Pub Rants

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(Just a note, this post is from our archives. Some references and links may be from past years.)

Aspiring writers always want to know why agents pass on sample pages. I figured I’d starting doing a writing tip of the week or the month – depending on how many good examples I have to share. So here’s my tip for this week:  when writing action, use tight prose. Yes, I get that that is easier said than done.

In a first draft, writers often get a little wordy. Hence why they are called first drafts! The trick is to not submit said first draft to an agent or editor. Revise first. By the way, this isn’t just a beginning writer mistake. Established authors do this too. The difference? An established author gets the benefit of a line editor who will tidy it up. Newer writers are not so lucky. You folks have to get it right out of the gate or agents will pass on the sample pages.

An example is the best way to understand what I’m talking about here.

Original wording:

We didn’t encounter any more of the guards on our way to the park. I felt a lot better once we were inside the park even though I logically knew that we weren’t necessarily safe there. I just felt a lot less exposed surrounded by trees. The others soon joined us at the designated meeting place.

Line-edited wording (and just an FYI that it was already clear in previous paragraph that characters were headed to park):

The coast was clear all the way to the designated meeting place. It defied logic but I felt safer and a lot less exposed surrounded by trees. The others soon joined us.

Less is more and this allows the writer to get to the something good that’s about to unfold a lot more quickly.

20 Responses

  1. Anna Ormon said:

    Please keep they writing tips coming. They’re so helpful!

    Your client, Janice Hardy, is my favorite writing blog because she also gives stellar tips with great examples.

  2. David said:

    This kind of breakdown, to be able to compare the two, is really helpful. It’s why I find Query Shark so useful. Thank you for posting.

  3. L.G. Keltner said:

    Wordiness has always been an issue for me, but I started writing flash fiction to help me tighten up my writing. I’d recommend this as an exercise to any writer who struggles with this problem.

    Keep the writing tips coming!

  4. Kim said:

    I’m also glad to see you blogging more, Kristin! This is advice William Strunk himself would approve of. I always find it’s a lot easier to line edit like this once I’ve put some emotional distance between me and my draft — and the only way I know how to do that is with time, sadly.

  5. Dixie Casey said:

    Your writing tips are helpful to any aspiring writer. Thank you and please keep them coming.

  6. Michelle Paul said:

    Woohoo, I’m so happy to see you back to blogging! I love hearing what agents say about sample pages. This is especially helpful, as my biggest problem according to critiques from my writing group is that I overwrite the life out of scenes. Thanks for providing an example!

  7. Farmer Kidd said:

    Sincere thanks, Kristin. So far I’ve shaved 15,000 words from my novel by being more succinct with my words and excising anything that didn’t serve the plot. This post gives me encouragement that I did the right thing.

  8. Amaki said:

    Kristin, very good – I believe there may be a ‘typo’ in the second line of your blog though… 🙂

  9. Kristin Nelson Post author said:

    Amaki – if you only find one, that means I’m having a good day! LOL. I blog in any 10 minutes I can find. Terrible I know – especially when talking about line editing – but it’s either that or not blog at all. I usually catch and correct the next day.

  10. Michelle Ziegler said:

    Wordy and a lot of tell right? I am finding that showing rather then telling will cut out a ton of words too. I think this was a pretty great example for show vs tell (which is such an overused expression).

  11. RubberBoy said:

    Your edited paragraph is a bit clunky and can be written even tighter. Since we know they’re heading to the park, and since not running into guards isn’t an event worth mentioning, I’d write:

    “Soon, the others joined me at the meeting place. It defied logic, but standing among the leafy trees made me feel safer.”

  12. Marla said:

    Ok y’all! We can do w/out the nay sayers…clunky, typo.
    Kristin is a wealth of information and I for one appreciate her expertise! When you point a finger at someone else-you have three pointed back at you!
    Keep up the great work Kristin!

  13. CJ said:

    The example sounds like it’s from one of the Whispers in Autumn et al. books by Trisha Leigh.