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Tight Writing
"Musings" Archive for June 2003

by Margot Finke

What the heck is tight writing? Editors say you must have it. There are tight shoes, tight schedules, and tight budgets. Everyone knows what those mean. However, mention tight writing, and many of you scratch your heads. I'm hoping that by the time you reach the end of this column, tight writing will no longer be a mystery.

Focus Is The Key:

Keep your focus on what moves the story along.

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*The Characters:

Understand your characters. Get under their skin. Make them so real they jump off the page. When you feel connected to the characters there is less chance of them wandering off into gratuitous situations. Tight writers hold the reins.

*The Plot:

Keep a tight focus on where your plot takes the characters. Before you start to write, have a good idea of the beginning, the middle, and the end of the story. When your plot is up-in-the-air, your characters tend to wander off into unnecessary back-roads. Then, you have to invent pointless situations to push them back into the main plot. The result is wordiness. Tight writing is not wordy.

*The Sub-plot:

Focus on crafting a sub-plot that enriches your overall story. Secondary characters become more appealing when linked to a great sub-plot. If you allow the sub-plot to wander too far a-field you can get bogged down in longwinded waters. Tight writing is never longwinded.

Fiction Is Born When…

# 1 - You, the writer, have a story in your head that you are eager to write.

# 2 - You the writer, have a bunch of characters in your head that tell you what to write.

Either way can give you a tight and terrific story IF you keep your focus on what moves things along.

If You Write Like #1:

It would be a good idea to make a list of your characters, as well as a rough outline of the plot, and where it takes them from chapter to chapter. Think about your main characters with great care. Do a family profile for each one. Even if you don't use all the details in the profile, you will have fun concocting it, and more importantly, feel much closer to them. They will really begin to "live" in your head. It will be easier to focus on them and their personalities -- fit them neatly into your plot. All this attention to detail focuses you, the writer, on what is important. Tight writing is always well focused

If You Write Like #2:

The task of focusing on tight writing is harder. Think of your story as a herd of cattle stampeding through your mind. You have a prime story, but the ideas need to be herded, branded, and the sickly ones culled. You need to ride high in the saddle and crack the whip. Focus on disciplining the raw elements rushing around inside your head into a tight and cohesive story. A stampede of words is never called tight writing.

Tight Writing -- Highlighting The Small Stuff:

I put the biggies first, but there are other things that can reduce tight writing to a sea of rubble.

*Qualifiers and Adverbs:

These are often one-and-the-same. Go through your writing with Word Find (Control +F) and prune these pests. Hordes of words, like "just," "very" and "some," etc., throw tight writing out the window.

*Beautiful Descriptive Passages and Other Stuff You Feel You Must Enlarge Upon.

We writers fall in love with what we write. We hate to snip a word. If you must have that lovely descriptive passage, or lengthy detail, be ruthless - cut it back by one third. Kids want to know "who done it," not skim a long description of the field where it happened -- unless, of course, you hid a sneaky clue to the identity of the villain in your description. Needless details sink tight writing.

*Using Ten Words When Five Words Are More Succinct.

Wordy Version:

Jamie decided she would get a cab. Hobbling to the corner, she favored her sore knee all the way. Raising her hand, she tried to hail a passing cab.

Tight Version:

Jamie, her sore knee bandaged, hobbled to the corner and hailed a cab.

Stuffing your sentences with surplus words is NOT tight writing.

Reiteration Is Not Always A Good Thing

At the top of the page you write about Jamie falling off a ladder and hurting her knee. You gave adequate details. Near the bottom of the page, you repeat this, using slightly different words. Check your chapters for this type of unnecessary reiteration. Often, writers are unaware that they double-dip information. Reiterate only when it is important to the story, or to remind the reader of a vital element in the plot. Reiteration is useful when you want the reader to remember something that happened several chapters back. Keep it short-and-sweet. Jog the reader's memory, and then move on.

Avoidable reiteration is the opposite of tight writing.

So there you have it. Tight writing from A to Z.

Tight will get you published. Tight will have you read. Tight will earn you royalties and accolades. Tight writing -- the way to go.

Happy tight writing, mates!

Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.

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