Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Ten Ways to Tighten Your Writing & Hook the Reader

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Image via CellarDoorFilms W.A.N.A. Commons

When I used to edit for a living, I earned the moniker The Death Star because I can be a tad ruthless with prose. Today I hope to teach you guys to be a bit ruthless as well. Before we get started, I do have a quick favor to ask. Some of you may know that I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu so I’ve taken on our dojo’s blog to see if we can try out new and fun content and am using the moniker Dojo Diva.

I posted about how hard it is to begin and the fears that can ever keep us from starting. The way others try to stop us from doing anything remarkable. I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories, so I hope you will stop by and get the discussion going.

Click the word “Comments” and a box should appear. This is new, so working out the kinks. If you don’t appear, I may just need to approve you.

To prime the pump, so to speak, anyone who comments on the new blog will be drawn for a separate contest to win 20 pages of Death Star Treatment (rigorous edit from ME). This means a lot higher chances of winning. Also, the first ten commenters get double entries.

Been bragging about you guys, so I really hope to see you there!

Moving on…

Time is our enemy. Most people don’t have enough. This is why our writing must be tight, direct and hook early. Modern audiences have the attention span of a toddler hopped up on Pop Rocks and Mountain Dew. We can’t afford to let them drift.

Drift=Bad juju

I’ve edited countless books, many from new authors. I see a lot of the same errors, and this is to give you a basic guide of what to look for in your writing. Be your own Death Star. Blast away this weak writing so that once you do hire an editor, it won’t cost nearly as much because the editor won’t spend precious time (charged often by the hour) to note or remove these basic offenses.

I love doing my 20-page contest, namely because I act as an intermediary. When I run across excellent writing I do try to connect it with an agent who might be interested (with the author’s permission, of course). Yet, many of the samples I get are infested with these basic oopses that tell me the writer is not yet ready.

So I hope you can use these tips as a guide to reveal the pearl that is your story.

Tip #1—Use Other Senses. BTW, Sight is the Weakest

A lot of writers (new ones especially) rely on a lot of description regarding what a character sees, and while this isn’t, per se, wrong it can be overdone. Also, of all the senses, sight is one of the weakest, thus it lacks the power to pull your reader into deep POV (point of view).

***Just know I am riffing off these examples. Some people love detail, others love minimalism so I am not doing anything other than providing quick illustrations. Ultimately, tailor these suggestions to your particular voice.

Smells are very powerful. In fact, it is the most powerful of ALL the senses.

Jane stopped short. She stared at the blackened walls and peeling paint that testified to the fire that took twenty young lives.

Okay, pretty good. But maybe try this.

Jane stopped short. The sickening sweet of cooked flesh stole her breath. It was all that remained of twenty young lives extinguished in flames.

Taste is also very powerful.

Fifi tucked and rolled as she dove out of her captor’s van. The ground came up hard, harder than she expected.

Not bad, but maybe try…

Fifi’s face met the ground, hard. At first, all she noticed was the bitterness of grass mixed with sand that crunched against her teeth. A moment later? The taste of old copper pennies gushed into her mouth, making her gag. Blood.

Try to use a combination of all of the senses to close the psychic distance. To rely solely on what a character sees will keep the reader at a distance. It will make her a mere observer and not a participant. Also, y’all might have noticed novels are pretty long so adding in other senses will broaden your emotional palette.

Tip #2 Don’t Coach the Reader

When we are new, we tend to think through stage direction, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean it should end up on the page. Readers aren’t dumb, so we don’t need all the details.

He raised his hand and struck her across the cheek.

Um, duh. We know he raised his hand to strike her. Otherwise, that would be a serious trick. Jedi mind powers, maybe?

He struck her across the cheek. Hard. Stars exploded in her vision.

We don’t need the character to step up on the curb or reach for the door handle. If a character makes it from one room to another, we fill in the missing (and boring) details. We also don’t need cues for emotion.

Tip #3 Don’t State the Obvious

She slammed the door and cursed in anger.

Unless this character has spacial issues and Tourette’s? We know she’s angry. We don’t “need” the “in anger” part. We’re sharp. We get it. Really.

Tip #4 Can We Have a Name, Please?

This can happen a lot when the writer is using first-person. We go two, three or ten pages and still don’t know the main character’s NAME.

Tip #5 Don’t Introduce Too Many Characters Too Quickly

This is the opposite of the last problem—too many names. I can’t tell you how many writing samples I’ve received that make this mistake. If you have ten named characters by page one? I’m done. In life, we can’t keep up with that many names all at once, and when reading, that doesn’t change.

Too many names will confuse us and muddle who the protagonist is. We get lost, so we’re frustrated and we put the book down…or toss it across the room.

Tip #6 Limit Naming Too Much Anything at Once

This can happen in science fiction and fantasy because we are world-building. Just remember that if we name characters, places, prophesies, weapons, technology, dragons, creatures, ships, robots etc. it can overwhelm the reader. Stories are about people and if the people get lost because of the world-building, that is problematic.

Jezebel gripped the Kum-Rah in her bleeding hands. Panting, she stopped just short of the Uf-Tah’s altar. Tomorrow the Gil-Had would sacrifice another Fluff-Tun.

I’m being a tad silly here, but maybe try something like…

Jezebel gripped her sword in her bleeding hands. Panting, she stopped short of the ornate altar. Tomorrow the Gil-Had would sacrifice another member of her family.

We still get some world-building without our heads exploding trying to keep up with names and figure out who is who and what is what. Later, as the story progresses, we can learn that the bad guys are the Uf-Tah, the henchmen are the Gil-Had and the victims are the Fluff-Tah. We can eventually learn the names of particular weapons.

Tip #7 Give Us an “Idea” of Who a Character Is and What He/She Looks Like

Don’t feel the need to bog us down too much, but by page one, we should know at least some basics about a character. Few things get weirder than reading about a character for five or ten pages and then realizing they are another race or gender.

Whaaaa??? He’s a black dude?

Tip #8 Strive to Give Us a Sense of Time and Place

Again, a few details are helpful to orient us where we are. Whether it is the smell of horse manure, the rattling of carriages or the whir of computers, we need to get grounded quickly to become part of the world and fall into that fictive dream.

Tip #9 No Secret Agents

We are introduced to who we assume is the protagonist. Unless something cues us otherwise, we assume he/she is alone. When another character suddenly starts talking?

Jarring.

Also, tell us who this person is in relation to the character. Yes, you (the writer) know who this character is, but we don’t.

Gertrude awoke with a start. Her alarm clock hadn’t gone off, and panic gripped her. This was her first day at the new job, and being late could get her fired before she even started. She nearly fell as she scrambled out of the bed sheets and bolted for the coffee maker.

“I thought you’d be gone by now,” Ted said as he watered his Bonsai trees.

“Me, too. Hey, why didn’t you come wake me up?”

Okay, who is Ted? Brother? Husband? Boyfriend? Friendly home invader? We need to know. Maybe not right away but at least on the same page or pretty close to it.

I see this all the time. A name, some dialogue but no introduction, so no sense of who that character is. We are book-readers not mind-readers.

Tip #10 Tighten the Prose

The biggest red flag to me as an editor is an infestation of the word “was.” This is a major indicator of weak writing and passive voice. If a writer does this on page one? Fairly safe to assume the trend will continue.

Do a Was Hunt. See too many of those buggers together? Time to kill.

It was barely dawn and Lulu was sitting on the couch. She was waiting for her father who was already hours late. This was unusual for him. He was always punctual. A crack that was deafening made her scream and moments later the door was kicked in by the police who barked orders for her to get down on the floor.

Instead….

Predawn light spilled into the room where Lulu sat, waiting for her father to be home. He was never late. Ever. A deafening crack made her scream. Police kicked in the door and ordered her to the floor.

There are a lot of other ways to tighten the writing, but these are common offenders and a great start. We all do this no matter how many books we write. It’s why we need revision. We can spot this stuff and clean it up and make it presentable for the public.

What are some of your pet peeves? What loses you as a reader? Do these tips help? Do you see maybe some of your own bad habits? Btw, I did ALL of these at one time, so we are all friends 😀 .

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form 😀 .

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

169 thoughts on “Ten Ways to Tighten Your Writing & Hook the Reader”

  1. nicolezoltacknicolezoltack

    Wow, these are really solid tips. I’m a was offender in rough drafts and try to change as many of them as I edit. I’m slowly, slowly getting out of the habit of using it in rough drafts but they still tend to creep in.

  2. Aethereal EngineerAethereal Engineer

    Very solid tips as usual Kristen. I found myself discovering and self-teaching some of these myself over edits to my latest WIPs.

  3. juliembrown8juliembrown8

    Thanks for these tips. Going to search “looked” and “saw” in my manuscript and change to other sense where possible. And I’ll share your article too!

  4. RDeeRDee

    Excellent. Great tips!

  5. Alan TuckerAlan Tucker

    Tried to comment on the martial art blog but couldn’t because WordPress wouldn’t take my info, even though I can comment here just fine. Might want to check the settings. 🙂 Awesome post BTW!

  6. Mark GelineauMark Gelineau

    These tips seem so basic at first blush, but they are often the first things we forget, and they are so crucial. Great post, as usual.

  7. kimberlywenzlerkimberlywenzler

    Another excellent blog full of useful tips. I’m in editing mode myself and will make sure to use your suggestions. Thanks so much!

  8. Ruth Hartman BergeRuth Hartman Berge

    Once again a timely post. I’d already decided to re-write Chapter One and kill some darlings. Now I have a better idea of which ones get the axe. Thanks, Kristen!

  9. Regina OlsonRegina Olson

    I just subscribed this morning based on recommendation from a friend. Already I’m amazed at what I’m learning. Going to pull my first chapter up and apply your tips.

  10. lynettemirielynettemirie

    Love your writing tips as always. Another thing, I read the dojo diva blog but couldn’t find a place to comment. Am I missing it somehow?

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      Click where it says Comments and the box will appear. My comment appeared fine. But this is new so still purtying it up 😀

  11. Jaye GarlandJaye Garland

    Reblogged this on ~ Jaye's Days ~ and commented:
    Many of you know I’m an ardent follower of Kristen Lamb’s Blog. Occasionally, I’ll repost one of her articles here. You may also be aware that I’m an acquiring editor at my publisher, Soul Mate Publishing. What Kristen says in today’s blog is an especially good example of what to do to clean up drafts prior to submission. Print it out, people, and tack it on the wall in front of you. Take Kristen’s advice. You’ll be amazed at the difference in your story…and, you’re welcome!

  12. KaraKara

    Very helpful tips. I’m really struggling with this right now – how to incorporate editorial comments/suggestions/changes without adding to word count. Tips are very needed. Death Start treatment? Painful, but invaluable.

  13. SouthpawSouthpaw

    Ooo, that number 4 & 7 are a tricky in 1st! I read a series that was nice and all was great until book 5 when 12 new characters were introduced within the first few pages. It will baffles me why. It was so confusing that i put the book down and stop reading the series — and the author in general.

  14. AshleyAshley

    This was extremely helpful! I just started a sci-fi novel, and I can see now that I have a very long way to go before I can call myself a strong writer.
    Thank you so much, I thoroughly enjoyed this.

  15. SouthpawSouthpaw

    yeah that should be 4 & 7 🙂

  16. ceswiedlerceswiedler

    I like it. And while I think that smell and taste are amazingly powerful, you also have to make sure to moderate that stuff, otherwise every day in your story ends up smelling like vanilla and tasting like corn mush.

  17. therobotdrummertherobotdrummer

    Thanks for some solid writing tips! I’m a believer in #4 and #5 (I’ve been guilty of this one). #2 has never been spelled out to me and I’m gonna try to take it to heart.

  18. Paulla SchreinerPaulla Schreiner

    Enlightening. I have problems using adjectives when I describe (especially feelings) and I suspect that would fall under the “trust your reader” umbrella. Sometime writing feels like trying to tap your head and rub your tummy at the same time. Ah well…practice.

  19. maureenbonatchmaureenbonatch

    Great tips! I’m editing as we speak, so I’ll be sure to apply them.

  20. Stephanie ScottStephanie Scott

    Great tips! Just when I think I have a handle on writing tighter prose, I go back again and find all sorts of things to clean up.

    The one I see most often in contest entries is the over-explaining of physical actions. The “She walked across the room, picked up her phone, and tilted her head toward the screen. She dialed a number and waited for an answer. Joanie picked up on the second ring.”

    Or “She called Joanie.” LOL

    I’d rather have 3 lines about her internal frustration, feelings about the situation etc, than mechanics of picking up a phone.

    And yet, I do the same things in my own work! Editing is vital 🙂

  21. dianaflegaldianaflegal

    Ha, what if we are our own crab at times? Great word picture Dojo Diva and the folks here at Starbucks are wondering why I kept laughing out loud!

  22. drakes1drakes1

    Thanks Kristen! As always extremely useful tips for me as a new author. I am pleased to say that I think I may be guilty of only one so I will be making a conscious effort to remember these tips as I continue on my writing journey. Thanks again! Mark

  23. Sarah IsaacsonSarah Isaacson

    Love these tips! Passive voice is the worst. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve written the basics remain the same. Just hope that with each passing project the prose gets tighter in the 1st draft.

  24. Dennis AnthonyDennis Anthony

    Kristen, I was sitting back thinking how smart I am. I don’t do any of those dumb mistakes. Ha ha. I am such a great writer! Oh, wait. I do that one sometimes. Um, and that one too. Oops, didn’t know that one was against the rules. Dang it. Thanks. I guess.

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      I still have to look for this stuff in my own writing and I have been at this a LOOONG time. But this checklist is handy for tight prose.

  25. Betsy AshtonBetsy Ashton

    I go on a hunt for “that “and all -ing and -ly words. I was horrified when I searched for -ly and 1400 hits returned. Then I remembered one character was named Emily. Changed her name to Emilie and only had 150 pesky adverbs to manage.

  26. Leslie L Goodman - WriterLeslie L Goodman - Writer

    Yet another amazing blog post! I learn so much from you. Thankfully, the word ‘was’ jumps off the screen for me. (same for ‘is’) Having read your post, I’m going to re-read my manuscript with your solid advice in mind. Thank you.

  27. Nancy CarpenterNancy Carpenter

    A nice collection of refreshers as well as new tips for tightening. Another version of “was” – “is” as in “she is sitting”, “he is standing”, “they are eating” all send me over the edge.

  28. Kaye P HallowsKaye P Hallows

    This post was a great help to me, not only as a writer but as a pre-reader on other authors’ work. I’ll be keeping this list handy. Thanks!

  29. paigenorpaigenor

    Thanks for this! I’m always struggling between the words that come from my head and how they will appear on the page to my audience. I like them in my head and on the page, but will my reader? Great post!

  30. head0nichead0nic

    Very helpful. Think I’m most guilty of #6- off to work on that. 🙂

  31. Judy Hudson / WriterJudy Hudson / Writer

    Always helpful. I highlight was all the time, but have to be in a special mood to quench them. Love the new blog!

  32. Judy Hudson / WriterJudy Hudson / Writer

    You wrote recently about not paying for publishing. I get it with vanity presses and paying for the books to be printed. But what about the phenomenon of hybrid publishers? As if being an author wasn’t confusing enough these days. Perhaps it would make a good blog post???

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      Vanity press is still bad juju. A hybrid is an author who pursues multiple paths. I can blog about it. Thanks for the ideas. Keeps me from having to do all the thinking, LOL.

  33. Cherie O'BoyleCherie O'Boyle

    I was going to comment, but was distracted by all the wases in my latest draft. Was a disaster! Thanks for your perfectly-timed help.

  34. s.a.klopfensteins.a.klopfenstein

    Thanks for another great post! These are all these tips to watch in my writing. Another that I have learned is to avoid too much description early on. Readers don’t need to understand all the backstory or how the world works right away. They just need a character they care about to start.

  35. newfsullnewfsull

    I went to other Blog – the one with the picture of the beautiful young woman on the blog; but, alas I found no place to comment.
    That being said, I struggle with description versus showing. I love word play, especially when it conjures us a setting or a situation even as the characters have yet to make their entry. I know, I know, I am NOT writing for me. Still, I have to live with me. Ask my wife. It ain’t easy, lol.

  36. Rebecca JoRebecca Jo

    These basics are crucial to effective writing. Thanks for the reminder! I’m still learning and I find your blog to be so helpful. 🙂

  37. sandra214sandra214

    Fantastic blog, Kristen! I’m printing these out and posting them near my desk!

  38. GerriGerri

    OMG, I just did a was search on my first chapter. I was (haha) patting myself on the back, reading along with wip open and then, oops, found all the wases. As you can see, the value of an editor is not lost on me!

  39. Amy ReeseAmy Reese

    Excellent tips! I want this on my wall. I need to work on #8.

  40. married2arodmarried2arod

    So weird, I had to follow your blog twice, I thought I’d followed a long time ago. Anyway, I love this. So hard to nip all these tendencies in the butt the first time around. A really good site for passive voice, adverbs, cliches, and other writer faux pas is editminion.com you plug in your work and it highlights this all for you, it’s pretty awesome.
    You know I’m going to have to reblog your every post so I can win this 20-page critique 😉

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      Comment over on Dojo Diva! Totally separate contest and only 10 or so competitors :). And THANKS SO MUCH for the reblog!

  41. married2arodmarried2arod

    Reblogged this on Romance Done Write and commented:
    I love all these suggestions. Great check list to polish your work. My favorite was the one about using your other senses, sometimes I get stuck in writing one way – it adds a little flavor to mix it up. Inspired to get back to my work-in-progress!

  42. Lilith DarvilleLilith Darville

    Hi there – probably my biggest pet peeve is writers who don’t know how to accept constructive criticism. I’ve all but stopped editing manuscripts as a favour to fellow writers. They hear I’m published and ask if I’ll critique their manuscript. At first I was eager to help as payback to more experienced authors who helped me along the way. After spending hours, days, weeks (yup, I know you get the hint :-D) in which I ensured I kept my critique positive focusing on strengths and making suggestions by asking questions. Inevitably, I handed the edited manuscript back and, sometimes within hours, received an email or phone call from the writer going on at length about why everything (or almost everything as I hesitate to talk in absolutes) was absolutely necessary, why I was wrong, and why nothing could be changed. I’d be left scratching my head (after I’d pulled out several lengths of it) asking myself why they’d asked me to edit in the first place. I quickly learned what (ha – I just took out the word “that”, which is one of my weaknesses) they were looking for was me to say just how fabulous their writing was and tell them (another that bit the dust) I was so incredibly amazed by their talent I’d taken the liberty of sending the ms on to my publisher. *sigh*

    Enjoy an awesome weekend, Kristen! 🙂

  43. Michael KellerMichael Keller

    I am prepared to offer myself as a poster child for all the misdeeds Kristen has identified on behalf of self published authors.Chief among those was the arrogant belief that since I had edited legal documents in my professional career I could edit my own novel. The judges in a writing contest took great pleasure in disabusing me of that ill founded conceit. The point was made clear to me. Employ quality editorial support or fail as a writer.

  44. SoundOfLaughterSoundOfLaughter

    Thanks for the tips. Now to go back and double check my first chapter.

  45. Anne MarieAnne Marie

    Great post! Reblogged at MonstersNAngels.com

    Thank you!

  46. ElissavetaElissaveta

    Your posts will be gold when I start editing my novel. Thank you.

  47. Thomas WeaverThomas Weaver

    “Um, duh. We know he raised his hand to strike her. Otherwise, that would be a serious trick. Jedi mind powers, maybe?”

    In some kinds of fiction, it’s a valid option. Okay, not calling it “Jedi mind powers,” but telekinesis? Sure. Just as “she thought to herself” isn’t redundant if the character is a telepath and sometimes thinks to someone else.

    #6 — One of my pet peeves, because some authors think that throwing a lot of weird names around is ALL it takes to build a world.

  48. Nicole EvelinaNicole Evelina

    Love the tip on “was!” Will be scouring my MS for it this weekend. Thanks for a great article.

  49. aurorajeanalexanderaurorajeanalexander

    What an interesting and important blog post, Kristen. I enjoyed reading this and it taught me a lot. Thank you for valuable hints and important views.

  50. aurorajeanalexanderaurorajeanalexander

    Reblogged this on Writer's Treasure Chest and commented:
    This is just an amazing blog post. Valuable points of view and excellent examples. Very much worth reading in my opinion. A great lesson for beginners.

  51. CL StegallCL Stegall

    Kristen, this is awesome. Great timing as I am in the middle of editing a story now…this keeps me focused. Printed it out and hung it on the wall!

  52. tiffbushtiffbush

    I love these tips! I’m always looking for ways to tighten my writing, and you nailed it!

  53. laurieborislaurieboris

    Thank you, Kristen! I love these examples and use them often – for my editing clients’ work and my own. Great tip about the senses. One bit of overwriting I see often is all varieties of “looking” and “seeing” and “hearing.” If we’re clearly in one character’s POV, we know who is doing the looking and seeing and hearing.

  54. laurieborislaurieboris

    Reblogged this on Laurie Boris and commented:
    Some fantastic tips for taking up the loose stitches in your writing, should you wish to do that, courtesy of Kristen Lamb.

  55. Jami CrumptonJami Crumpton

    Thanks for the tips. I realized there’s no description of my heroine until chp 2. Oops.

  56. Lew WeinsteinLew Weinstein

    KRISTEN

    Excellent thoughts, several of which I already try to follow. Still, I can always benefit from a reminder. Regarding beginnings, perhaps my most successful beginning was to start a novel with the word “No!”

    I would love to take advantage of your *20 pages of Death Star Treatment* in my novel-in-progress set in Germany and Poland during the Nazi years.

    LEW

    ************************************ Lewis M. Weinstein … *read about Lew’s novels at *… http://lewweinsteinauthorblog.com/ & http://www.amazon.com/Lewis-M.-Weinstein

  57. Jessica VaskoJessica Vasko

    Thanks for the was cluster tips! It will be helpful when looking through my own writing (though I guess I’ll be looking for is clusters, since my novel is in present tense).

  58. Ann brownAnn brown

    Thanks for the article, Kristin. How much do you charge for a twenty page edit?

  59. Shirley BuxtonShirley Buxton

    Read almost all your posts. Always find helpful material. Thank you.

  60. tigerlillytigerlilly

    What simple, yet important ideas. I once had an odd, character for an English teacher who made us write a long essay. For the life of me I can’t remember what the subject of the essay but I do remember we couldn’t use the words was, like, it and other common useless line fillers so we could accomplish 500 words. Talk about brutal. lol. Having reread your suggestions, the first thing I intend to do is look for the word “was” in my project. It’s a start. Thanks for all your brilliant suggestions.

  61. Kathryn JaneKathryn Jane

    I wish I’d had this blog a few months ago when judging a contest. I’d have shared the link with all the entrants as there’s something here for all of us 🙂 I’ll be putting the link up now on my blog!

  62. UniquelyHis67UniquelyHis67

    These are great tips! I have read similar tis in Jodi Renners “Fire Up Your Fiction.”

  63. R. A. MeenanR. A. Meenan

    Well, the good news is, according to these lovely tips, I’m pretty good at tightening my prose. The bad news is, I still need to figure out exactly where I’m going with book two in my series. =P

  64. conniecockrellconniecockrell

    Great tips. I try to rid my writing of these offenders but really, in first draft frenzy they have a bad habit of sneaking in. Thanks for sharing.

  65. Kenneth HossKenneth Hoss

    Great post, Kristen! I am terrible about using “was”, at least in my first book. (946 instances, though most were in dialog.)

  66. Randy RothfusRandy Rothfus

    I have been silently reading your posts for quite some time and for some reason this one in particular really spoke to me. As a newbie writer, I feel as though I’m getting constantly hammered on do this, do that, don’t do that, and honestly it feels like it is a creativity vampire sucking the life from my project. I loved your post because it shot off common errors in writing and gave quick succinct examples. For my ADD brain it was perfect. Thanks!

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      If you have these basics in mind when you write, then I can help without impacting your VOICE. Too many critique groups change more than just these common oopses and it can create the “book by committee.” If you correct these things, your writing should be fine regarding prose.

  67. Christine HendershtChristine Hendersht

    Thanks again for another great post! I love editing. I know that’s kinda weird, but it’s my favorite part of writing. I think I’m addicted to it! I get a small thrill each time I tweak my words to improve my prose. The problem is I could edit until the end of time. My book was published last fall. I spent a few years off and on making improvements and had it professionally edited by two editors, who taught me a great deal. Still, every time I crack open my book, I find things I would change!

  68. Ken FarmerKen Farmer

    Excellent blog, Kristen, just reposted in on my Writers Roundup page on FB. Use much of that in my workshops plus what I’m discovering from narrating my own novels for Audio. Found out that you gotta watch the sequential ‘s’ like ‘sheepishly’. It’s like who was the idiot that put the ‘s’ in ‘Lisp’ anyway.

  69. KarenKaren

    Guilty of a few of these, especially number 7. Hate writing description. If what the character looks like isn’t essential to the plot I just let the readers form their own picture. I realize that when I start getting movie deals my readers will be all, “They cast who? That is NOT how I imagined her.” It will be nice to deal with that problem rather than my current one of not even being able to finish the first draft. 😉

  70. nancysegovianancysegovia

    Great article, I just shared and followed. Thanks so much, and smiles to you!

  71. swiveltamswiveltam

    Wonderful informative post. Shared with my critique group and my google+ for writers group. Thank you for this check list and the examples. Your knowledge and kindness is mind-blowing!

    ~ Tam Francis ~
    http://www.girlinthejitterbugdress.com

  72. swhalen127swhalen127

    Awesome tips. I do always wonder about tip #2. While it can definitely be true, I sometimes think people take it too far. I don’t think writing is solely about conveying information in as few words as possible. The classics teach us that prose can be compelling and inspiring. Sometimes that means a little more instead of a little less.

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      That has nothing to do with how many words. I tend to be wordy. It’s a rule that has more to do with not being redundant. If someone slams the brakes or kicks over a chair or speeds off, we “get” the emotional state without the writer TELLING us. Make sense? We see the same rule in dialogue and that is why we used mainly “said.” The dialogue, if done properly, SHOULD NOT need coaching in the tags.

      “You’re being a bitch,” he snapped in irritation. See what I mean? We KNOW he is snapping and we know he is likely irritated without the writer TELLING us to MAKE SURE we have the intelligence of at least a mushroom.

  73. S.J. FrancisS.J. Francis

    Excellent points made here and as always hits the nail right on the head. Thanks for sharing! wonderful! Going to share with twitter and FB friends. Cheers! S.J. Francis.

  74. nairnmcintyrenairnmcintyre

    Hi Kristen
    As a new writer I love this post as it lets us noobs know more about what is expected of us by industry professionals.
    I have re-blogged on my blog nairnmcintyre.wordpress.com where I blog about my journey in to book writing.
    Many thanks again.
    Nairn

    • nairnmcintyrenairnmcintyre

      Sorry, meant to add that my pet hate when reading/listening to a book is he said, she said, they said, at the end of every line of speech. I mean if two people are having a conversation then surely you don’t need to have it after every line!
      Thanks again

  75. Sarah BrentynSarah Brentyn

    Fantastic post. Love the tips (and examples) here. Also hopped over to your Jiu Jitsu blog and left a comment. 🙂

  76. faransilvertonfaransilverton

    Great tips. I’m editing my first MS so your advice will be really helpful. It’s a good learning experience, I’m hoping that my future writing will be better for it.

  77. Kate WhitelyKate Whitely

    Great tips. I needed these as I am currently doing the last edit of my novel before sending it off to beta readers.

  78. Jazz singhJazz singh

    Super. I wish i had found these tipswhen i furst started writing

  79. brendaindillonbrendaindillon

    You post is fun, informative and easy to read. Great advice for every writer.

  80. brendaindillonbrendaindillon

    Reblogged this on Brendaindillon's Weblog and commented:
    For anyone following my blog, I think you will find this post helpful.

  81. mypersonallthingmypersonallthing

    Reblogged this on my personal thing and commented:
    This is really good. I’m going to have to try these while I’m editing. Thanks for the post 🙂

  82. tomangel1tomangel1

    Well, that is some genuinely excellent advice. I’v spent the morning taking WAS from my manuscript! An edit underlines how brutal you have to be in the edit. I’ve been polishing when i should have been culling

  83. laurahurlburtlaurahurlburt

    Awesome! Contest or no, this is going on my blog and Facebook page so I can always remember and pass along to my students who want to write, too. So grateful for you!

  84. EleshaElesha

    Thanks for the great tips!

  85. Marie LavalMarie Laval

    All these tips are great! Thank you very much.

  86. SAOSAO

    My pet peeve is the scenes (usually in unpubbed MSs) where the MC has coffee with her best friend discussing the upcoming scene where she will confront the male lead. Or telling each scene in more than one POV, so we see it twice. One of my favorite authors did this in one book and it was the only DNF I ever had from her.

    • Ken FarmerKen Farmer

      Clancy was bad about doing that two or even three times.
      I guess it boils down to if you’re a good storyteller, you can get away with a lot.

  87. RobinRobin

    Great article and useful tips. I reblogged this on RobinOlsonFreelancing.com

  88. gloriaolivergloriaoliver

    Nice and precise little article! Thanks! It never hurts to get these reminders. Like you said, even pros, fall into these traps. Sometimes it feels like the longer I do it, the less I seem to retain. o.O Using you as part of my Monday Mind Sieve blog post where I regurgitate the cool posts I’ve run into with others. 🙂 http://blog.gloriaoliver.com/2015/04/mind-sieve-42015.html

  89. Sandra ForderSandra Forder

    Very helpful tips

  90. NRTuckerNRTucker

    I was thrilled to see your tips. I just removed a number of tip 2 (don’t coach) infractions in the first draft of my second book and was glad to see that you warned against over explaining. I had gotten bogged down in explaining everything to my reader. I also plan to review the book for tips 5 and 6, as I have been known to get carried away in that regard. Thanks for the helpful tips.

  91. Carwen Saint ThomasCarwen Saint Thomas

    I think I’m going to keep this list by my side next time I edit. So much of this is relevant.

  92. ChrisChris

    Great article! Hope I win!! My writing could use some Death Star treatment!

  93. Kim PiddingtonKim Piddington

    Thanks for the advice. Printing it out to use as a checklist while revising.

  94. lonestarjake88lonestarjake88

    Thank you for these pointers! I often struggle with what is necessary to set up and what is not.

  95. Richard A SnowRichard A Snow

    Reblogging this on richardsnowwriter.com, and twitter. When I started writing someone pointed out to me that my characters always ‘started to…’ do whatever it was. Fred started to walk up the stairs. Jenny started to unpack the car, Someone asked me “why doesn’t Fred just walk up the stairs.” Then I went on a hunt to eliminate all occurrences of “started to”. We don’t know we have these habits until someone points them out to us.

  96. CrystalSpinsCrystalSpins

    Love it. I agree with all of these…but I have never gone on a “was” hunt. I’m so doing this the next time I sit down to write/edit my stuff. I write mostly personal, literary non-fiction essays on my blog — and in general — and I am a passive voice girl. I need to work on that for sure!

  97. Beth BrubakerBeth Brubaker

    Very poignant- great post! Most posts only cover the grammar and little else- it’s nice to see a fresh perspective! 🙂

  98. leighmac17leighmac17

    Oops! Saw lots of mine in this article. I printed this out so I can refer to it! I will reblog it on my site, if you don’t mind. Very useful!

  99. Silver ThreadingSilver Threading

    Thank you for all your sound advice. I am a new writer and know I will benefit from these tips. <3

  100. Ann RoseAnn Rose

    I am so glad I stumbled upon this blog. It is so informative without being over the top in your face. Thanks for the great tips. I will be back to learn more. 🙂

  101. R.M. DonaldsonR.M. Donaldson

    All of these are helpful. I’ve been making a list of things to check for when you edit a story. Working on making it to be a blog post one of these days. A lot of these are good ones to add. You mind if I use one or two. I will have references to you to say where I got some of them.

  102. Lee McAulayLee McAulay

    Great examples – I do tend to get stuck on #5 (too many characters too fast).

  103. paigeelizabethnguyenpaigeelizabethnguyen

    These are great basic tips for any writer! It’s wonderful to remind yourself of these types of edits every couple months or so and check your writing against them. I find that even though I know these already, a few of the sneaky little miscreants can slip back into my drafts without my noticing! I will have to bookmark this page. Thanks for posting!

  104. mismouseymismousey

    love your ideas and thoughts. Can they be used also for bloggers? Thought that it might be possible to use some if not all of them .

  105. mismouseymismousey

    Reblogged this on mouseybooks and commented:
    HERE ARE SOME EXCELLENT IDEAS ON HOW TO TIGHTEN YOUR WRITING AND HOOK THE READER!

  106. memoirsofmadnessmemoirsofmadness

    Solid post …. I can pass on this information to all of my writing friends. It good to go back to the basics. Thank you very much for posting.

  107. tambra nicoletambra nicole

    Hopefully, this post appeared on my blog. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I appreciate it.

  108. Dawn RossDawn Ross

    I definitely have a few of these weaknesses. #10 stood out for me. Another word people, myself included, tend to use too much is the word “that”…. “I thought that is what you wanted,” he said. But no, it wasn’t that. It was just that he didn’t want to hurt my feelings.

  109. EloiseEloise

    Thanks – this is fantastic stuff. I’ve only just discovered your blog now and wish I’d read some of these articles ages ago! It’s really helped me rethink my writing. (Love the one on the antagonist too)

  110. mikecrowlmikecrowl

    Tip #10 suggests over-use of “was.” I’m adding that to my list of words… really, seems, suppose, just, can, very, and a whole bunch of “ly” words. I keep a spreadsheet to keep data on writing time, plot points, and timelines. About two weeks ago, I created a new tab with all the words I tend to use far too often. It’s easy to go back and do a search with each word, and then evaluate how I’ve used them.

    • Author Kristen LambAuthor Kristen Lamb

      Was is fine, just if you see a cluster of those suckers, it’s a hint you might be using too many helping verbs and can tighten the prose.

  111. Ice Scream MamaIce Scream Mama

    These tips were really helpful. I’m heading to my computer with the list and going over my work. Thanks.

  112. katkent2014katkent2014

    Kristen, I am an offender of all the tips you mentioned when I first started writing books in 2010. It really is true: the more you write, the better it gets. Some tips have become second nature now and I enjoy the writing process even more. Some I work on everyday. When I edit my own writing, I think of sentences as frills on a fussy looking ball gown. Rip off all those extra frills and what you have left is an elegant and exciting gown, sure to make your date or audience (editor, agent, publisher) drool. Great article and I learned alot during the Antagonist web class on 4/18. I’ve looked up several “log lines” of movies like my book and it helped. Thank you.

  113. katkent2014katkent2014

    Reblogged this on writersback and commented:
    Great Article by Kristen Lamb on writing tighter prose. “We are book-readers not mind-readers.” Love this.

  114. AnnieAnnie

    Loved the info. My husband is a purple belt in BJJ and I practice Krav Maga. I have dabbed in BJJ but everyone is 100 lbs heavier than me and I much rather be on my feet even if I got someone in my guard but I do love BJJ as well.

  115. ninakimani11ninakimani11

    This has helped me 🙂 Thanks for the well Writen points. 🙂

  116. kmcmcurtis7kmcmcurtis7

    I really loved this. I’m not actually trying to be a writer, but this applies to just blogs in general. Thanks for the insight!!

  117. Carl R. MooreCarl R. Moore

    Love the detail and the bit about the senses. Rhythm ‘ s a writing skill too often overlooked.

    Reply
    September 16, 2015
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