Monday, June 30, 2014

Writing Tight

by Andrea Merrell

In the past few weeks, we've talked about the overuse of exclamation points and quotation marks, but here’s another tip: Italicize book titles, inner dialogue, and words for emphasis, but don’t get carried away with italics.

With those basics under our belt, let’s continue to clean up our manuscripts as we talk about writing tight.

What exactly does writing tight mean?

  • Saying as much as possible in as few words as possible.
  • Conveying exactly what you mean.
  • Writing in concise, easy-to-read-and-understand terms.
  • Eliminating extraneous phrases and words (especially adverbs).

Pet Words and Phrases

Everyone has pet words and phrases that must be weeded from their manuscript. The most common are: just, really, that, then, truly, simply, slowly, gently, as if, and began to. Writers also tend to over-explain. If you’re doing a good job showing your story, don’t continue by telling it as well. That’s overkill. Be careful not to overwhelm your reader with details, unless they move the story forward. Avoid taking rabbit trails. You don’t want your reader to get lost and have to use a GPS to find the way back to your plot.

More Sage Advice

Let’s get one more piece of advice from literary agent Chip McGregor’s blog post, What Drives an Editor Crazy? 

Print out a copy of your proposal or manuscript and look it over. If the FIRST WORD of every paragraph is the same, you need to go back and change it.  (Unless the first word of every paragraph is the word “I,” in which case you need to be slapped by the person sitting next to you, THEN go back and change it.)

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is this: Anything you use over and over in your story—whether punctuation, words, phrases, descriptions, or names—wears on your reader. I once read a book and decided if the author used a certain word one more time, I would blow my brains out. Actually, I had to make myself finish the book, and I’ve never read anything else by that author.

Adopt the concept, less is more. The best way to learn to write tight is to compose a devotion or article of 500 words, then go back and cut it down to 300 words. It’s much harder than you think, but it will be time well spent as you learn to think outside the box and use your words in the best way possible.

Please leave a comment and let me know which pet words and phrases you struggle with.  

(Photos courtesy of


Monday, June 23, 2014

Boredom Busters #2: Don't Tell Me Your Story

by Alycia Morales

*Katy Kaufmann, you won Edie Melson's book. Please contact Alycia at alywmorales (at) gmail (dot) com to claim your prize. If I don't hear from you before next Monday, I'll rerun the contest. Thanks!*

Marcia sat on the park bench and watched people walk past. She felt sad. Today was her birthday, and no one seemed to notice. Must be nobody cared about her. She got up and walked back to the office, where she finished her work day.

Did you sympathize with Marcia?

Why not?

Because I've told the story instead of shown it.

One thing I've noticed that both beginning writers and experienced writers tend to do is tell their story instead of showing it. What is the difference, you ask? Let me show you:

Marcia sat on the park bench with her head in her hands. Silent tears slipped down her fingers and pooled in her palms. She'd be embarassed if anyone at the office noticed her dejection. Instead, she took an early lunch.

It would have been nice if her husband had presented her with a gift this morning. Ten Facebook posts with links to the Kindle Fire should have been enough of a clue, she'd thought. And her kids didn't bring her breakfast in bed, either. It's the first time in ten years she hadn't gotten french toast on her birthday.

She breathed in a deep sigh and let it out. As she stood, she wiped her cheeks with the back of her hands and brushed them off onto her pencil skirt. Marcia let the young mother pushing her toddler past in a stroller with a balloon tied to it pass before she headed back to the office and the rest of her day ... and the empty vase on her desk. Had her coworkers forgotten too?

Now, how do you feel about Marcia?

I now have questions and want to keep reading to find the answers. How old is she? Did her husband plan a surprise party for her? Did her friends and family really forget? How could her husband miss ten Facebook posts?

Here are 4 ways to keep your readers turning pages by showing your story instead of telling it:

1. Avoid passive verbs. To be, or not to be? That is the question. Avoid "be" verbs. Was. Were. Am. Are. Will. Other verbs to avoid are began to and started. If you started to walk, you walked. If you started to get over it, you got over it.

2. Don't let something cause your character to respond. 
(Telling) Alex's anger caused Sarah to leave the house.
(Showing) Sarah turned and walked out the front door when Alex screamed and threw the vase full of roses across the room.

3. Don't allow your character to feel things. And use the five senses. 
(Telling) Rose felt nervous about her first date.
(Showing) Rose glanced at her cell phone again, hoping she hadn't missed a cancellation text from Ben. She picked up the napkin and wiped the sweat off her palms. Discretely, she bent her head to her shoulder, checking to see if her deodorant now failed, letting everyone in on her nervousness. She'd never used an online dating service before.

4. Let the character experience their environment, rather than describing it to the reader.
(Telling) The room was dark and cold and Damien lay in the middle of the floor.
(Showing) Damien woke, shivering in the middle of the concrete floor. Where am I? He squinted through swollen eyes as the rope around his wrists and ankles burned against his cold skin. The scent of hay met his nostrils as a cow bellowed in a nearby stall. A barn. Figures. Only Jeff would bring me to a barn. He rolled onto his back and pushed himself into a sitting position.


Are you tired of telling your story? @AlyciaMorales has some pointers on how to show your readers instead: {Click to Tweet}

4 Ways to Keep Your Readers Turning Pages: @AlyciaMorales #amwriting {Click to Tweet}

Usually I'd ask you a question here, but today I'd love to hear from you in story form. Using this "tell," show us your super-short story in 150 words or less: Ronnie is at the river on a hot summer day.

CONTEST: I'll be watching for your responses. Next Sunday (June 29th), I'll pick a winner to receive a print copy of my "Show Me the Moon" meme featured in this post.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Quirky Quotation

By Andrea Merrell

In my last post, we talked about the overuse of exclamation points and the need to eliminate them from our manuscripts unless absolutely necessary. But what about quotation marks?

Most writers have their own personal set of bad habits, especially when it comes to punctuation. While some tend to forget that punctuation is even a requirement, others use overkill which makes the reader want to get out the Liquid Paper and erase all those unnecessary marks.   

To get another professional’s opinion, let’s look at a portion of literary agent Chip McGregor’s blog post, What Drives an Editor Crazy?

Occasionally you’ll find “authors” who feel a “need” to put any emphasized words in “quotes,” since they think it makes them look “official.” This is particularly tiresome when a “funny” author decides to put his “punch line” in quotations. An “idea” – cut the quotation marks.

The Purdue Online Writing Lab ( says: “The primary function of quotation marks is to set off and represent exact language (either spoken or written) that has come from somebody else.” Therefore, quotation marks are always used in dialogue and when giving a direct quote (unless you are using italics or block quotes), but not to draw attention to a bevy of words. The best way to emphasize a word is to use italics, but don’t overdo it. This is another area where you need to trust your reader to get it.

There are rules about using other forms of punctuation with quotation marks. You can use the CMOS, CWMS, Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors by Kathy Ide (formerly Polishing the PUGS, or online sources such as: and Allow Google to become your best friend.

Next time we will talk about redundant words and phrases, and writing tight. For now, I would love to hear your thoughts on quotation marks.

(Photos courtesy of and

Katy Kauffman is the winner of Edie Melson's book. Katy, please send Alycia your mailing address at alywmorales (at) gmail (dot) com. Thanks!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Wordless Wednesday - Title It!

Welcome to our new weekly post! On Wednesdays, we'll post a photo. 

Now, we know it's "Wordless Wednesday" for a reason, so we won't include any words with the photo (except for this week). 

However, because this is a writing and editing blog, we'd like to give you the opportunity to have some fun and do some writing. So, we'll give you a reminder under the photo to leave your caption in the comments. Each week may bring a different writing opportunity. This week we'll focus on a title. Next week it may be dialogue. Inner thought. Scene description. Conflict. You get the idea...

Here's the first picture for you:

What would you title the story this photo tells?

Monday, June 9, 2014

You ought to be an editor if ...

by Edie Melson

I love editing.

To me, it’s the process of bringing order to chaos. It’s not just my own words that I want to make sing, it’s the words of others. I get as much joy when an author I edited succeeds as when I do.

I’ve discovered this isn’t a universal gift. Some would even argue that it's a curse. But you know you ought to be an editor if . . .

1. Grammar jokes never fail to crack you up—because they’re funny, right?

2. The misuse of quotation marks sends you into a five minute tirade.

3. You mark the mistakes you find—in red pen—in the books you read.

4. You listen to grammar podcasts. After all, those tips and tricks come in handy, right?

5. You could talk for hours about comma usage.

6. You’re constantly clarifying what someone says, because in general, people should be more precise.

7. When you receive handouts in a meeting or workshop, you find yourself marking typos and rewording sentences to tighten it up.

8. You collect pictures of grammar mistakes.

9. Your critique group has nick-named you the Grammar Snob.

10. You know how to use the edit feature on Facebook.

Now it's your turn to add to the list. Be sure to leave your comments in the section below.


Edie has graciously offered our readers an autographed copy of her book, Connections: Social Media and Networking Techniques for Writers. All you need to do is leave a comment below for the opportunity to win. The winner will be chosen by random drawing on Sunday, June 14th and announced on next week's blog post. 

Edie Melson is the author of numerous books, as well as a freelance writer and editor. Her blog, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands each month. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy. She’s also the Military Family Blogger at Guideposts. Com, Social Media Director for Southern Writers Magazine and the Senior Editor for Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Boredom Busters #1: Avoid Repetition

by Alycia Morales

I recently had the honor of participating in a podcast with best-selling author Steven James, Hallmark Channel's When Calls the Heart producer Brian Bird, Splickety magazine executive editor Ben Wolf, and author Aaron Gansky. Aaron posed the question, what's one thing writers do that bothers you the most?

Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.

Do you remember the teacher in Charlie Brown? Wha. Wha. Wha. Wha. Wha. 

I had a science class just before lunch period, and the teacher spoke in a monotone. Between the hunger, the boredom, and the repetition, I could barely stay awake. I never enjoyed her class, and I never had any desire to learn about science.

Occasionally I come across a book where an author bores me to the death of their novel. Why? Because they've written their novel in a monotonous voice, no thanks to repetition. It doesn't take but a chapter or two, maybe three, for me to decide I'm tossing it and will not be recommending it to my friends.

Here are a few types of repetition in a manuscript:

1. Repetition of words or phrases within sentences that are close to one another. What I mean to say is that words or phrases in both sentences are repeated.

2. Use of pet words. These are words an author tends to gravitate toward using. Sometimes you'll see them at the beginning of sentences, and they will usually be an adverb or a conjunction such as "and" or "but." Other times you'll see them in the midst of sentences, and they are a sign of lazy writing. Authors will use the same description (adjectives) for each character or for one in particular. Or, the characters will always sigh or smile.

3. The character will think about the same thing all of the time. They won't be able to get past one particular instance or emotion throughout the entire book. This drives me insane. For example, we're introduced to the female protagonist in chapter one, and she is depressed. In chapter two, we are reminded that she is depressed. Her situation hasn't changed. By chapter three, she's still depressed, and I am now finished reading the book. A character needs to move forward, not stay stuck in park.

Here's how to fix these three repetitive mistakes:

1. Delete one of the repetitive sentences. Pick the more active sentence to keep.

2. Check your manuscript for pet words and descriptions. Delete the sentence starters. Delete the pet words. Change the descriptors. Deepen your characters and give them other things to do than smile or sigh. Find a tick for when they are happy, like squeezing their hands together.

3.  Develop the character arc. Your character needs to go through some sort of internal/external change as the story develops. This is a progressive movement, not a stagnant one. Move the character toward that final goal throughout the story. Don't save it for the last act. Otherwise, she'll meet her death before she ever has a chance, because your reader won't connect with her and will lose interest.


Keep your readers from throwing your book across the room. Avoid repetition. #amwriting
{Click to Tweet}

Don't put your readers to sleep. 3 ways to avoid repetition in writing: #amwriting #amediting {Click to Tweet}

What types of things irritate you as a reader?

If you'd like to check out the podcast with Steven James, Brian Bird, Aaron Gansky, Ben Wolf, Jake Pendleton, and me, click here.