The first clue toward vivid writing

Do you wonder sometimes if writers you love, writers who come alive on the page, just have more innate gifts than you do? How do they get their sentences so crisp?

While I can’t answer for other writers, I know I spend a lot of time at the sentence level. You know those times when you need to cut 500 or 5000 words but you don’t want to change your story? Often, if you just take those words from the sentences, you’ll get where you’re going.

Here’s a sentence I wrote this year:

Our geese had begun to go after Scott as he toddled. 11 words.

Possible edit: The geese swarmed my brother. 5 words.

See what I did there? I made “had begun to go after” into “swarmed.” It’s more vivid. It uses fewer words. I excised the flab. So that’s what I’m always doing in editing. I look for words that aren’t necessary at the beginning and end of the sentence–and anywhere else inside it, too. I utilize more precise language. If it becomes shorter, that generally fits my purposes, whether or not that’s why I’m doing it. Besides sharpening your ms–putting it to the whetstone, if you will–this makes words fall off, and you’ll find yourself with a crisper, shorter manuscript at the end.