Last week I promised to share some of the material I covered at the Writers’ Institute. “Tight writing” was one of the subjects I addressed when Christine DeSmet and I presented “Why Critiquing is Necessary.”
Before critiquing my manuscript was 110,000 words
After critiquing my manuscript was 73,000 words
Trim the Fat
If it can be said with fewer words, eliminate the unnecessary and make every word count.
“That,” “just,” and “very” can almost always be
cut from your work eliminated.
smiled slightly at the photographer.
Trim: She grinned at the photographer.
Flabby: With a pagoda-style roof, it had a distinctly asian
look to it.
Trim: With a pagoda-style roof, it had a distinctly asian appearance.
was a very pretty woman.
Trim: She was beautiful.
Show, Don’t Tell
In the previous example, I broke the first rule of writing—show don’t tell. “She was beautiful” is classic telling. Here’s how to show she was beautiful:
“Framed with a mass of auburn curls, her oval face was complimented by mesmerizing bottle-green eyes and red lips that curved into a captivating smile.”
And while this sentence is longer than “She was beautiful,” clarity trumps brevity every time.
words that aren’t needed unnecessary words:
Her doctor asked her the question again, “Where does it hurt?”
The words “ask” and “question” are redundant. Can you ask anything other than a question? Here’s how it looks when redundancy is removed:
Her doctor repeated the question, “Where does it hurt?”
Huge skyscraper”—it has to be pretty darn big to scrape the sky.
Advance planning”—all planning is done in advance.
Avoid using the same words repeatedly. Substitute another word with the same meaning:
“In the white winters you can sled or cross-country ski to Lake Tahoe’s many resorts. In the hot, bright summers there’s hiking through giant forests and climbing the Sierra Buttes. In the autumn the deciduous trees glow with vivid fall color, and in the spring, masses of wildflowers create a psychedelic dreamscape.”
Here’s the same paragraph, replacing the last three instances of “in the.”
“In the white winters you can sled or cross-country ski to Lake Tahoe’s many resorts. During the hot, bright summers there’s hiking through giant forests and climbing the Sierra Buttes. Come autumn the deciduous trees glow with vivid fall color, and when spring arrives, masses of wildflowers create a psychedelic dreamscape.”
Do you write tight from the get-go, or do you have to go back and trim the fat?
“Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”
— Laurie Buchanan
© 2012 Laurie Buchanan– All Rights Reserved