Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to Write Tight - Part 2

In my last post, I talked about a few ways to ensure your writing is tight. I gave you questions to ask yourself to see if a scene or conversation is necessary, and I told you not to overuse names in dialogue or to beat the reader over the head. If you missed this post, scroll down. It should be below this one.

The lesson is not over. I still have plenty of tricks to share. Take a look…

5. Don’t overdo descriptions. A dark blue dress is a navy dress. See, you’ve cut one word already. Not so hard, right? Take a look at this… “He wore a tattered green shirt, ripped on one shoulder, and stained across the front with something yellow. His jeans had holes in the knees—not for a fashion statement—and his shoes didn’t match.” If this person is a main character, you could keep this as it is. The problem is that writers tend to describe everyone as detailed as this. If the character is a secondary character, mention one to three things about him. If she’s a walk-on, only note one thing about her, something you’d notice as a first impression. Otherwise, the same description above can be shortened like this, “He dressed like a pauper.” Or, “He dressed like a bum.” Or, “He dressed like he shopped at a thrift store.” The reader will still be able to create a similar image in her mind.

6. Choose descriptive verbs instead of weak verbs that need enhancing with adverbs and more details. For example, “Billy walked with a limp.” This could be tightened like this, “Billy limped.” Go through your manuscript to find “walked” and see if you can use a more specific verb to show how the character walked.

7. Avoid backstory or info dumps. Instead of stopping the forward motion of the story by writing paragraphs or pages of details about the character’s past, weave all of this into the story through dialogue, flashbacks, and narrative.

8. Simplify your sentences. Watch for these examples in particular:

-stand up = stand (The only way to stand is “up”, so it’s not necessary to write both words.)

-sit down = sit (The same logic applies here.)

-rose up = rose (And here.)

-turned back = turned (We’ll be able to tell by the context if he turned back or around, so no need to add the extra word.)

-turned around = turned (Same logic applies here.)

-he thought to himself = he thought (He can’t think to anyone else but himself, so this is unnecessary. It would be stronger if you showed him thinking instead—that’s deep POV.)

-he shrugged his shoulders = he shrugged (What else could he be shrugging but his shoulders?)

-he nodded his head = he nodded (The same logic applies here.)

-she pointed her finger = she pointed (And here.)

-he whispered softly = he whispered (You can’t exactly whisper loudly.)

-she yelled loudly = she yelled (Yelling is loud. No need to tell us something we already know.)

-she smiled to herself = she smiled (This is too wordy. We should be able to tell by the context that she’s smiling to herself and not someone else.)

-she crossed her arms over her chest = she crossed her arms (That’s usually how people cross their arms. If she’s doing some other sort of arm crossing, like over her stomach, then you can go into more details to show the reader what you’re describing is a little different.)

-he looked up at the sky = he looked at the sky (Where else would the sky be?)

-he glanced down at his feet = he glanced at his feet (The same logic applies here.)

See? Writing tight isn’t so hard, right? Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to actually write tight. You just have to know how to self-edit so it appears that way.

There’s still more to come in my next two posts. See you then!

Lynnette Labelle


  1. I'm loving this series--it's a good reminder. I'll have to go through my latest MS and see if I've done any of these things...

  2. Great stuff! I do these extra things all the time, and in revision I have to axe them (if I notice--if not, my CPs usually do).

  3. Katie, Michael, and Carol: There's more to come next week. :)

    Lynnette Labelle

  4. Great tips, thanks for sharing.

  5. Both of these posts were informative; and make loads of sense. Thanks for sharing them Lynette. I'm looking forward to reading more of your advise.


  6. Toyin and Donna: Thanks!

    Lynnette Labelle

  7. I am guilty of using the words "up" and "away" too much. Hopefully, this article will help me with this.