How to Tighten your Writing

TIGHT WRITING. Credit:  Eilidh MacKenzie, editor at The Wild Rose Press.


While I’ve taken some of the information from Eilidh, I’ve added my own thoughts to this post. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting. I think listening to a professional editor is a must. Whatever a talented editor can share is worth its weight in gold!


My first question: what is meant by ‘tight’ writing as against ‘loose’ writing, and what difference does it make anyway.



‘Buries the gold of your plot and characters under a muffling scree of distractions: wordy phrasing, repetition, tangential scenes, characters or details not used later. Overuse of adjectives and adverbs instead of strong nouns and verbs is a sign of loose writing.’



‘Makes every word, scene, and character count.’


When I first read this, I did a double take. It’s made me really think, inside, and, outside the box. When I wrote my debut novel – it ran and ran into hundreds of 1000’s of words. I felt the need to say –  and show my reader everything going on in my head. I don’t know about you, but I write as I see things around me – writing is for me seeing it fall into a film, every nook and cranny, every pot hole, every pebble, every cloud as if my reader will see it as a film. No bad thing? Well, recently I heard from an avid reader, they just ‘want to get on with it!’ So I was definitely The Trueman Show!


Honestly, though, I want my reader to know, understand, and feel exactly the same as I do. This is the gold Eilidh is talking about, bringing the characters to life and their emotions and surroundings without overegging. This also means there are nuggets (of gold) that can be lost in the dirth of too much. Don’t they say, less is more? I think that’s true, so I’ll stop waffling.



The building blocks – the structural underpinning of a book as a whole.


Ask yourself: Does your book feel it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.  

Does it meander.

Or, is it hard to see a point to the characters’ actions, then the book lacks narrative drive.


You might have a collection of vignettes where something happens to a character, or she does X but X doesn’t relate to what went on in the previous scene or affect what happens in the next scene.


You have a string of moments in the character’s life, but they could be shuffled around, and it wouldn’t make a difference.

To fix this, we go back to basics:

GMC + S.




A book as a whole needs a story goal with associated character motivations, book-length conflict arc, and consequences. If the protagonist doesn’t achieve her story goal.


If your character has a problem or goal and overcomes the problem\achieves the goal, only to fall into a different problem\discover another goal, and repeat this trend, you have episodic GMCS.


Episodic goals or conflicts make the book appear to be a series of short stories that don’t hold together as a cohesive whole. A book needs the overarching story goal and conflict arc to inspire the reader to keep reading and discover how the characters win the day at the end.


In addition, EACH SCENE also needs a scene goal, with character motivations, conflict, and stakes. This doesn’t need to be a huge deal. For example:

Molly and Janice have 45 minutes for lunch, and they both want to find something to eat. But they can’t agree on where to go.


Goal: find lunch

Motivation: hunger

Conflict: They want different food.

Stakes: If they can’t agree, they’ll be hungry all afternoon or fill up on junk food.


This might be just a preliminary GMCS if, when they finally decide on a place, they meet an intriguing barista who inveigles them into the larger story GMCS.”


Next, each scene must lead logically to the next scene. If the scenes aren’t logically related, you have random snippets from the characters’ lives, which won’t develop the narrative drive to draw the reader through the book.


For example:

Scene 1, Molly and Janice go to a sandwich bar for lunch.

Scene 2, Molly forgot she has to return a library book.

Scene 3, Janice goes back to work and finishes her weekly report.

Molly and Janice might be fascinating characters, but there’s no story there.”

An example of logically connecting scenes:

Scene 1 (Molly and Janice go to a sandwich bar for lunch)

leads to Scene 2 (where they meet a worried and distracted barista)

which leads to Scene 3 (soft-hearted Molly wants to help the barista and follows him out the back of the shop)

which leads to Scene 4 (the barista blows up at Molly’s interference and makes a mysterious remark hinting at unseen menace)

which leads to Scene 5 (Molly’s meddling gene and unrelenting curiosity drive her to follow the barista)

and so on.


Additionally, each scene must relate to the overall story goal. In a story about Molly and her beau defeating the hidden menace, Molly can’t take off midstream to return her library book.

BUT if she finds crucial information at the library about the hidden weakness in the hidden menace, then the scene contributes to the story goal.


But what about subplots? A subplot might have different characters with different goals and conflicts, but it must also relate somehow to achieving the story goal.

If your subplot has nothing to do with the bigger story goal, then it’s a separate story and doesn’t belong in the book.


Takeaway: If your story lacks narrative drive, make sure you have a story goal, character motivations, book-length conflict arc, and consequences should the characters fail in their efforts.

Then check each scene for GMCS, and ensure each scene is logically connected to the next.


Now on to sentence-level loose writing.

Wordy phrasing. This often shows up with expletives, those dummy subjects “it was” and “there was” that add words but not meaning. Dummy subjects can be used to shift the emphasis to an unexpected subject.

For instance, in a paragraph about all the possible obstacles a family must overcome to go on a camping trip, a dummy subject in the final sentence can shift the focus to something unexpected: In the end, it was the weather that delayed them.


The main plot is the whole book.

The subplot is a shorter separate story that ties in, in some crucial way, to contribute to achieving the story goal.


Here’s an example:


Magnum PI – they have the current case to solve with multiple subplots of the character’s lives and problems.


Example: Say that the main character (MC) needs to find the money to pay her parents’ mortgage. That’s the main plot of the book.


Okay back to our LOOSE AND TIGHT

The problem comes when this form, “it was X that Y,” shows up so often it becomes repetitious:

It was X that Y = it was then when, it was Reggie who, it was the weather that delayed them. It was the broken axle that stranded them.

Loose: But it was only recently that she’d realized

Tight: She’d only recently realized

Loose: It was her salary that enabled them to buy their cute Cape Cod house.

Tight: Her salary had bought them their…


Another kind of wordy writing involves too many prepositions or verbs + infinitives.

Just to be clear without being arrogant – I need reminding all the time:

Prepositions are little words that show position (on, off) or direction (to, from) or purpose (for) and so on.


Infinitives are the basic verb form with “to”: to read, to walk, to type, etc.


Prepositions and infinitives are definitely useful, and often essential, so you don’t want to cut them all willy nilly.


But when you get a string of prepositional phrases or verbs plus infinitives, your sentence can become cumbersome and bog down in a slurry of little words.



Loose: Eighteen holes of a combination of frustration and reward

Tight: Eighteen holes of frustration and reward


Loose: Three days filled with beer, football, cigars, and male bonding on steroids.

Tight: Three days of beer, football, cigars, and male bonding on steroids.


Loose: Only a few would even be able to clear the hurdles on their way to the candidate list.

Tight: Only a few would clear the hurdles to the candidate list.


Loose: But then there would be no other way for someone like him to be able to enter these precious gates.

Tighter: But then there would be no other way for someone like him to enter these precious gates.

Tighter: But then there would be no other way someone like him could enter these precious gates.


Tight: No other way could someone like him enter these precious gates.

Loose: But post-graduation aspirations sent them in different geographic and career path locations.


Tighter: But post-graduation aspirations sent them on different geographic and career paths.

Loose: She was from a very distinguished family who owned numerous wineries.

Tight: Her distinguished family owned numerous wineries.


Argh! I hear you cry. Can I cope with all this information. Well, let’s take a break for now. I’ll pick up these tasters and check the next instalment in my next post on tightening your work – coming up shortly. Remember, write what you love writing. Enjoy writing, and then, when you’re ready to tighten your work, try looking back through this post. ONE STEP AT A TIME. 

Comments (2)

  • Hywela Lyn

    Just came across this, Lynn, thanks. Some really useful information here. It's so easy to use these unnecesary words and phrases and be a 'loose' writer without even realising it!

    • manager

      That's good to hear, Lyn. I plan to add more and will pop the update on my fb page, when ready.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The impact of well-crafted website content cannot be overstated and can be the difference between a thriving online presence and a lackluster one.