By Andrea Merrell
So far, we’ve discussed the overuse of exclamation points, quotation marks, and italics.
With those basics under our belt, let’s continue to clean up our manuscripts as we talk about how to avoid repetition and write tight.
What exactly does writing tight mean?
- Saying as much as possible in as few words as possible.
- Conveying exactly what you mean.
- Writing in concise, easy-to-read-and-understand terms.
- Eliminating extraneous phrases and words (especially adverbs).
Every writer has pet words and phrases that must be weeded from his or her manuscript. A few of the most common are: just, really, that, then, truly, simply, slowly, gently, suddenly, as if, however, therefore, seemed to, and began to.
Writers also tend to over-explain. If you’re doing a good job showing your story, don’t continue by telling it as well. Be careful not to overwhelm your reader with details, unless they move the story forward. Avoid taking rabbit trails. You don’t want your reader to get lost, needing a GPS to find the way back to your plot.
Another big problem is the overuse of the word I, especially in fiction. Let’s get one final piece of advice from literary agent Chip McGregor’s blog post, What Drives an Editor Crazy?
Print out a copy of your proposal or manuscript and look it over. If the FIRST WORD of every paragraph is the same, you need to go back and change it. (Unless the first word of every paragraph is the word “I,” in which case you need to be slapped by the person sitting next to you, THEN go back and change it.
The bottom line is this: Anything you use over and over in your story—whether it’s punctuation, words, phrases, descriptions, or names—will jump off the page and wear on your reader. I once read a book and—about halfway through—decided if the author used a certain word one more time, I would put the book down and never touch it again. (Actually, I had to make myself finish the book, and I’ve never read anything else by that author.)
Adopt the concept, less is more. Watch for redundancies. Make your words count. When you proof your work, read it out loud. Put yourself in the head of your reader.
Homework: Compose a devotion or article of 500 words, then go back and cut it down to 300 words. It’s much harder than you think, but it will be time well spent as you learn to think outside the box and use your words in the best way possible. (When you come up with a great devotion, don’t forget to submit it to www.ChristianDevotions.us. Be sure to check the guidelines on the website. J)