6 Ways to Tighten Your Writing

Six Ways to Tighten Your Writing

copyright 1999, Karen A. Hertzberg

  You can also think of weak verbs as those that have trouble standing on their own in a sentence. Take a sentence like, "The dog was barking." Remove the modifier ("barking") and you have "The dog was." Not much of a sentence, is it? How about, "The dog barked?" Better! Another good example is: "Give your writing energy." The verb is "give". Remove the modifier ("energy") and you have, "Give your writing." That sounds incomplete, doesn't it? Try, "Energize your writing."

Here are some examples of sentences with weak verbs:

  • I felt tired.
  • The boy looked angry.
  • She seemed content.
  • I was walking down the street.

Blah! You can rewrite them with more specific actions, being careful to SHOW, not TELL. (All the above examples are "telling".) Here are some possible rewrites:

  • I yawned and stretched my heavy arms toward the sky.
  • The boy stamped his foot and shook his fists.
  • Her lips curled in a slight smile and she hummed to herself.
  • I strolled down the street.

These are basic rewrites. YOUR rewrites will depend on the context of your story. You wont always be able to avoid wimpy verbs. Rewriting them all would make your prose seem pretentious and wordy. Still, it's best to be alert for opportunities to rewrite, always remembering to use concrete, specific verbs.

#2 - I've Got a Preposition for Ya

Don't get tangled in strings of prepositional phrases. They make your writing confusing and less readable. You can spot a preposition easily, they're all those ins, outs, ofs and overs. In the house...over the hill...out of the box. Sometimes they're just not necessary.

Instead of, "Her locks of blond hair..." write "Her blond locks."  Not "His eyes of green..." but "His green eyes." "The caravan came over the top of the hill?" Nah. "The caravan crested the hill." Get the idea?

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  I'm going to share a little story with you, and you'll probably wonder what it has to do with writing. Bear with me--I'll make the connection in a moment.

  I recently bought a 1990 Toyota Camry. Now, I'm sort of a car-oriented woman, and I pride myself in being able to identify the make and model of most cars I see on the road. Even so, I have to admit I didn't recognize the Camry when I first saw it. It was a fairly generic looking car.

  Now that I'm the proud owner of a Camry, I notice them everywhere. Apparently, the Camry holds up pretty well, because just about every fourth or fifth car on the road happens to be one of the exact size and shape as mine, a 10 year old hunk of semi-rusted metal, gears and rubber. Many of them are the same burgundy color. I had to memorize my license plate number just to make sure I didn't hop into the wrong chariot in the K-Mart parking lot.

  What does this have to do with writing, you say? Well, here's the connection I promised. Sometimes, we fail to notice things until they become familiar to us. I didn't notice Toyota Camrys, and now I can see that they practically own the road. The same holds true for some of the inherent flaws in our writing. We don't notice them until we're familiar with the concepts and we know them inside and out, like a beloved old car. So, welcome to the Used Writing Glitch Lot. I'm going to sell you a few concepts. Once you own them, you'll recognize them anywhere.

#1 - Wimpy Verbs

  Wimpy verbs suck the energy from your writing. You can't always cut them, but you can usually find ways to change them and make them stronger. Weak verbs can be those "to be" verbs: was, were, are, is. Vague words used to describe emotions and thoughts are also weak, so be on the look out for words like felt, feel, thought, think. Most other verbs that don't convey a very specific thought, emotion or action are weak: Went, looked, seemed.