The Word of the Day: Tighten

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, step right up and meet the most sensational beast the world has ever seen. A remarkable feat, magical and mysterious. I give you a human being that can turn into a puddle. That's right, a puddle. As she stands before you, looking very solid and able to challenge gravity, at any moment she can transform into a gelatinous liquid mass sliding around on the floor with no real sense of direction.

Okay, okay. You'll have to forgive the introduction here. I've been reading Water for Elephants and I'm feeling a little circus-y. I've also been revising the novel Reading Glasses (or so it is called until I can find it a new name) that has great, great potential and apparently a lot of excess fat. Somehow, portions of this excess didn't stand out to me as much in previous revisions and now it's like I can't not see the problem. So, the word of the day around my writing world is: tighten.

I need to cut out anything in the manuscript that doesn't need to be there and take all the necessary information and incorporate it where it can feel more organic to the story to appear less like exposition. This is the tricky part: the finding places for things that don't seem to have places.

So we tighten, bring the story in close, and strain it for pulp. This, of all things, is actually the part I like a little more than creating the first draft although it is by far much harder.

If you haven't looked over your own stories with the word "tighten" in your head, you should. You may just find there are sentences, portions of dialogue, even whole paragraphs that don't really impact your story in one way or another. Even a few of the lines you think are useful you may find fall into that classic "tell" category where you should have been "show"ing.

I challenge you to highlight all of these useless/misused lines, slap post-it notes on your pages, or underline the offenders and take care of them as soon as possible.

If you can learn to tighten, you can make a stronger, more concentrated story with more impact, depth of character, and meaning than the watered down version you started with. So, set up the big tent, bring in the animals, the fat lady, the bearded lady, the trapeze artist, and then tell everyone to leave that doesn't have any business being there. Tighten!

Do you have the gusto to tighten? Have you strained your story? Leave comments below.

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