"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
Information & inspiration to hone your craft and increase your cash...Since 2009

Thursday, May 3, 2012

"To Make a Long Story Short"...Or The Case Against Tight Writing

Write tight.
It’s been one of the cardinal rules of creative writing since the beginning of time.
Word economy, we are told, helps readers embrace and experience our stories with a minimal mental haul.
It respects their time.

Not to mention, when it comes to print publications, brevity goes over big with editors. Fewer words often translate into fewer pages and less printing and production costs for magazines and newspapers.

But, for all its virtues, tight writing can come across as “anemic” writing. As with all things, there is a proper place and time for it.

Here’s a case in point.
Many years ago, I came across a “call for submissions” that seemed like a fun, exciting project. The publisher was seeking stories from women across the world who strategically used their "womanly wiles" to successfully land the hunk of their dreams.
It spoke to my heart.

My pen couldn’t move fast enough as I relived the magical moments I experienced when I became involved with a man with whom I had been best friends for what seemed like a lifetime.
There was just one problem.
As my rough draft unfolded, the story ended up being 200 words over the designated word count.

Like a skilled butcher, I scoured my piece multiple times to “trim the fat”.
It was a no go. Every time I would try to rewrite it to fit, I had to omit important details, or it didn’t have enough “oomph” to have real depth.

Frustrated I decided to send it off anyway.
But, I opted to attach a brief note with it, explaining to the editor my situation.
To my surprise, weeks later I got an acceptance letter. It actually beat out hundreds of other entries, and not one word was cut. Not one.

When the book was published, I was proud of what I had produced and glad I had chosen to stick to my guns and not compromise my story.

How to judge when writing tight is really right...

There’s no doubt about it: different types of writing require different approaches and different considerations. Here are a few genres and projects where writing tight is an important requisite for success.


With this serving as a guideline, here are a few things to ask yourself to determine how much to include and what to toss during the creative process.

1. At the end of your piece, are there any gaping holes or unanswered questions?
2. Have you been repetitious in anything you’ve shared?
3. Does your piece have a distinguishable beginning, middle, and end with smooth transitions?
4. Like a good meal, do you feel ”full” after you read it to yourself and process it?

Less is not always more.

Think of good writing like you would a good recipe. Ultimately, it’s not how many ingredients that go into the mix, but the amount of love and attention that yields the perfect results.

No matter how many words you choose, always go BIG or go home! :-)

Thoughts? Are you an advocate of tight writing?

Image: Stock Photo


  1. Jennifer, thanks for sharing your writing tips! I always glean something. :)

    My writing can get a bit scanty...

    Bless you!

  2. I am an advocate of tight writing, however, there is a time and a place for the not so tight writing too. I just posted on the virtues of tight writing and actually have been considering a follow up post to discuss this very thing! (Great minds just think alike, I'm, thinking!) One commenter (a successful fiction author) made the point that sometimes, particularly in dialogue, that writing doesn't have to be tight. This got me thinking about other areas, too, hence, the post idea. If I do it, I must link to this post! :)

    I know when I think of tight writing, I am thinking as a writing instructor who is looking to discourage redundancies such as past history, free gift, etc., and phrases like "it seems to me that"
    and such. There are often little places where things can be snipped and tweaked with care to avoid these things and make our writing shine.

    Smart writers, I think, live, write, and learn, and find the right balance for each scenario. Good post, Jen, thanks!

    1. Okay, extra comma there in the first paragraph. Sorry about that! :)

  3. Cheryl,

    This is great to hear. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Wishing you much success. :-)

  4. Karen,

    Well stated! Thanks for your valuable feedback.

  5. I feel like I have a tendency to write *too* tight with my fiction. After years of corporate writing, I feel the need to get to the point too quickly--I just want to go from Point #1 to Point #2 to Point #3 without taking the time to look around. Fortunately, I have a great critique group who always remind me, "What does this character look like? You never told us" and "I can't picture the setting--could you describe it more?"

  6. Jennifer Brown BanksMay 5, 2012 at 7:29 PM

    Hey there, Julie,

    I totally get it. Corporate writing is a different animal indeed.
    Sounds like you have a pretty good group to keep you on the "write" track. :-) Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your creative challenges.

  7. Really glad I followed you over from your comment left at thinktraffic.net.

    I struggle between brevity and being thorough. The advice offered will go a long way in helping me improve as a writer.

  8. Jennifer Brown BanksMay 7, 2012 at 12:49 PM


    Welcome! Glad you followed me too. :-) Your struggle is common; stay the course. So glad you were able to benefit from the info here. Don't be a stranger...:-)

  9. Jennifer Brown BanksMay 7, 2012 at 1:12 PM


    ...Note to my readers. Michael's comment shows proof of what I've said before. Leaving comments can create quality connections.