Write Tight

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by Maureen Lang

I’ve just finished my current Work In Progress, and I always share my first draft with at least one trusted friend and critique partner before starting my revision process. Fresh eyes have a way of spotting plot twists that fall flat, character traits that don’t ring true or, the subject of today’s blog post, unnecessary verbiage. The fact is, tight writing is crisp and keeps the story going. It doesn’t demand the reader’s eye slog over unnecessary words that get in the way-or worse, confuse the content.

Here are some things to look for when trying to write tight:

Information dump. Whether you’re writing historical or contemporary stories, there is probably some amount of research involved in the detail of your plot or characterization. Sometimes it’s tempting to include a lot of our lovely research, because it can often be fascinating. But if it doesn’t move the story forward, cut it. This can be difficult because we not only work hard diving into our research, but it’s interesting-to us. That doesn’t mean the reader wants a text book excerpt right in the middle of a scene. Your reader only cares about your characters and what’s happening to them through the plot. Make sure every word supports your characters and what’s going on within the story.

Extraneous words. Can you say in five words what you’ve said in ten? My first drafts are filled with wordy sentences. It’s almost as if I love words or something! Well, a love of words should not be confused with a love of storytelling. Clarity is often best achieved succinctly.

Here are a few examples of recent tweaks I made to my own WIP for more direct wording:


…her smile change to one more welcoming.


…her smile became more welcoming.


I’m still in mourning over the loss of my father and his wife.


I’m still in mourning for my father and his wife.


He had even gone so far as to insure Julia would be there to act as his hostess if necessary.


He asked Julia to play hostess.

Do you see how tightening up these wordy phrases can speed up the pace and enhance clarity as well?

Word choice. Sometimes a simpler word choice works better than an unusual one, although this is a matter for consideration. Impact can often be enhanced with a more forceful word, but word choice always depends on context.


He sat beside her and unveiled the meal.


He sat beside her and uncovered the tray.

While “unveiled” is a more interesting word than “uncovered” the latter is more suitable to the sort of mundane task that’s happening here. He simply sat down to eat; unveiling, therefore, is too rich a word for the circumstance.

On the other hand, a more unusual word works in some cases:


Unpleasant memories made him anxious.


The shadow of unpleasant memories played only a small part in his anxiety.

All of us hope to be a better writer this year than we were last year, no matter how long we’ve been writing. So keep tight writing in mind as you face revisions this year!

All_In_Good_Time_Screen_Shot Maureen Lang has been writing stories of history and romance since she was ten. Since then she’s become the award-winning author of over a dozen novels, most published with Tyndale. Her latest novel is a romance set in 1880s Denver titled All In Good Time. Visit her on the web at www.maureenlang.com.

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