Since I tend to be long winded in my stories, I’m sensitive to it when somebody (fellow author, critique partner – hopefully not the fans) says a piece needs to be tightened up. Visually, some readers just see a long paragraph and get tired. Even lots of medium-long sections might be too much.
Are readers really that lazy?
Maybe. But different genres have different expectations.
Assuming you want to/need to tighten up a story, there are a million ways to do it. Usually, the conclusion of “needs tightening” simply means you have used too many words to convey a particular point in your story.
Like that last sentence. Too wordy (22 words). Trimming will produce the proper length without losing the meaning.
Usually, the conclusion of “needs tightening” simply means you’ve used too many words to convey your point. (17 words)
“Needs tightening” just means you used too many words to make your point. (13 words)
See? Shorter, but with essentially the same message. (Maybe each word counts for more that way, I don’t know.)
A friend got me to learn this trick by telling me my blogs, which were easily 1500+ words, needed to be 500. Or less. So, I took one, cut some things out (they were not really essential) and boiled the longer sentences down like we just did above. It was like a game, to get everything said in 500 words. (I watched the word count ferociously.) When I was finished, I did not feel that it had the same exact feeling and message, but in places it was actually better – and since the 1500 word pieces were getting ZERO reads, and the 500 word blogs actually GOT READ and created followers, it wasn’t really my decision; the fans had spoken. After rewriting a few blogs that way, I was able to do it quickly and painlessly.
From that I learned how to take the essential points of a section and cut them down. In my new book, “Poggibonsi,” there’s a looooong conversation in a car between Mike and his obnoxious coworker Grady. The conversation is funny and conveys some important plot points, but it goes way too long. The same friend, who feels I’m a good writer, said that scene should be cut in half.
That’s my challenge for today. Pull the car conversation out, slap it into a new document, see the word count, cut it by half – while keeping the good stuff – then put it back in.
Most tightening takes place between the first and second draft, but the best tightening – and the hardest – happens during a later read-through, when you’ve spent some time away from it and your eyes are fresh.
Because we are good writers, you and I, we won’t tolerate a hole in our story. We can perform this trimming exercise and still ensure an enjoyable piece that retains our unique style. Trust yourself.
That’s how you tighten.
(Not bad. 497 words.)
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