1. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    What are some ways of tightening up your writing?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by deadrats, Aug 1, 2016.

    I think this is probably something that every writer does or should do. How do you tighten up your writing? What sort of things do you look out for?
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    One of my first edits is to kill I call weakening words, which is just my term for them. Things that come out of anxious feelings of, "Well, it's not TOTALLY (whatever), or it's not LITERALLY (whatever)."

    Example:

    He felt slightly concerned as he studied her face. It looked almost white. In a voice that was nearly a whisper, he asked, "You OK?"

    gets edited to:

    He studied her white face with concern and whispered, "You OK?"

    Edited to add: And looking at that, I realize that the next step is likely to be editing out complexity that doesn't earn its keep. If it's important that we know that he whispered, I might leave it. Otherwise I'd lose the "and", because IMO it reduces the impact of the rest. So
    I'd have:

    He studied her white face with concern. "You OK?"

    It's not that the complexity is really complex, or that it makes the sentence hard to read. But it's an unneeded piece of trim.
     
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  3. Siena
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    Siena Active Member

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    I tighten it by keeping the journey and the change tight, which pretty much involves familiarizing myself with details of the steps.
     
  4. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    Yes I do this too. Things are hardly ever "extremely" anything for example. Another word that is pointless 95% of the time "just" things dont have to "just" be anything. "She just wanted to go swimming" vs. "she wanted to go swimming."
     
  5. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is also an example of another bad habit; irrational behaviour on the part of a character. Irrational NOT because the character is over-emotional, but because there is no reason for this behaviour.

    "She just wanted to go swimming."

    "On a whim, he decided to go to Iceland."

    And, by going to Iceland, he literally just bumped into the undiscovered secret to cracking the mystery that had eluded the greatest scientific minds in the world.
     
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  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Which one of these is objectively better, and precisely why? Brevity doesn't count; brevity does not equal quality.
     
  7. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Sometimes 'just' is justified, sometimes not. The key for me is telling what is important to tell. Kill unnecessary words, but don't loose meaning.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree that brevity doesn't equal quality, but "tightening" has to be in the context of the writer's own voice, IMO. I guess I'm going more on the post than the title--I'm taking this as "what are some of the ways that YOU tighten up your writing", rather than "what are some ways that ALL writers should use to tighten up their writing."

    I usually prefer to eliminate unnecessary words. Now, "necessary" doesn't require that the whole sentence would fall down without the word, just that the word have some purpose, even if the purpose is a gut feeling and not something I can state. I'm fairly ruthless with words.

    Looking at the first one:

    He felt slightly concerned as he studied her face. It looked almost white. In a voice that was nearly a whisper, he asked, "You OK?"

    "slightly" has no purpose here for me. (And almost every statement here should be taken as implying "IMO" or "for me.") "Concerned" already has a mild vibe, and specifying levels of concern here is not functional. For me, the word is clutter.

    The same is true of "almost". "White" as a description for face color is a normal idiom for me--I don't need to clarify that, well, no, it's not literally white. And "looked" and "studied" both tell the reader, "He's looking at her! With his eyes!" and I don't like to tell the reader the same thing twice.

    "felt slightly concerned" gives me a meditative, quiet feel that's very inward-focused on him. If I wanted that feeling, I'd keep the phrase and even the "slightly". But I usually don't like to shine quite that bright a spotlight on character feelings, unless the character is also focused on their own feelings. ("I'm feeling concerned." rather than, "Huh. I wonder what's wrong with her?") I want to lose both "felt" and "slightly." And I'm more interested in his experience of what's outside him--her face--than his inner experience. So I move the outward to be first.

    That would give me:

    He studied her white face with concern. In a voice that was nearly a whisper, he asked, "You OK?"

    Now, do I or don't I want the reader to focus on exactly how he's speaking? I see it as a choice between the theater of exact tones and movements, where I might care about his exact tone and volume, or a focus on the interaction conversation, where I care mostly about the words. The choice would depend on all sorts of things, and there are situations where I would have taken a bare "You OK?" in the final sentence and added the voice description. But odds are that I'd go in the other direction, to:

    He studied her white face with concern. "You OK?"

    Edited to add: For example, if SHE were the POV character, and she were irritated by what she saw as a show of concern, she might be aware of his exact tone as part of the source of her annoyance. But he, as POV, is not that conscious of exactly how he's speaking. I imagine him speaking at a volume that complies with the demands of the situation--maybe it's a hospital, maybe it's a library--but not being consciously aware of that choice.

    Edited again to reverse to her POV:

    She looked up to find him staring at her. And frowning. What? What the hell does he want?

    He asked, his voice a funereal murmur, "You OK?"
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2016
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  9. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is the list I keep handy while doing rewrites:
    • combine/split for topic,
    • order of events: motivation (stimulus) > reaction (feelings > actions > dialogue),
    • order of events within sentences: (so the reader doesn't have to 'go into reverse thinking' to get what's going on),
    • varied sentence lengths (smooth, conversational),
    • clarity,
    • spelling & grammar
    I take each paragraph and tackle these items in order as I hone down to a polish. Then I move on to the next paragraph and, after making sure it flows well from the previous one and doesn't need to be combined (item #1) I go through the list again.
     

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