Monday, June 18, 2012


The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lighning and--the lightning bug. Mark Twain 1835-1910


by Ruby Johnson
Recently, I attended a workshop with Nikki Duncan on “Writing Tight to Improve Pacing and Add Power."  I always take one sheet of paper to record a few pointers I might get from a workshop. Fortunately, Nikki provided handouts.  That one sheet of paper was covered with notes on both sides.

Defining Writing Tight

Her definition of writing tight is “the ability to weave multiple purposes into a scene.” But what does it really mean if someone says you need to tighten up your writing? Nikki says it could be something as simple as using too many unnecessary words. The scene could be too slow, or too long making the reader want to skim, could have empty and meaningless dialogue, or the writer goes off on a tangent. Limiting paragraphs to 3-5 sentences is suggested.

Recognize Redundant Words

Writing tight takes practice with the ability to recognize redundant words and replace them with better words. But it also takes the ability to project the tone of your book by using words that reflect the setting and the character. She calls these theme words.

Develop a List of Theme Words

She gave several examples including some for Her Miracle Man which is a Christmas book. They are: tree lot, snow angel, reflections, loss miracles, cookies, rescue, hope, lights, memories, and family.
Nikki suggests by making a list of theme words, you will give thought to your word choices in every sentence and they will help convey that feeling throughout your book. She says to think of them as your character /book vocabulary.

Get Rid of Trash Words
And finally, she advises that a writer go through his/her manuscript and get rid of trash words. You know those words-all the -ly words, -ish constructions, to be verbs etc.

While her workshop includes much more content than discussed here, doing these few things will improve your work and help you to write tight.

This workshop is one of the best I’ve attended in quite some time and if you see Nikki’s name on a program with this topic, sign up for it right away.

To learn more about Nikki and her books visit her website: and Duncan. Her two latest books Criminal Promises and Illicit Intuitions  are available from

Please come back on Friday for an excerpt from Criminal Promises.

8 comments: said...

Great post! I've been to a few of Nikki's work shops and she's always got fresh and informative ideas! Thanks for sharing theses tips!

Caroline Clemmons said...

Great post, Nikki. I enjoyed the workshop you gave at Yellow Rose.

George said...

Good post. ‘Writing tight’ comes up at our GFWWG meetings--we all agree it’s a solid habit, but doing it harder than it sounds.

Thank you Nikki and Ruby for another reminder.

J. A. Bennett said...

Great tips! Thanks for sharing Ruby!

Thorne Anderson said...

If you can take away one idea from a workshop to use in your writing, it is money well spent. You took away more. Great post.

Ruby Johnson said...

Thank you for the comments. I loved this workshop. As Caroline mentioned it was a workshop at the Yellow Rose RWA and one of many good workshops they sponsor.

Laine said...

Short, quick, and to the point writing. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing Nikki and Ruby!

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