Don‘t worry, I‘d never try to advise you on getting a leaner body! But I can speak to tightening your prose. Writing lean doesn‘t mean you can‘t create lush, descriptive, eloquent prose. I‘m not talking about dumping your voice or style. But cutting out all the excess can highlight your desired style and give you better control of your story‘s pace and flow. It‘ll also create an effortless experience for readers that ensures they can‘t put your book down.
Here are six tips for keeping your prose lean and tight:
1. Cut out the repetition. Often, in our zeal to make sure the reader knows exactly what we‘re talking about, we‘ll reiterate information over and over again. A little repetition might be necessary to ensure readers remember a vital detail, but too much and it just makes them skim over sections of your story. Comb through your work and cull all those places where you‘ve unnecessarily repeated things the reader already knows. There are also subtler instances of repetition to watch for—word reuse, word overuse, repeating character gestures excessively, to name just a few. Ridding your prose of this repetition will immediately tighten your writing.
2. Monitor redundancies. Like repetition, redundancies are often hard for an author to see in her own work, but they can make the writing feel excessive and boring. Consider this example: Sheila yelled at the dog and shook her fist at the animal. "Stop squatting on my lawn you mangy mutt!" she shouted. This is a little extreme to make my point, but the redundancies should be obvious: yelled, dog, animal, mangy mutt, shouted. Even the exclamation point is redundant to the "shouted." It‘s overkill. This can be tightened and convey the same information with a simple:
“Stop squatting on my lawn you mangy mutt,” Sheila shouted, shaking her fist.
3. Use fewer details and make them specific to the POV character’s experience. Rather than go into long descriptions from your omniscient author point of view, pick two or three details that are significant to the story and filter those through your character‘s perspective. This not only tightens your writing by keeping the descriptions immediate and unique, it gives the reader a deeper understanding of your character by highlighting what they find important.
4. Watch for unnecessary dialogue. Cutting inane chatter or unnecessary bits of conversation can really speed up your story. You don‘t have to show everything the characters say because many of these things are implied either in the rest of the dialogue or in the situation itself.
Here‘s an example:
“Have a bad day, huh?” Jane asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Stan groaned. “I was late. Boss yelled at me. Spilled coffee on my shirt before a big meeting. And found out I owe back taxes this year. So, yeah. Bad day.”
Jane patted his arm. “Sorry to hear all that. It‘ll get better tomorrow.”
This can be tightened with a few simple cuts:
“Have a bad day, huh?” Jane asked.
Stan groaned. “I was late. Boss yelled at me. Spilled coffee on my shirt before a big meeting. And found out I owe back taxes this year.”
Jane patted his arm. “I‘ll get better tomorrow.”
Depending on your story and characters, you could even cut Jane‘s last line of dialogue all together.
5. Be clear. Sometime in our love of language, we get a little carried away—sentences are convoluted and incomprehensible, big words get tossed into the book where they‘re unnecessary or out of place, etc… What we‘re actually trying to say gets lost in the glitter of pretty words and unique phrases. First and foremost, your writing has to clearly convey information to readers. This doesn‘t mean you can‘t use big words or pretty phrases. It means the reader should understand your prose without having to reread it twelve times to make sense out of what you‘re trying to say. Make sure your writing is clear, even at its most lush.
6. Tidy up the excess. Don‘t use six words when four will do. Eliminate those unnecessary extras like “started to” and “began to”. Strengthen your verbs. Cut the “just's" and “very's." Simply culling the excess that doesn‘t add to style or meaning will do wonders for your fiction.
Tightening your prose will give readers a smooth experience and allow them to get lost in the story without tripping over words or skimming “boring bits”. Readers might not notice consciously, but when they‘re deep inside a tightly written book, all they‘ll be thinking about is “what happens next” and that‘s exactly where you want readers to be.♥
Isabo Kelly is an award-winning author of multiple fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal romances. Her latest fantasy romance release, WARRIOR’S DAWN, will be available in paperback soon! For more on her fiction and latest releases, visit her at www.isabokelly.com, follow her on Twitter @IsaboKelly or friend her on Facebook www.facebook.com/IsaboKelly.