Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How to Write Tight - Part 4

The past few posts have been about how to write tight. Here’s the last installment of this series.

12. Cut needless words. Every writer has his favorite words whether he realizes it or not. “Just” is often overused. For example, “She just wanted to sneak another cookie.” This can be tightened like this, “She wanted another cookie.” Or, “She wanted to sneak another cookie.”

13. Know when to use tags. If it’s obvious who’s speaking, you don’t need to use a dialogue tag. Often the action tag reveals who’s speaking, so it’s redundant to use a dialogue tag as well. For example, “Jimmy touched her shoulder. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said.” This can be tightened like this, “Jimmy touched her shoulder. ‘I’m sorry.’” There was no need to write “he said” because we knew Jimmy said this.

14. Look for “was” + “ing” verbs. This is passive writing and too wordy. Instead, change the verb tense to make the sentence tighter and more active. For example, “He was watching her.” This can be tightened like this, “He watched her.” Instead of, “She was dancing all night.” Try, “She danced all night.”

15. Avoid non-specific words like “it’ and “thing.” Writing tight isn’t just about cutting the word count. It’s also about using specific words. For example, “She didn’t want to do it.” Try, “She didn’t want to do her homework.” Whatever “it” or “thing” is replacing, try using the actual word instead. This can’t always be done without ruining the flow of the writing, but you’ll find if you make an effort to replace non-specific words like this, your writing will be stronger. AND, try to avoid starting sentences, especially paragraphs with “it.”

Now it’s your turn. What are some of the tricks you use to tighten your writing?

Lynnette Labelle


  1. Read over your tips. All great suggestions.

  2. I'm doing a lot of "was"+ cutting in my book as a final draft of edits hits my desk. I can't believe I used so many of them. It's a real headache but I'm satisfied with the result thus far. You are so makes for weak writing. I feel that I'm continuously getting better as a writer and have to constantly be aware of where I fail.