How to “Write Tight”

Editors continually tell us writers that we need to learn how to ‘write tight.’ What exactly, does that phrase mean? How can authors like ourselves learn the craft of writing tight?

Let’s take a step back and deconstruct the above paragraph. I’ve used ‘strike through’ to eliminate unnecessary words.

Editors continually tell us writers that we need to learn how to ‘write tight.’ What exactly, does that phrase mean? How can authors like ourselves learn the craft of tight writing?

Read both paragraphs aloud. Hear the difference? Reading your own work out loud will help you hear words and phrases that aren’t necessary to the story. When I was editing my story for Love Inspired Suspense, I noticed I used the word ‘so’ several times. I did a word search and was dismayed to see how many!

Scan your manuscript for what I call ‘weasel words.’ These are words that do not add value to the story. Words like ‘very,’ ‘so,’ and ‘that.’ Even the word ‘said’ can be a weasel word. See if you can replace ‘he said’ and ‘she said’ with an attribute:

No: “I won’t do it,” he said angrily.

Yes: “I won’t do it.” He stomped to the door and slammed it behind him.

Read the following paragraph and see how many words you can eliminate, while keeping the integrity of the passage:

The crowd on both sides of the church stood to their feet, but Dale’s focus was on Mark, standing with both of his hands down by his sides. Her breath caught in her throat. His dark brown hair was slicked back and the cut of the tux emphasized his slim and wiry build. He refused to wear the dress shoes that came with the tux. Instead he wore brown dress cowboy boots. His smile stretched across his face a mile wide. The love in his eyes drew her like a lasso, down the aisle.

How many extra words did you cut? I took out twelve.*

This also works in nonfiction. Read the following paragraph and see if you can cut any words.

This letter is to confirm our understanding of the terms and objectives of our engagement and the nature and extent of the tax services we will provide. Smith Accountancy will prepare your 2017 Federal and State income tax returns from information that you will submit to us. You are responsible for the accuracy of your figures.

How many did you cross out? I got ten.**

The next time you edit your work in progress, see if you can make the cut!


* I cut the words: to their feet, both of, brown, and wiry, dress, brown, across his face.

** I cut the words: and objectives, and the nature, to us, income tax, that.

About Jane S. Daly 12 Articles
Jane Daly – Banker by day, blogger by night. She was recently awarded the Excellence in Editing award for her book, The Caregiving Season, and two Cascade Awards sponsored by Oregon Christian Writers. Jane is also the author of Because of Grace (2015) and is the treasurer of Inspire Christian Writers and West Coast Christian Writers.

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