 year olds normally do?

    Maybe I would still have posted it to get suggestions. We’ll never know now as I actually got a really rather decent mark (yay!) with an “excellent C” comment written on the bottom. Woot! All the suggestions she had to make were valid but, annoyingly, all pointed to bits I had cut out/streamlined to try and get near the limit.

    Ah well. I will still post it soon(ish) for critique by anyone who is curious. I feel I should share the education πŸ˜€

    Use your blog to your advantage.

    You mean there are uses for my blog other than flirting wildly with every man who crosses my path?!
    *blinks in wonder and astonishment*
    I’d never thought about it like that… πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜›

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