Sunday, February 10, 2013


You long to write a terrific book. . .
You have an idea. . .
You have some time. . .

What's so hard about thinking up a plot,
plus some great characters, and mixing
them all together into one wonderful story?

You just KNOW you can
Grab Readers by the Throat!

Sigh. . .   Before you put finger to keyboard, please think about how you felt when you were  ripped off by that El-cheapo plumber, mechanic and repair dude.  So please, don't do the same thing to people who love to read.  Let me guide you in the ways go good writing that is tight, terrific, with not a "waffle" in sight - all safely in the kitchen, where they belong, looking for the maple syrup.

Network among other writers and pick their brains.  Join a good critique group.  Their writing feedback  and support will be a godsend in times of rejection - and there will be many.  Read a bunch of books in the same genre you intend writing.  This will give you a feel for the genre, and an idea of what publishers want.

If it has been a while since Ms. Writeit rapped you over the knuckles for that rash of commas, and those 4 line compound sentence, take a refresher writing class.  Basic skills are vital.  With that under your belt, you are ready to tiptoe into the morass of plot and characters.  

What the heck is tight writing?Editors say you must have it. There are tight shoes, tight schedules, and tight budgets. Everyone knows what those mean. However, mention tight writing, and many of you scratch your heads. I'm hoping that by the time you reach the end of this, tight writing will no longer be a mystery.
Focus Is The Key:
Keep your focus on what moves the story along. Avoid side paths that hijack your plot and take the story nowhere. Rough out an outline of your idea - beginning, middle, and ending.  Keep an eye on the small details.  Good pace and tension building are harbingers of tight writing and a great story.  Powerful verbs, evocative adjectives, and terrific dialogue promise your story will be a winner.  Never use 10 limp and overused words, when 5 powerful and active ones do a better job.  Use your Word Thesaurus to conjure up words that "speak" to your readers, and paint vivid mental pictures they will remember.

The Characters:
Understand your characters. Get under their skin. Make them so real they jump off the page. When you feel connected to your characters, there is less chance of them wandering off into gratuitous situations. Tight writers hold the reins.  Feed your reader snippets of back story in each chapter, so your characters grow richer and more compelling as the chapters flow past.  Give each character their own unique "voice."  Do this with words, mannerisms, and actions that come to be associated with each individual character. Never let your villain outshine your main POV (point of view) character.

The other VOICE: 
Yes, there IS another voice that is just as important - your  own writing "voice."  This is the way you string sentences, paragraphs and chapters together. Time, practice and experience come together at some point, and they create your writing voice or signature. It is the style you bring to each paragraph.  The way you write a tense scene.  Or a specific choice of words and actions.  If readers like the "voice" you bring to your writing,  you HAVE them by the throat!

*Writing Plots that GRAB Your Reader:
Keep a tight focus on where your plot takes the characters. Before you start to write, have a good idea of the beginning, the middle, and the end of the story. When your plot is up-in-the-air, your characters tend to wander off into unnecessary back-roads. You must invent pointless situations to push them back into the main plot. The result is wordiness (waffling on), rather than tight writing.  A good rule of thumb: If it does not move the story forward - CUT IT!
*The Sub-plot:
Focus on crafting a sub-plot that enriches your overall story.  Don't allow it to overshadow the main plot.  Secondary characters become more appealing when linked to an intriguing sub-plot. If you allow the sub-plot to wander too far a-field the story becomes bogged down. Tight writing is never long-winded.

Fiction Is Born When…
# 1 - You have a story in your head that you are eager to write.
# 2 - You have a bunch of characters in your head that tell you what to write.

Either way can give you a tight and terrific story. But only IF you keep your focus on what moves things along.

If You Write Like #1:
It would be a good idea to make a list of your characters, as well as a rough outline of the plot, and where it takes them: from chapter to chapter. Think about your main characters with great care. Do a family profile for each one. Even if you don't use all the details in the profile, you will have fun concocting it, and more importantly, feel much closer to them. They will really begin to "live" in your head. It will be easier to focus on them and their personalities -- fit them neatly into your plot. All this attention to detail focuses you, the writer, on what is important. Tight writing is always well focused.

If You Write Like #2:
Here the task of focusing on tight writing is harder. Think of your story as a herd of cattle stampeding through your mind. You have a prime story, but the ideas need to be herded, branded, and the sickly ones culled. You need to ride high in the saddle and crack the whip. Focus on disciplining the raw elements rushing around inside your head into a tight and cohesive story. A stampede of words is never called tight writing.

Highlighting The Small Stuff:
I wrote about the "biggies" first. Yet there are still many pitfalls that can reduce tight writing to a sea of rubble.

*Qualifiers and Adverbs:
These are often one-and-the-same. Go through your writing with Word Find (Control +F) and prune these pests. Hordes of words like, just, very and some, etc., throw tight writing out the window. Look askance at all adverbs. If your verb is good and strong, an adverb is usually unnecessary.  Occasional use is fine.  Adverbs have become a habit in our speech, and this tendency is often repeated in our writing.  Do you find yourself repeating a certain word more than once on every page? BE aware.  Use Find/Replace to hunt it down. Replace with an alternative. 

*Beautiful Descriptive Passages You Feel You Must Keep:
We writers fall in love with what we write. We hate to snip a word. If you must have that lovely descriptive passage, or lengthy detail, be ruthless - cut it back by one third. Remember, needless details sink tight writing.

Reiteration Is Not Always A Good Thing
At the top of the page you write about Jamie falling off a ladder and hurting her knee. You gave adequate details. Near the bottom of the page, you repeat this, using slightly different words. Check your pages for this type of unnecessary repeat. Often, writers are unaware that they double-dip information. Reiteration is useful when you want the reader to remember something that happened several chapters back. Keep it short-and-sweet. Jog the reader's memory, and then move on.
Avoidable reiteration is the opposite of tight writing.

So there you have it. Tight writing from A to Z  - or at least a good beginning.
Tight will get you published. Tight will have you read. Tight will earn you royalties and accolades.

Tight writing will GRAB your reader by the throat!

Books for Kids - Manuscript Critiques



  1. Great summary, Margot. Thanks so much for posting.

  2. So glad you got something good form my post. Many thanks for commenting.