Writing Tight: Making Every Sentence Count

To me, writing tight means writing with clarity.

  1. Sometimes you need to simplify your sentences.  Instead of writing: Jane hopped in her little yellow car, revved the engine and made the wheels sputter in the gravel before she took off toward the big city, toward the unknown.  Write: Jane hopped in her car and headed for a new life in San Francisco.
  2. Get rid of clutter.  See Kim Blank’s article on Wordiness.
  3. If a word is unnecessary to the meaning of a sentence, toss it.
  4. Use the active voice.  The dog bit the boy.  Not:  The boy was bit by the dog.
  5. Adjectives and Adverbs.  Don’t say “Jane mumbled unclearly” when “Jane mumbled” does the job.
  6. Read your story aloud or have someone else read it to you.
  7. Be specific.  Don’t make readers work too hard to understand your character’s actions and motives.  Don’t write: Jane’s childhood was horrible and involved many physical altercations.  Write: As a child, Jane was beaten, raped, and locked in the closet every night.
  8. Show readers what happened instead of what didn’t happen.  Strunk and White recommend, “He ignored her.” instead of “He was not paying attention to her.”
  9. Don’t worry about writing tight during the first draft.  Writing tight takes practice and should be done in the revision process.  Writing tight doesn’t mean always writing shorter sentences.  Clarity always comes first.  

If you’re afraid writing tight will change your voice, try it and see.  Take one page of your manuscript and follow these tips.  You might not like cutting your beloved words at first, but when you’re done you’ll see that you’re writing is cleaner, tighter, better.

To add clarity to your writing you also need to watch for grammatical errors.

Copyright © 2013 Theresa Ragan. All rights reserved.

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