Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Nine Ways to Tighten Up Your Writing

Word count meant a lot more to me when I worked for the newspapers. I hated being assigned “20 inches” to write a story, and then having to cut it down to 15 when a fire broke out on Broadway and that story required some of my space.

But word counts are important in non-fiction, too (even if the advent of the ebook has us writing longer and longer works.)

I’m currently working my way through a finished manuscript that’s about 125,000 words long. Ideally, I’d like to cut it back to the 85,000 – 95,000 word range, but I’d be happy with 100k.

So, after debating about several scenes which I removed, I’m left with tightening up the manuscript’s wordiness to pull it together.

To tighten it up, I’m omitting:

  1. Adverbs, and replacing the modified verbs with more specific ones.
  2. “To be” constructions: sentences that start with “It is…” or “There are…” can usually be reworded in a shorter form.
  3. “To be” appositives. (An appositive is a noun that names another right beside it in the sentence.) For example: Reliable, Diane’s eleven-year-old beagle, chews holes in the living room carpeting as if he were still a puppy. Example (and more information available) from: http://www.chompchomp.com/terms/appositive.htm
  4. Possessive Constructions. (Too much use of the word “of.”) Reword or turn phrases around to get rid of it.
  5. “Excessive” mood setting, scene setting, internal and external dialogue. (Chop! Chop! Chop!)

Here are some things you can do to tighten up non-fiction:

  1. Make contractions. (I used to feel this was cheating, but I don’t anymore.) 🙂
  2. Similarly, get rid of coordinating conjunctions between complete sentences. For example: I hate to waste a single drop of squid eyeball stew, for it is expensive and time-consuming to make. When every word counts, deleting these words works wonders. More about coordinating conjunctions here. (The cool example came from there, too.)
  3. Get rid of rhetorical comments, parenthetical statements, and/or your own editorial comments*.

* Unless it’s an opinion piece, of course!

What tricks do you have to tighten up your prose?

4 comments to Nine Ways to Tighten Up Your Writing

  • Gayle G.

    These all sound great. I have to try and use them.
    I think constantly improving my vocabulary helped to tighten up words. When I was writing for magazines and such, I learned the value of finding precise words.

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