The wise old guideline, “write tight,” means to cut extra words.
Write tight: Be concise.
Cut off dead wood.
Declutter so your readers won’t get bogged down and give up on your book. As The Grammar Girl says, “Readers don’t want to rummage through a messy verbal flea market to discover one or two sparkly gems of information.”
“Vigorous writing is concise,” says William Strunk, Jr. “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 parts.”
Joseph M. Williams says, “Some words are verbal tics that we use as unconsciously as we clear our throats,” words like actually, particular, really, certain, virtually, individual, basically, generally, and practically.
He gives this before-and-after example:
“Productivity actually depends on certain factors that basically involve psychology more than any particular technology.”
Williams offers this revision: “Productivity depends more on psychology than on technology.” (from Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace)
Remove redundancies such as: I repeated
again, he shrugged his
shoulders, John gave her true, accurate facts, Eliza served various different
appetizers, Teddy ate each and every piece of chocolate.
Often (but not always) you can cut “that” from a sentence. Here’s an example: “I know
that you are
busy but I think that this is information that you need to know.”
"Prune out all the small words that qualify how you feel and how you think and what you saw: 'a bit,' 'a little,' 'sort of,' 'kind of,' 'rather,' 'quite,' 'very,' 'too,' 'pretty much,' 'in a sense,' and dozens more," writes William Zinsser. "They dilute both your style and your persuasiveness."
"Don't say you were a bit confused," Zinsser continues, "and sort of tired and a little depressed and somewhat annoyed. Be confused. Be tired. Be depressed. Be annoyed. Don't hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident." (On Writing Well, Fourth Edition)
The Grammar Girl says:
“Keep an eye on the verb ‘make’ when it us used in constructions such as ‘make a decision,’ ‘make a correction,’ and ‘make use of.’ Here’s an example of a bloated sentence:
“‘Seth Bullock will make a decision tomorrow about whether his calling is hardware or law enforcement.’
“Change ‘make a decision’ to ‘decide’ for a leaner sentence:
“‘Seth Bullock will decide tomorrow whether his calling is hardware or law enforcement.’” (from How to Write Clear Sentences, by The Grammar Girl)
What clutter would you remove from the following sentence? (Leave your revision in the comments section below.)
“My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: when you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.” (Elmore Leonard)
Often “try to” is another phrase to delete; note the Leonard quote above and the following: “
recapture the wonder of being a child.”
How would you revise the next sentence?
"The good thing about it is that it's one I can complete in fairly easy segments."
Look over your current manuscript. Read it aloud because your ears will hear what your eyes overlook. Then, cut
the clutter and tighten it up.
If you write tight, your readers will appreciate your story’s fast pace and clarity. Instead of stumbling over piles of words and phrases, they’ll focus on your message.
You’ll enjoy these additional articles on writing tight: Jody Renner on Uncluttered Prose (She includes before-and-after examples.)
How to Write Clear Sentences, by The Grammar Girl
At Sharon Lippincott's blog, agent Harry Bingham tells of cutting 70,000 words from a manuscript "to tease out the amazing story that lay buried within. The shorter and more focused the manuscript became, the more appealing it grew."