Writing tips: keep it tight

The regular Sunday writing tip…

I tend to write a first draft quickly, aiming just to get the story right, with a good sense of flow. When I read it back, I groan. The flow of the story is fine, but the writing is sloppy. There are too many superfluous wishy-washy words that shouldn’t be there. (I never show my first draft to anyone!)

Beware of words that don’t mean anything much: seem to be, appear to be, really, actually, very, keep on, almost, have to, go and, all those useless prepositions. Go for verbs that are punchier.

He went and blew the candle out. If it makes sense, change it to He blew the candle out.
The day appeared fine.
Why not: The day was fine. Even the verb “to be” has more of a punch that “to appear” or “to seem”! Run a “find” on your word processing programme for overused words.

Here are some examples from my recent writing:

“…and then keeps sending me small luxuries he buys with his own money”
Changed to: “…and then sends me small luxuries he buys with his own money”

“I don’t know what you said to her to explain why you lost control of your power while fighting…” There’s a stack of short words here, and you end up reading it twice to work out what it means. It can be altered without changing the meaning or the speech patterns of the character.
Changed to: “I don’t know how you explained your loss of control over your power during the fight…”

…so his father could have a sense of … becomes: …so his father gained a sense of…

…with a troubled expression on her face becomes simply: …with a troubled expression.

Arrant started preparations for planning the building of the aqueduct (Ugh! Did I really write that!?) becomes Arrant started planning the construction of the aqueduct. I replaced “building” with “construction” because it meant one less “ing” word – even though “building ” was a noun in the sentence, it sounded ugly because it followed “planning“.

Beware of too many prepositions one after the other:
He passed
by back up through the alley…
He sat back down behind with Tim.
He turned up below with Garis.
I looked behind back to where…

There is, there are, it was, it is are often superfluous. Toss them if you can.
There were six men standing on the road = Six men stood in the roadway.
It was a storm that came from the north = The storm blew in from the north.

Some time this coming week, I’ll do another blog on “How I write a Novel”. Right now I have to devise a questionnaire for birder tourists coming to Malaysia…
I’d rather be writing the ending of “Song of the Shiver Barrens“.
Or doing some birding myself.
Especially on a Sunday.


Writing tips: keep it tight — 3 Comments

  1. Wow! Why don’t text books explain things so well? I learned more from your Sunday writing tips than I did in years reading ‘learning books’.
    I better go back to that book and start editing. 😉


  2. Great tips.. thank you so much. I agree with you about first drafts. I lose my creative edge when I edit the first thoughts that I write down. I also find it helps me to edit a few days after I writing a first draft. Feels like 'fresh eyes'.

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