With the ever shortening attention span of readers, tightening prose in order to get rid of unnecessary words becomes a necessity. Readers want their story delivered quickly and effectively, and rambling prose should be kept to a minimum, if not avoided altogether.
So how can you tighten your prose? Here are some tips I‘ve picked up:
- Don’t Edit While Writing
Writing and editing are two different creatures. Writing is a creative process, and trying to edit while you write may stifle your creativity.
- Read It Aloud
Hearing your written words spoken aloud can unveil grammatical errors or awkward phrasing, things you might not be able to pick out by reading alone.
- Take Time Off Between Finishing Your Draft and Editing
I’ve heard authors say they’ll give themselves 2-6 weeks after finishing a manuscript before they go back to edit it. At first I thought this was insane. Why not edit as soon as you finish, while the story is fresh in your mind? But after taking this advice, I now realize why so many authors give it. Taking time off allows you to view your story more objectively. Going back into it with fresh eyes, you are much more likely to spot ineffective writing that needs to be altered or tightened up.
- Keep it Simple
Don’t use a fancy, complicated word if an easier word will do just as well. No one will be impressed by your command of the English language. Your readers want to immerse themselves in a good story, and having to bust out the thesaurus every ten minutes is bound to detract from that.
- Don’t Go Crazy with Description
Yes, you have to set the scene, but you don’t necessarily have to do it all at once. Use only as much description as is necessary for this part of the scene. You can sprinkle the rest in slowly, interspersing it with action and dialogue.
- Choose Strong Words
Instead of modifying your verbs with adverbs (-ly and –ing words), choose stronger verbs. Instead of “walked angrily”, why not say “stomped”? Instead of “spoke loudly”, why not “shouted”? This is my personal weakness; I’m the adverb queen. I try not to worry about it during my first draft, but I know I’m going to want to edit a lot of these out of the manuscript before I can consider it complete.
Do you have any tips for tightening your prose?
For a good primer on editing, take a look at the “Fat-Free Writing or How to Eliminate Wordiness in 10 Easy Steps” Workshop given by Darlene Buchholz and Annie Oortman at RWA’s 2010 Conference (it’s available for download from RWA).