Tag Archives | writing tight

Questions to ask before pressing delete.

This is strictly business folks. I’m not using up my measly few hundred words on small talk. And these lists are in no way complete. And sometimes, the answer depends on the story. 

Before deleting words:

  1. Does the sentence make sense without the word? (that, just, like…) 
  2. Can I replace the noun or verb with a stronger word?
  3. Do I need this adverb and adjective? Or I can I show better?
  4. Does this word not only fit with the mood and tone of the scene/story but help create the mood?
  5. Did I fall into the trap of writing: she knew, she listened, she watched?

Before deleting phrases?

  1. Does the sentence make sense without the phrase?
  2. Does the phrase add to the meaning of the sentence?
  3. Does the phrase make the sentence sound clunky? Reword.
  4. Is it a phrase describing a verb or noun that I can tighten to one word?
  5. Do I have too many phrases in that sentence?
  6. Have I started too many sentences with small phrases?

Before deleting sentences:

  1. Does the sentence flow with the previous sentence and the one coming afterwards. Or did I go off on a tangent?
  2. Is the sentence filled with words that do not create a mental image? (Deadwood) If so, rewrite.
  3. Is the sentence repetitive of other sentences in that paragraph?
  4. Should the sentence be moved within the paragraph? For example, thoughts should not come before physical reaction.
  5. Would the sentence be missed if deleted from the paragraph?
  6. Just like with words, can a couple of sentences be combined into one? Sometimes, less is more.

Before deleting paragraphs:

  1.  Could I delete the paragraph and it wouldn’t be missed?
  2. Is it filled with over-written purple prose?
  3. Does the paragraph move the story forward, reveal character, and add to the conflict?
  4. Do I have mixed metaphors? Or too many similis?
  5. Would the paragraph work better later in the scene? Or earlier?
  6. Am I trying too hard?
  7. Am I telling too much and not showing? Delete and then rewrite.
  8. Is it filled with backstory that could be woven into the narrative?
  9. Is it filled with description that could be pared down?

Before deleting scenes or chapters:

  1. Does it move the story forward?
  2. Does it reveal character?
  3. Does it have conflict and tension sizzling on every page?
  4. Does it have a beginning, middle, and end?
  5. Does my character have a goal?

Sometimes, a word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, scene/chapter needs to be deleted. Sometimes, it needs to be rewritten. No harm done in saving a copy and then reworking a new copy. You might be surprised.

What questions do you ask before hitting delete or rewriting?

(Okay, I have to say that was the most boring post I’ve ever written, but I can’t just focus on things like milk and lingerie.)

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Letting go of lingerie is kind of like…

This is a sad tale. Really. The top left hand drawer of my dresser is stuffed with forgotten, ignored, wrinkled lingerie. Many of them I received at bridal showers over ten years ago, when I was an excited bride-to-be sitting in a cozy, decorated room, surrounded by my best friends.  We joked and laughed and oohed and aahed over all the pretty little garments while nibbling on desserts and sipping coffee. Most of the beautiful nighties I wore on my honeymoon and my first year of marriage.

Then, I moved to New England and started living in an old house with drafty windows. And my left hand drawer stayed closed. Because I don’t like being cold. At all. And then, well, I had kids. So the drawer stayed closed a few more years. And then I discovered my love of fleece pajama bottoms. And I think the drawer is stuck shut, warped by time.

But I can’t get myself to throw any of it out. Sentimental reasons, I guess. They were gifts from people who loved me and were excited for me. How can I just toss them aside? I can’t. Kind of like the rose made out of white chocolate in my freezer, we had as favors at our wedding, that my kids keep asking if they can eat.

But words? Story scenes? Unnecessary characters? Cute phrases? Clever alliteration? Vague thoughts?  Aha. These I can pull out of my writer’s top left hand drawer and throw into the goodwill bag. Is there a sentimental fondness toward my words? Yes. Is it hard to cut lines that I think are terrific? Yes.

But, sometimes I have to for the better of the story. I listen to the tiny doubts that niggle at my brain when I read over a line or contemplate a scene. If I’m doubting at all, then it’s a sign I need to press delete.

And write something better.

Do you have a hard time cutting words, paragraphs or scenes that you love, but that don’t seem to fit?

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The key to becoming a skilled writer.

Casey McCormick inspired me to tighten my writing. Read her wonderful posts. Part one. Part Two. Part Three.

Many times as writers, we hear that one of the most important things to do when revising is to cut, cut, cut. In our heads we know this is true. But sometimes, especially if it’s our first novel, it’s really hard to find the words to cut because we like all of them. Our words are like precious gems.

If we’re lucky, we might stumble upon a very helpful list of words to cut that includes words like: like, that, just, very, actually, started to, seemed to, really, exactly…the list goes on. The good thing is that after writing for some time, you start to automatically exclude those words.

After your first novel, you learn to write tighter. Meaning, you can write the same sentence using less words. And not only do you use less words, but the words you use are stronger, more powerful. As you will read many times over, it is important for writers to use strong verbs to eliminate adverbs and use carefully chosen words to elicit an emotion response in your reader.

Yes, words are a powerful tool.

In our writing, words should create a mental image so in the reader’s mind there is a continually running movie. I think the reason writers keep writing is because they are in love with words. To writers, words are like a toy in the hands of a toddler and we slobber all over them. But eventually we grow up and realize that one special toy means much more to us than a toy chest full of junk.

After tightening my prose, I could have written this post in about five seconds. Here is my final version:

As writers, cut, cut, cut: like, that, just, very, actually, started to, seemed to,really, exactly. Write the same sentence using less words. Strong verbs elicit emotion. Create a mental image.

Gosh, but really, why stop? 

As writers, cut, cut, cut: like, that, just, very, actually, started to, seemed to, really, exactly. Write the same sentence using less words. Strong verbs elicit emotion. Create a mental image.

I think I got it narrowed down.

Cut. Write less words. Strong verbs elicit emotion.

But this tightening thing is really addicting.

Cut. Write less words. Strong verbs elicit emotion.

Okay, so here is my polished, tightened version.

Write words.

But wait. One more quick edit.

Write words.

Finally. Phew. Editing is hard work. And the key to becoming a better writer is….


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