Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Basics: Clean Writing

Davinia held the flower in front of her eyes and peered at it closely.  "As I suspected."  Her mouth stretched into a long grin.  "It's been bugged.  Just like every other flower in this place.  They're all bugged!"

Can you tell me what's wrong with the above excerpt?

(Okay, it's not an excerpt.  It's an off-the-cuff example.  But pretend it's an excerpt.)

Basically, the writing isn't tight.  There are too many words, and the result is clunky writing that is in desperate need of pairing down.


Davinia studied the flower.  "As I suspected."  She grinned.  "It's been bugged.  Just like every other flower here."

Sometimes, when we're trying to be creative--to say things in a different way--we get carried away with prose that should've been shot before it drew breath.  After a while, we learn NOT to be in love with our words (easier said than done), and even our first drafts are cleaner than they used to be.  But it's a skill that doesn't happen on its own; we have to be willing to learn how to discern what stays and what goes.

Example of using too many words:

She took several clumsy steps...  (She stumbled...)
His voice erupted with laughter...  (He laughed...)
He sat down on the chair across the table from... (He sat across from...)
She opened her mouth and produced a barely audible melody... (She sang softly...)

Mind you, there are times when a bit of embellishment will make for a more original or more beautiful turn of phrase.  We don't want our writing to be so stark that it lacks imagination.  But BE CAREFUL.  For the most part, the simple equation is the best choice.  Choose your words carefully, and remember that, most of the time, less is more.  Say what you mean to say without running around it in circles.

Prepositional phrases are often the culprit (as you'll notice in most of my examples above).  Remember that you don't have to detail EVERY SINGLE THING when you're trying to place a character or his action.


Byron stood beneath the willow at the entrance to the park on the east side, near the place where Janelle had been murdered.  (too many prepositional phrases!)

Byron stood beneath the willow near the place where Janelle had been murdered.  (better!)

Here's your challenge:  Take a look at the first chapter of your WIP or completed draft.  Cross out anything that could be said IN FEWER WORDS and rewrite.  Cross out any prepositional phrase that is UNNECESSARY.  Cross out EVERYTHING that is remotely redundant.  Then see what's left.

Chances are it's a lot tighter and cleaner than when you started!  Use this approach as you edit, and also as you draft.  The more experienced you become, the better you'll be at writing more cleanly SOONER.

Which means less editing later!

(Note:  I didn't say less REVISING.  I said less EDITING.  So don't get too excited.)

Finish the challenge and report back!


  1. Awesome post! Since I'm revising right now, and about to run through and edit after these revisions, I guess I should keep my eyes peeled for stuff like this.

    You're so clever! ^^

  2. Nice! I'm revising something at the moment, and writing tight is something I really gotta work on. I'll have to keep this in mind. ^^

  3. *saves brilliant post to Editing Advice folder*