Five Tips for Writing Tighter Sentences - Part One

Critique partners, agents and editors are known to call for tighter sentences from writers, but often offer little direction on how to accomplish this.

I have a fantasy where I sit down, turn on my laptop, and words flow from my brain to my fingertips and onto the page in a perfect publication-ready state.

Never happens, and I don’t expect it likely ever will.

I love words. My tendency is to use many to say something I can say more succinctly with a few, which is likely why the short story genre is one that has never appealed to me.

I remember the first time I gave my work to someone to read and the dismay I felt when she handed my three chapters back to me with the pages covered in red ink, sentences and entire paragraphs crossed out. She then pointed out how, though my flowery description of the Scottish Highlands made her want to buy a ticket and go there, she had to wonder if I was writing a novel or a travelogue. Along with this first memory is the better, longer-lasting one where I realized how powerful my story became with the fluff cut away.

Professor Strunk stated it the best: “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary part.”

Below are some tips that help me write tight:

  1. ·     Avoid wordiness; eliminate unnecessary words.
  2. ·    Trim flab, cut the extraneous whenever possible. As much fun as it may be to research, resist sharing every fact and obscure piece of folklore you’ve uncovered that isn’t integral to the story. 
  3. ·     Cut the boring parts-work to make each sentence count toward moving a scene forward.
  4. ·     Show don’t tell.
  5. ·     Write with Passion