Tighter Writing Made Simple

On this blog, I try to mix up the topics, swinging from the lofty heights of creativity and the writing life to everyday tips from the trenches. Lately I’ve met quite a few writers eager to advance to the “next level,” whatever that means for each person.
Writing Tip for Today: Taking a step forward in learning the writing craft often means writing tighter. Here are some simple ways to keep your prose moving and “tighten up” the results:

  • Stick with Active Verbs. As we discussed yesterday, avoid the passive voice (to be verbs) and be on the lookout for those pesky “ings” whatever you want to call them. Direct and active prose keeps readers going forward.
  • Tone Down Modifiers. Are you seeing a pattern in your work? One where each noun has two modifiers (adjectives) or some other predictable pattern? You can edit out modifiers by choosing more particular nouns and verbs.
  • Prepositional Horse Fodder. Tighten your stuff by eliminating extra prepositions and substituting contractions or breaking up long sentences. Thus, “She drove to the house by the ocean,” becomes, “She drove to the oceanfront home.”
  • Watch Descriptions. We’re told to offer the reader lots of concrete sensory detail, (CSD). But be careful: over description halts the action. Learn to weave description into the action to avoid  big slabs of dense description. Try this: Only describe a few details that come with an instant impression. You might mention a person’s cow lick or their red suspenders but skip over other less unique details.
  • Resist the Urge to Explain. RUE is good to remember. Explanation stalls action. Just SHOW it.
  • Dialogue Dumping Ground. Limit your dialogue to words the characters would really say to each other. If you dump stuff you need the reader to know into the character’s mouth, it’s not credible and the reader resents the author’s intrusion. People don’t say aloud stuff they both already know. EXAMPLE: “You know, Harold, that we have to stay 24 hours in your Aunt Gert’s haunted house in order to collect the 1.5 million dollar inheritance money.” Who would say that? I thought so. Today, look over your draft and if you spot these issues, get out your red pen.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

4 comments on “Tighter Writing Made Simple

  1. Short and sweet…I like it. Wouldn’t you say there are moments you’d need to explain situations? Or is there really no moment in a book that woul be better progressed by SHOWN action rather than explained action. In case some backstory is necessary?
    I like what you’ve said about dialog too, so true. I used to write all of my characters as if they were exposition-robots instead of living people.
    I’m also curious if you think these principles can be applied to teaching children how to write. I need some good material on how to teach kids to write, and I think learning by writing (getting the kids to just practice) is beneficial. Do you think these tips would be over their heads (you’re describing advancing to the “next” level)? The “show, don’t explain” philosophy seems to be tough for even some teenagers I know. I’m looking into getting Fred Lybrand’s writing course from http://www.advanced-writing-resources.com (don’t know if you’ve heard of him or not), so far his testimonies are pretty convincing and they fit in with the tips you’ve given here. Just looking for other opinions out there. Thanks a bunch for this blog and your insight.

    -Jeff

  2. Jeff,
    I have not heard of this person, but I don’t know everyone. If you’re working with kids (I’ve taught 3-6 grades)one idea I’ve had is to tell them to imagine the movie or video in their minds, and then write down what they see, hear, smell, taste or touch. At first it’ll be too detailed, but getting kids to pay attention to concrete sensory detail is a good first step.Then you could do a different lesson where all they would write down is the action or the thoughts the character is having as the action unfolds. Let me know how everything goes, will you? Good Luck! ~Linda

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