Bridge to Story

More on Turning Work into Something Precise

Readers need to do most of the work for themselves. And the writers who allow their work to use just the right word will be the ones rewarded for bothering with edits like these in this lesson. So instead of mapping things out with more, and fancier words, edit downward in your word counts.

Your writing will reflect how bothering to look a second time, at what they have on the page, will give the reader a better story. You can DO this.

The way to get to this point is to exercise - turn your own lines into something precise. Make your words show exactly what the writer wants to show.

But it means allowing yourself to fall out of love with every word you set down. And it means killing some of your darlings. The adjectives and adverbs. The over use of was and had and were and that. It requires a taste for editing. A search for stronger verb choices. a moving toward writing in an active voice.

Example Toggle


If you meant a line to show stress of Suzanne waiting for her parent’s lecture to come, the shorter the line's word count the more you heighten the duress, or tension, or urgency on a character or scene. Quick short lines take less breath to read, less breath in consecutive lines brings up a heightened state of stress in the reader's internal reading rhythm.

Suzanne waited for her parents to return home from a school conference meeting.

(13 words)

Now we’ll try for some precision in this line to heighten the tension Suzanne is feeling. Let’s ask some questions:

How do I change what I think is good work to begin with?

I hear this a lot. You might do several things. Start looking at your work as if there is always room for improvement -

  • by selecting better detail words
  • by cutting out redundancies & fancy overwriting
  • by trimming multiple adjectives and overwritten adverbs
  • by leaving off (where you can) ‘there are’, ‘that have’ 'are what' (these are relative clauses. Search for them - they make a sentence way too wordy)

Take any piece you have and run it through this lesson’s exercise. See what changes you can make, no matter how slight.

Aside from the big questions: How do I change what I think is good work to begin with? And,

Is this obvious to the reader already? Here are some other questions to ask:

  • Am I using too many prepositions or phrases?
  • Should I shift the words around?
  • Can I find a stronger way of saying this?
  • Can I use better, more precise verbs?
Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle

Lesson Exercise 1:

Suzanne waited for her parents to return home from a school conference meeting.

Waiting for who's return? Her parents' return. The preposition ‘to’ can be trimmed.

  • 'her parents to return' can be changed to 'her parents' return'

Is she waiting for her parents out in the local park?  Ah, then. Get rid of the reporting.

  • the 'return home' can be changed to ‘return’.

Is Suzanne a corporate lawyer, or s student? If she’s going to school, one of the next words can be trimmed.

  • 'a school conference meeting' can be changed to leave off meeting or conference, your choice.

In each change, the edits allow you to get rid of the redundancy and words that really are not needed for the line's objective. The context of the next line will let us know she’s waiting at home. Context of other lines can usually fix the need to report so much stuff to the reader.

Suzanne waited for her parents' return from the school conference. (10 Words) She paced, froze, then jumped up. Their car. She scurried up to her room. Downstairs the front door slammed.

A shifting of word order might result in passive voice. And that's only adding more problems. So ALWAYS consider a fix to the verb. Follow the stronger verb change with switching around the order of the same words if necessary. Hunt out the prepositions when some of what you are telling is a given.