Posted On July 29, 2014 by Print This Post

Five Ways to Make Good Writing Great by Linda George

Welcome first -time poster Linda George! RU Writers – do you need to make your writing strong, brighter, faster? Then read this lecture and empower your writing!

20130731_085426When a rejection letter says, “Unfortunately, the writing isn’t strong enough to compete in today’s market,” what does that mean?

For years, I attended conferences and asked authors, editors, and agents, “What constitutes strong writing?” Their answers were less than helpful. “Characters that seem real. Dialogue that rings true. A plot that’s suspenseful and compelling.” Most often, they said, “We know strong writing when we see it.” But how could I test my writing to make it stronger?

After more than 30 years of writing professionally, and having more than 70 books published, fiction and nonfiction, for adults, teens, and children, I now know how to recognize strong writing—and how to strengthen weak writing, word by word, sentence by sentence.

Here are five easy ways to make your writing stronger.

1. Cut Unnecessary Words

Strong writing is TIGHT writing. Getting rid of unnecessary words streamlines the writing, increases tension and suspense, and makes the writing stronger. There are dozens of words that often can be omitted without jeopardizing the meaning of sentences. Avoid qualifiers, such as very, just, etc.

KML_smExamples:

that
which
started to
began to
proceeded to
the
considering the fact that
very
just
so
quite
even
real
really
certainly
definitely
exactly
anyway
some
such
is/was/were
usually
probably
perhaps
sort of
a little
seem
almost
slightly
rather
fairly
somewhat

KMC_smYou’ll notice many of these words are adjectives or adverbs. Strong nouns and verbs are your best tools as a writer—they show. Get rid of filler words and qualifiers that tell. Every time you tighten the writing, you strengthen the writing.

2. Eliminate adverbial phrases beginning with “as.”

These phrases have become popular, even among best-selling authors. They indicate simultaneous action, which the reader is asked to picture while reading. But, a reader can read and picture only one action at a time. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, give your reader a break, and strengthen the writing at the same time, by avoiding these phrases.

Example: As he walked to his car, John waved to his daughter as she raced her tricycle into a man as he jogged down the sidewalk.

Stronger: John strolled to his car and waved to his daughter on her tricycle. Before he could yell a warning, she raced into a jogger on the sidewalk and knocked him down.

3. Eliminate Redundancies

We live in a world of redundancies. Generally used to make something sound more important or emphatic, redundant phrases use up precious words and dilute meaning instead of emphasizing.   TA_smExamples:

Exact same/same exact
Rose to her feet
Stood to his full height
Small leprechaun
Long-necked giraffe
6 a.m. in the morning
blistering
2-wheeled bicycle
absolutely perfect (perfect is an absolute)
terribly bad
red in color
long-lasting durability
rise up
fall down
drop down
climbed up
nodded his head
shrugged his shoulders
tiptoed quietly
stomped heavily
ran quickly
eased slowly
crept slowly
stood up
sat down

4. Get Rid of Unnecessary Dialogue Tags and Replace with Action

I once met a writer at a conference who boasted she’d compiled a list of more than 700 words to use other than “said” as dialogue tags. I wondered why she’d wasted all that effort when even “said” isn’t necessary most of the time.

Action from a character in the same paragraph as dialogue from that character identifies the speaker, eliminating the need for “said.”

Example:   “Come in the house this minute, young man!” Mom said with an angry scowl on her face.

Stronger: “Come in the house this minute, young man!” Mom slammed the screen door behind her and stood with her hands on her hips, an angry scowl on her face.

5. Eliminate Passive Verbs Whenever Possible

You’ll notice the word “eliminate” instead of “replace.” Often, it’s difficult or impossible to replace “was” with another verb. But it’s often possible to eliminate it altogether by turning the sentence around so the stronger verb following “was” becomes the primary verb.

Example: His eyes were shaded by a tan Stetson.

Stronger: A tan Stetson shaded his face.

Example: The pathway was lined with fragrant petunias.

Stronger: Fragrant petunias lined the pathway.

Not all sentences can be turned around this way. If the sentence rebels, leave the passive verb. Most sentences, though, brighten and get stronger when the passive verbs are eliminated.

KISS ME, LYNN will be a FREE download on Amazon August 2-6!  Photos have been posted on my website so readers can see the places included in the tour in the book.  Www.LindaGeorge.net

***

RU Writers – give us a hint, what are your favorite weak/strong words?

Join us tomorrow for Does Your Series Tell a “Bigger Story”? by Susan Spann.

***

Bio: Linda George has been a professional writer for 35 years and is the author of more than 70 books, fiction and nonfiction, for adults, teens, and children. Since 2013, Linda has focused on writing romance—contemporary, historical, and time travel. She lives in West Texas and spends as much time as possible at their “little piece of paradise” near Cloudcroft in the New Mexico mountains.

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33 Responses to “Five Ways to Make Good Writing Great by Linda George”

  1. A great post! Concise, specific, practical. Thank you!

    Posted by Ruth Harris | July 29, 2014, 6:37 am
  2. I just noticed that I left a word out in the list of redundancies. “Blistering” should be “blistering hot.” :-)

    Posted by Linda George | July 29, 2014, 8:13 am
  3. Hello LInda! Awesome post. I am definitely (oops…I used a filler word) going to print this out to hang on my writing wall where it can be a constant reminder! My big weakness is adverbs. I loved to say “slowly”, “quickly” ect. By following your steps, you’ll also deepen the pov, too.

    Posted by LeAnne Bristow | July 29, 2014, 8:26 am
    • Hi, Leanne! Those qualifiers creep in! Adverbs tell the reader what’s happening. You’re (absolutely) right that getting rid of them and using stronger nouns and verbs (definitely) strengthens the characterization!

      When I write the first draft, I don’t think about all those words (very) much, though. I just get words on paper! Then, in subsequent drafts (I (usually) end up with 5-6 revisions before the final draft), I focus on those extra words and remove most of them. The final test is to read everything aloud because readers hear what they’re reading. Tightening the writing also keeps the words flowing (smoothly) so the reader never has to back up and reread.

      You’ll find that you’ll be adding to that list of redundancies. One I heard yesterday can be added: sufficient enough. :-)

      Posted by Linda George | July 29, 2014, 9:01 am
  4. I just saw another redundancy I have to share. It was in a newsletter featuring new books. The author said, “This is the first book in a 3-book trilogy.” What does that tell you about the author?

    Posted by Linda George | July 29, 2014, 9:07 am
  5. Morning Linda..

    I’m a big fan of redundancies. =) Double redundancies are even better if I can use them in back to back sentences explaining the same action. Fun stuff.

    I’m also a huge fan of the word “was”. I’ll go back through my manuscript, take out a ton of was’s and somehow, overnight, they’ll grow back into place again. It’s like trying to cut down a particularly obnoxious weed that never gives up!

    Thanks for a great post – I’ll be printing it out too!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | July 29, 2014, 9:25 am
  6. Yes, you have to watch those pesky little wases.

    Here’s a multiple for you!

    Today’s soup du jour of the day is pasta noodle.

    :-)

    Posted by Linda George | July 29, 2014, 9:32 am
  7. You are amazing, linda

    Posted by Cathy Tully | July 29, 2014, 10:05 am
  8. Aw….thanks, Cathy! I’ve heard about all the raves you got after your teaching session at RWA in San Antonio last Saturday! Excellent job!!!

    You can find Cathy’s romances on her website, http://www.cathytully.com .

    :-)

    Posted by Linda George | July 29, 2014, 10:59 am
  9. Very helpful advice, Linda. I love your examples!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | July 29, 2014, 11:08 am
  10. Great tips, Linda!

    Deleting extraneous words cuts the word count, too.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | July 29, 2014, 5:11 pm
    • Yes, tightening means lowering word count. When I learned how to tighten my writing, I went through my “finished” novel and removed all those extraneous words–and shortened the book by 50 pages! Then, I remembered reading that a new character or a new subplot would add 50 pages to a novel! I added a subplot that deepened the characterization of my “villain,” and that subplot sold the book! That was GABRIEL’S HEART, which I wrote for Harlequin Historicals under the name Madeline George.

      Don’t be afraid to tighten your writing because of lowering the word count! Tight writing is strong writing and that’s what editors (and agents) are looking for!

      Posted by Linda George | July 29, 2014, 9:04 pm
  11. This post was spot on. I see some areas in my writing where I need to write stronger. Thanks for the examples, Linda. I have subscribed to your blog!

    Posted by Krystol Diggs | July 29, 2014, 5:37 pm
    • You’re welcome, Kyrstol! I assume you mean the blog on my website. I haven’t added anything to that blog since I posted the photos that accompany KISS ME, LYNN because I want those photos at the top of the blog!

      KISS ME, LYNN was born at Machu Picchu, where I did a chapter by chapter summary based on a true story. Our guide, Alex Vereau, became a close friend during our two weeks of trekking through his beloved country, and he shared a lot of stories with us. When he heard that I was going to write a romance based on our tour, he told me, “You should write about me!” Then, he told me he’d fallen in love with a woman in one of his tours–and she fell in love with him, too! I told him what I had in mind for the book and he asked me to use his REAL NAME in the story! I took a photo of him at Machu Picchu and he’s on the cover of the book! I also took the photo at the bottom of that cover. The flowers in the foreground are bromeliads.

      What an incredible two weeks we had! And when I finished the book and Alex read it, he said he’d laughed–and cried–then rejoiced when the ending was a happy one. He said it brought back a lot of memories for him of that first tour with the woman who turned out to be the love of his life.

      Long answer, but I wanted to share that with you. Be sure to find the photos on http://www.LindaGeorge.net when you read KISS ME, LYNN. You’ll see me and my husband, and Alex, too!

      Posted by Linda George | July 29, 2014, 9:12 pm
  12. Fantastic reminders. I struggle with allowing unnecessary words to creep in at times. I appreciate the examples you provided of how to strengthen writing by eliminating passive verbs.

    Posted by Reese Ryan | July 29, 2014, 7:23 pm
    • Reese, I struggled with passive verbs for years before I realized the sentence could be turned around to eliminate those passives. It doesn’t always work, but most of the time it does. Really gives the writing a professional sound, too!

      Posted by Linda George | July 29, 2014, 9:13 pm
  13. Thanks so much Linda for posting with us today – much appreciated! =)

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | July 29, 2014, 10:01 pm
  14. Wow, great lists of words to remove. Thanks so much. Clear and helpful post

    Posted by Sherry Marshall | July 30, 2014, 2:27 am
  15. Just about to give my novel a final edit before sharing it with others when I received this post in my in-box. Perfect timing and a great post. Concise with clear examples. Just what a newbie like me needs. Thanks for taking the time and for sharing Linda.

    Posted by Carolyn | July 30, 2014, 7:41 pm
    • Congratulations, Carolyn, on getting that close to a final draft! Every time I think I’m doing a final read – through I end up doing another, and sometimes another! I know I’m finished when I start changing things back to what they were the time before! Enjoy polishing your words. That’s how you know you’re a writer!

      Posted by Linda George | July 30, 2014, 8:21 pm
  16. Thank you for a terrific post. I will go back to my manuscript and start deleting.

    Posted by Connie Terpack | August 4, 2014, 10:21 am

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