Maybe it’s because I’ve still got Twitter/tweeting on my mind, but I’m thinking about tight writing. (Tweets are supposed to be 140 characters or less.) And maybe it’s because I’m trying my hand at another young reader (what I call a chapter book). Or maybe it’s because I tend to be drawn to sparer writing, which leaves lots of room for reader involvement. Whatever the reason, I’m feeling in solid agreement with Will Shakespeare’s observation that “brevity is the soul of wit.”
Of course, a book is pretty dry without scenes and writing scenes takes more words. So how to balance what’s needed to fully honor your story with compact writing? There’s the rub.
I was recently flipping through my aged copy of The Elements of Style this cost me $1.25 when I bought it back in college
and came across this delicious bit of advice: “The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.” (E.B. White) So avoiding the adjective (and even adverb) crutch can help achieve the goal of tight writing. Example: instead of having your character “walk confidently” into a room, she can “stride” into a room.
Another way to write tight is to avoid expository lumps with a passion. I love the way Renni Browne and Dave King describe this in their book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: RUE. Resist the Urge to Explain. One of the brilliant examples of this is found in Karen Cushman‘s Catherine, Called Birdy. The story is set in a faraway place and time and yet there is not one moment when Cushman explains anything about Birdy’s life — what she eats, wears, does, the belief systems of the time. We are plunked into Birdy’s world and we begin to understand it by experiencing it, just as Birdy does. If you haven’t read this book, get off the computer right now and go read it. (Another book I love for the white space around the story is A Crooked Kind of Perfect, by Linda Urban)
One of my first writing teachers was Peg Kehret (how lucky is that!) and I still use one of the tips she shared with us, lo, those many years ago. When she thinks she’s finished with a manuscript, she tries to cut 10 percent of the words on each page. You might think, after you’ve worked and revised and polished a manuscript, there’s no way to do this. But you’d be amazed at the “weeds” that still need pulling.
What are your tricks for writing tight? What are some books you’ve read that do this particularly well? Please share!
Kirby, this is a great post!
I thought Angela Johnson’s THE FIRST PART LAST was a marvel of economy.
As far as writing tight goes, I never worry about it until revision. Then I set specific goals for cutting with each pass. I also do a find-and-replace for junk words like “just” and “so,” which is always good for days when I don’t have the brainpower to write.
Yay for tight writing! I love to read it, endeavor to write it. A fantastic book (you’ve probably already heard of it): Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace? I blogged about reading it, and the effect it had on my writing. 🙂
I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t know that book, Susan so will go right to your blog to read about it.
And leave it to you, Martha, to find a high-tech way to cut and trim! I am so stealing this tip!