Monday, October 24, 2011

How to Write Tight - Part 1

Have you gotten rejection letters saying the writing isn’t tight enough? Have contest judges told you to tighten your writing? Are you scratching your head because nobody’s really explained what that means or how to fix the problem?

Get ready. Here’s a lesson you won’t want to miss.

Why is it so important to write tight? Today’s agents and editors expect tight writing because that’s what readers want. For the most part, readers want to get into the story and to the point. They don’t want to have to skim through fluff. Many of them would rather close the book instead.

Here are some self-editing tricks you can use when looking specifically at tightening your work.

1. Ask yourself… Is every scene essential to the main character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts? Does the scene advance the story or reveal something about the characters? If not, the scene is fluff or filler. Even if this scene is the best scene you’ve ever written, if it doesn’t add to the story (or wouldn’t change the story if you deleted it), you must cut it. Sorry. That doesn’t mean you have to trash the scene. Save it in another folder. You never know. This same scene or portions of it may work well in another story. If not, you’ll always have it and can dig it up to read and cherish whenever you want.

2. Ditto for dialogue… Too many writers think they need to write every little detail about the conversation between two characters. Not true. In reality, we might have small talk about the weather, kind of like a warm up to “the real reason we called,” but we don’t want to read chitchat in novels. Get to the point. Make sure there’s a reason for every word used in the dialogue.

3. Don’t overuse names. This is an area where you want to imitate real life. Think about it. How often do you call your friends by name when you’re talking with them? Not much, if at all, right? The same should apply to your characters when they’re talking. There are other ways to show the reader who’s talking without mentioning names in the dialogue.

4. Don’t beat the reader over the head. Say it once and move on. You don’t have to keep repeating the same idea, even if you’re using different words to do so. Sometimes, a writer will do this in the same paragraph. For example: “Joan’s scraped knee burned. The open wound screamed. Her cut shot pain to her knee.” We get it. She hurt her knee and is in pain. Pick one way to describe this and move on. Another repetition issue is when the writer mentions something in one paragraph and then repeats it a few paragraphs later. For example, “Damn. A flat tire. I’ll have to get this fixed before I can meet up with Peter.” Then, Suzie does something and two paragraphs or more go by. Finally, the tow truck driver arrives and Suzie says, “Oh, thank goodness you’re here. I have a flat and need to get it fixed.” This would’ve been obvious to the driver, and the reader already knows, so there’s no need to say more than, “Thank goodness you’re here.” Of course, the writer could’ve done worse. He could’ve shown the conversation where Suzie called the towing company, so the reader would’ve heard about the problem three times.

I have many more tricks to share with you but don’t want to overwhelm you. Look for more ways to tighten your writing in my next few posts.

Lynnette Labelle


  1. This is a great post. Looking forward to the rest of this series!

  2. Great post! I have to double check myself on number 3 all of the time.

  3. Thanks! There's more to come.

    Lynnette Labelle