Editing Tip #50

Tightening the Belt on Your Prose, Pt.1 ~

One of the more difficult, but practical, aspects of self-editing to learn is how to tighten up your prose. Even though your sentences may be grammatically correct, there are a number of ways they can be improved:

tighten prose– simplifying an idea

– clarifying an image

– balancing intent

– manipulating pacing

– changing passive to active

Today we’ll look at simplifying an idea. Now, the closer you are to your manuscript the more difficult any editing task will be. My advice is to give yourself at least a month away from the book (more if you can) before allowing yourself to look at your work critically. As you know, we writers tend to see what we think is there, or what should be on the page, instead of what’s actually there. In our mind’s eye we overlay these impressions on the written page and literally do not see our typos and unnecessarily complicated sentences.

Here’s a perfectly normal sentence from a WIP that’s been modified enough so to be unrecognizable to the writer (I’m doing this so that you can see how the average person writes a first draft):

He could have arranged to meet at the office, but something told him that whatever arrangement the woman sought to offer would fall outside of Harry’s duties as President of Gringeham International.

This is a complex sentence with a conjunction (but) and detailed expositional phrase. Use of “could have” makes this a passive sentence and the appearance of “arrange” twice slows down the pace giving an awkward air to an important piece of information.

Essentially though, this is a normal sentence that gets an idea across to the reader: Harry’s meeting the woman in a less conspicuous location for a good reason – and that’s what we need to focus on. So, how can we distill this rather lengthy sentence so that it says the same thing using fewer and more concise wording?

Write your version of the edited sentence in the comments below and we’ll look at the best options 😀

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Categories: Editing

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3 replies

  1. It’s been quiet, so here’s one edited version to consider:

    He decided not to meet her at the office. Something told him her offer fell outside Harry’s duties as President of Gringeham International.


  2. Harry believed that the woman’s offer would fall outside his duties at President and so chose not to meet her at the office.


    • Very concise, Howard. Thanks 🙂
      By choosing a longer sentence over two shorter ones you reduce the inherent suspense. Perhaps:

      Harry believed the woman’s offer fell outside his duties as President. He chose not to meet her at the office.

      Also consider the following to help build back in the tension:

      He wouldn’t meet her at the office. The woman had hinted her offer fell outside his duties as company President.


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