Writing Tight

Hi, SEers! It’s time for another Mae Day on Story Empire.  I’m going to preface this post by saying I’m not an editor or expert, but I do make an effort to write tight when composing. Part of that involves eliminating filler words such as that, just, really, very, slightly, and only among others. Most writers know to scour their manuscript and weed out fillers. But how else can you write tight?

the word tight highlighted in a dictionary

ADVERBS
As Stephen King likes to point out—eliminate adverbs. I soften that to “avoid them.” Some are necessary, others may enrich a passage. It’s your call on how stringently you adhere to Mr. King’s  advice. Note the adverb? I thought it worked here. 

ELIMINATE REDUNDANCY
English is filled with redundant expressions, many that transfer into our writing. Do any from the list below sound familiar? I’m guilty of allowing several to slip into my WIPs.

Quick glimpse (glimpse)
Bouquet of flowers (bouquet)
Careful scrutiny (scrutiny)
Current trend (trend)
Gathered together (gathered)
Lag behind (lag)
Period of time (period)
Bald-headed (bald)
End result (result)
Briefly summarized (summarized)

Let’s look at a redundant phrase:
Millie’s heart hammered in her chest.

I see this one a lot, but think about it…where else would Millie’s heart hammer except in her chest? It’s not going to hammer in her arm or leg. 🙂

Correction:

Millie’s heart hammered against her ribs.

The first sentence is similar to saying Millie’s breath caught in her throat (where else would it catch?) when you could more concisely say Millie caught her breath. You’ve also changed the wording from passive to active, yet another way to tighten your writing.

ELIMINATE PASSIVE PHRASING
Passive:
“Don’t be thick, Jamie. You know who I am.” A disbelieving snort was accompanied by the pointed lifting of two blond eyebrows.  “It’s Christmas Eve, boy.  Didn’t you ever read Dickens?”

Active:
“Don’t be thick, Jamie. You know who I am.” A disbelieving snort accompanied the pointed lifting of two blond brows. “It’s Christmas Eve, boy.  Didn’t you ever read Dickens?”

Note the change in the middle section.

UNNECESSARY ARTICLE AND PRONOUNS
Check carefully. There are times you can eliminate a, an, or the. Same for pronouns.

Example:
Millie looked about for a place to sit down, but she didn’t see an empty seat.

Eliminate redundancy and tighten:
Millie looked for a place to sit, but didn’t see an empty seat.

Three words eliminated: about, down, she

TIGHTEN SENTENCE STRUCTURE
Wordy:
James tried to follow the reasoning but was still having problems wrapping his head around the image of his grandfather – – his deceased grandfather – – sitting comfortably on the couch.  “You mean A Christmas Carol?” he ventured at last.  “. . . ghosts of Christmas past?”

Tight:
James tried to follow the reasoning but couldn’t wrap his head around the image of his deceased grandfather on the couch. “You mean A Christmas Carol? Ghosts of Christmas past?”

DELETE REPETITIVE WORDS
They’re easy to overlook. Go through our manuscript and kill any echoes. I find reading aloud helps to spot them.

Note that writing tight does not mean throttling your muse. I endeavor to write tight but I’ve also been called a descriptive writer. The two can work together. There’s no need to stifle your creativity, it’s more about choosing your words. I edit as I write, and tighten as I edit. 🙂

What’ your method? How do you feel about writing tight? Is it something you strive to do? Do you have any tricks to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts on today’s post.

Ready, set, go!

bio box for author Mae Clair

61 thoughts on “Writing Tight

    • There’s nothing wrong with being florid at times. You have a distinctive style that I positively love. It allows me to wallow around in your scenes. Your work has a beautiful literary tone, even when you’re writing about harsh and stark realities—or visiting crows 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, again, thanks so much! I wonder if we realise that we have a style. I know you have – it’s very strong and distinctive, and I see it in other successful writers, too, but I never think of myself as having anything particularly different. There you go!

        Liked by 1 person

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    • The more you work at it, Robbie, the easier it will become. And I don’t think it’s anything we ever achieve completely. As writers, we have to constantly be on the look out for redundancy and tightening our writing.
      Happy writing! I’m glad you enjoyed the article and found it helpful.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I was a technical writer for many years. This profession makes you write tight. I find the opposite when I write. I don’t do much with description of any kind. I have to go back and add. I’m not saying I add fluff, but I do need to add to enhance the story. Although, I do find myself using the word “that” more than I should.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Uh-oh. Guilty on all counts at some stage from the beginning of my work to my current WIP. We are on a never-ending learning curve, or we should be. I’m currently re-reading my works from years ago and am gobsmacked by the comparison to my current works. I decided to go back and make all the necessary changes. I’ll be applying many of the shared insights in your post. Thanks, Mae.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Excellent post and example, Mae. I found a tool that is helpful in spotting overused words, ProWritingAid. I tend to use the word “could” or “couldn’t” a lot. In one part of a manuscript, I had used it over 90 times. 🙂 Wow! And, in going back over it, I found lots of other ways to say the same thing. I agree on adverbs. They are necessary at times. Thanks for sharing. We can always use refreshers. Hugs!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jan, I’ve never heard of ProWritingAid, but I am off to look it up as soon as I finish this reply, It sounds like an extreme useful tool. Thanks for sharing. I think we all have crutch words the we use a lot. I’ve found out I need to be on the lookout for “surely” among others! {{hugs}}

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “Sat down” and “stood up” are two I’m always correcting when I edit. Same with word echoes, particularly on people’s names. Yet I’m sure I let those slip into my writing all the time. That’s why I’m grateful for my critique group — they are careful readers and find many of my mistakes when I’m blind to them.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Wonderful post today. I always heard the redundancies are called pleonasms. I just like the word. How do you differentiate a bouquet of flowers from one of, say skulls? How do you feel if someone calls it a bouquet of lilies, as opposed to flowers?

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Pingback: Writing Tight | Ann Writes Inspiration

    • Glad you enjoyed the post, Joan! I find no matter how many times I go over my manuscript, I’m constantly finding ways to tighten passages.And then, of course my critique partners catch the ones I STILL overlook, LOL!

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Great article, Mae. I am all about writing tight. One I see a lot is: ‘she nodded her head.’ We know this can only be her head, so we can reduce down to: ‘She nodded.’ And ‘hear, hear’ on not being repetitive. The same word used over and over in quick succession drives me nuts. Google is a great resource for finding synonyms if you’re stuck. Thanks for this, Mae 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • She nodded her headed is another excellent example, Harmony. It’s amazing what can be cut when you really stop and analyse a passage. Also, great reference to Google. The internet is such a powerful tool when stuck.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Stepping away from your WIP for days or weeks is a great way to look at it fresh, Priscilla. That always makes such a difference for me.
      Recently, I was up against a deadline and had to read through my ms three times in three days! I have a post coming up this week on my blog about how SICK I was of reading it, LOL.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Yeah. Stephen King and I seem to have opposite opinions on adverbs. Always find it weird when a tip involves not using a part of the human language. It really drives home the fact that we’re expected to write in a different way than we talk.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I do use the occasional adverb when I write, but I find myself cutting them more than I used to when I re-read a sentence. I think writing would be boring without some adverbs thrown in. The same with adjectives. And, yes, I agree we definitely write differently than we talk. Another reason why things slip through in my writing I have to catch on a re-read or my critique partners do.

      On that subject, one that trips me up all the time: I have to remember to write (as an example) “the battery needs to be replaced” instead of “the battery needs replaced.” That’s the common phrasing in my area and it still slips through in my writing!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Might be my present tense and action style. They help set the scene since I can’t do a lot of internal or past connection things without it being clunky. Never thought of area phrases either. Those can cause some confusion.

        Liked by 1 person

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