15 Quick Tips To Help You Write Tight

by Alicia Sparks on March 15, 2011

Check, check, check... Wait, what? What's a flabby verb?

As a freelance writer and editor who has to spend her time effectively juggling learning new skills and brushing up on old ones, marketing her services, socializing with other writers and editors, and – oh yeah – working, I can confidently say time management is a job unto itself.

That’s why it’s sometimes really tough to keep up with all the newsletters, blogs, and articles I either subscribe to or randomly come across. I know there’s good info in there; I just have to find the time to dive into it…

Well, receiving Suzanne Lieurance‘s last “Build Your Business Write” newsletter wasn’t one of those times.

The second I started scrolling through her article, “How to Write Tight – Self-Editing Tips to Make Your Manuscript Ready for Publication,” I knew I had to not only make a copy of it for my own future reference immediately, but also find a way to share it with fellow writers. These editing tips are helpful for editing a manuscript, but I believe you can use some of them for feature articles and copywriting, too.

After a quick e-mail exchange with Suzanne, I learned the article was also published over at Ezine Articles and that I could reprint it here for you all.

So, without further ado…

How to Write Tight – Self-Editing Tips to Make Your Manuscript Ready for Publication

As writers, we hear it all the time. We need to “write tight,” which just means we need to trim all the flab from our manuscripts and make every word count.

Here are some self-editing tips that will help you “write tight” and take your manuscripts from flabby to fit for publication in no time!

1. Avoid a lot of back story — information about the POV character’s history and background. Weave all this into the story instead of loading the manuscript down with too many sentences or paragraphs of straight narrative before the action begins.

2. Simplify your sentences wherever possible. Watch for redundant or unnecessary phrases. As writers, we need to “show, not tell” as often as possible. Yet, some writers tend to show and then tell the same information, which is redundant. Watch out for this in your manuscripts. Also, look for the redundant phrases below and others like them.

Stand up = stand
Sit down = sit
Turned back = turned
Turned around = turned
He thought to himself = He thought.
She shrugged her shoulders = she shrugged
She whispered softly = she whispered
He nodded his head = he nodded

3. Avoid adverbs for the most part. Use strong, descriptive verbs instead.

Flabby: She smiled slightly at the photographer.
Fit: She grinned at the photographer.

4. Avoid using the same word over and over in a paragraph. Go back and reread each sentence. Have you repeated the same word several times within a single sentence or paragraph? If so, substitute another word with the same meaning.

5. Don’t overuse names. Beginning writers tend to have the characters address each other by name too often. When you speak to a friend, you don’t constantly say his name. Don’t have your characters do this either. It doesn’t ring true, and it draws the reader OUT of the story.

6. Limit the description in a dialogue tag. Again, beginning writers tend to load down the dialogue tags (the “he said, she said,” part of the dialogue) with too many details. If you must describe what a character is doing AS he says something, put that information in a separate sentence, not in the dialogue tag. And keep it short.

7. Avoid participle phrases — particularly at the beginning of sentences. Participle phrases end in the letters -ing. Go back over every page of your manuscript and circle the places where you’ve started a sentence with a participle phrase. If your manuscript is loaded down with participle phrases it tends to distract the reader and pull him out of the story.

8. No idle chit-chat. Be sure the dialogue advances the storyline. Readers don’t need to hear the characters talking about anything that doesn’t somehow relate directly to what’s happened so far or what will happen next or later in the story.

9. Minimize use of the passive voice.

Here’s an example of passive voice: The ball was hit by Susan.
Here’s the same information in active voice: Susan hit the ball.

10. Use active, descriptive verbs.

Flabby: I was the one who made the decision to go home.
Fit: I decided to go home.

Strengthen weak verbs. You can usually eliminate was and were by replacing them with stronger, more descriptive verbs. Usually, was and were precede an -ing word, and you can change the -ing word to make it stronger.

Flabby: He was talking to my brother.
Fit: He talked to my brother.

11. Minimize use of the verb “to be” to keep the word count down.

Flabby: She is a graceful dancer.
Fit: She dances gracefully.

12. Cut the verb preceding an infinitive if it’s not needed.

Flabby: She was able to fix the bicycle.
Fit: She fixed the bicycle.

13. Avoid using the word that when you don’t need it. Reread each sentence that includes that, then read the sentence without that. If it sounds all right without it, cut it.

Also, avoid other crutch words we tend to rely on yet don’t add much to the story. Other crutch words include just and really. The word suddenly should be used as infrequently as possible. Otherwise, it tends to sound as if your characters are constantly jumping around.

14. Watch for pet words or phrases you tend to favor without even realizing it. Common words like then, as, and when tend to get overused often.

15. Avoid stall phrases that slow down the action for no good reason. Phrases such as: tried to, began to and started to can be changed to the simple paste tense of the verb.

Keep this list of self-editing tips handy for awhile as you’re writing and rewriting until using these tips becomes automatic.

If you want to receive Suzanne’s newsletter “Build Your Business Write” and get even more writing tips, you can sign up at www.fearlessfreelancewriting.com. (How fantastic is that URL?) You’ll also receive a free copy of the eBook Get Your Freelance Writing Career Off the Ground.

Don’t forget to sign up for The Writing Spark’s newsletter in the top right corner and join us at The Writing Spark’s Facebook and @TheWritingSpark on Twitter, too!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Krishna Papan August 1, 2011 at 3:56 pm

These are excellent tips. I’m bookmarking this page. Unfortunately many writers get paid by the length of the article. I read so much fluff on the internet that really contains about two kernels of information and the rest is the opposite of tight writing – I guess that’s loose writing?

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