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As an author, you know that a lot of writing is rewriting. You can make your story more interesting by cutting out the fluff, so here are 7 ways you can tighten your writing.
1. Unnecessary Backstory
Some backstory, of course, is needed, but backstory will always slow down the pace of your book, so where you can, cut obvious backstory and instead hint at the backstory through the characters’ actions.
Saving the backstory in a separate document that you can reference will help you keep the facts straight and accurately portray your world and your characters to the reader.
2. Unimportant Information
You may want to describe in detail the beautiful painting above your character’s mantel, but unless the description contributes to the plot (the character painted it, the painting gets stolen, something is hidden behind it, and so on), then any description beyond a brief mention to describe the setting should be removed.
Think of it this way: if a movie focused for a couple seconds on a painting above the mantel, or kept cutting to it, you would wonder what the significance of the painting was and how it would come into play later. And if it was never mentioned again, you would be confused and maybe irritated. This same thing is true of your readers when they see inconsequential details in your book.
3. Too Much Description
At the same time, even if you’re describing something important to the plot, it’s possible to over-describe it. Readers do like details, but too many details will slow down the book and throw your readers out of the story. Good beta readers can help you pinpoint where you have too much (or too little) description.
4. Dialogue Tags
Too many dialogue tags can slow down and even derail a story. If a conversation is happening between two people, you can drop many of the dialogue tags.
Read more about cleaning up and using effective dialogue tags here.
5. Name Dropping
If there is only one character in the scene, referring to them as “she” or “he” through most of the scene is preferred, rather than dropping their name over and over again. The same is true of dialogue; if we’re already in a conversation with someone, we don’t say that person’s name before addressing them. Often, we don’t even say their name if we’re in a conversation with multiple people but are asking a specific person a question—instead we often look at them and say “you.”
As you read through your book, cut out names where possible to make narrative and dialogue feel more natural.
6. Empty Adjectives
Remove empty adjectives like “very,” “literally,” and “just.” As you revise, make sure the adjectives are contributing to the sentence. If they aren’t, remove them or replace them with a different adjective, or with an action. If you’re using multiple adjectives when one will do, then throw out those adjectives for the stronger, one adjective.
Check out this list of weak words to remove from your writing.
7. Passive Voice
You’ve likely heard the advice to use active voice, and changing to active voice does make the narrative move faster. Sometimes passive voice is necessary when you want the emphasis to be on the person or thing being acted upon. But passive voice can also sneak in when you don’t want it to, by putting a be-verb (am, is, are, was, were, etc.) together with an -ing verb. For example, “She was running for her life” is more passive than “She ran for her life.” Keep an eye out for this sneaky passive voice.
What do you do to tighten your writing while revising? Let us know in the comments below!
Your insightful suggestions are most valuable, thanks.
Might want to proofread your copy to correct spelling (mantle instead of mantel) and error (“dropping their over and over”). It detracts from credibility.
The use of “their” in that sentence is intentional. “Their” is gender neutral, and what Catia is saying is that you should use “she” or “he” instead.
Not sure what you mean by “mantle instead of mantel”? Are you saying that “mantel” should be used?
Never mind my “mantel” question 🙂 I should have read the paragraphs more closely. I’ve changed it to “mantel”.
Check out the phrase, “rather than dropping their ??? over and over again.” In the context of the author’s following comments, which declare one wouldn’t address a friend by frequently using their name but would instead say ,”you”, it seems the word, “name” is omitted after ” their” The error is one not of gender but of omission. I’m a professional proofreader and that’s the way I would call it.
That said, the content of Catia’s comments is well thought through and, for me as a hopeful writer, valuable.
Thanks for catching those. I’ve fixed that last error.
Glad to help. Have a great weekend!