KISS Your Readers, Show
By Lisa A. Wroble
Lisa A. Wroble
Having spent many undergraduate hours on drills to tighten my text, I looked
forward to creative writing. I'd now have the freedom to allow thoughts to
flow and show off my vocabulary. Right? Oh, how preposterously misinformed!
While that's fine for a first draft, trimming to magazine word-limit and
sharpening clarity is the key.
it simple, silly.
readers - and editors - prefer concise, vivid writing. The KISS acronym is
well known to business and technical writers. Skills I learned in technical
writing classes apply to both fiction and nonfiction writing. If you care
about your readers, you'll KISS them by trimming excess verbiage.
empty words. 'Just,'
'suddenly,' and 'then' - the list goes on. Empty words serve the same
function as 'um' does in a bad speech. They're filler - empty calories
padding the word count. Do you really need them? "But 'just' isn't 'empty!'"
you say. "We use it in speech all the time!" True, but in speech 'just' is
usually emphasized through inflection. In writing that inflection is
missing. Unless you're showing progression of steps, 'then,' 'next,' and
'now' are also filler. Use empty words sparingly to achieve the
impact they have in speech. Trim empty words for leaner prose.
is the subject doing? It's easier to consider this when writing
fiction. What is the character doing? Readers care less about what is
being done to the subject or character. Which is more engaging, "the
rocks were collected by geology students" or "geology students collected the
rocks"? Dont bury the action in the sentence. Zero in on it instead.
through your manuscript. Cut unnecessary, unfocused words. Instead of, "in
addition, there were some people who disagreed," try "some people
disagreed." Rearrange sentences beginning with "there was" or "there were."
Instead of "there was a stray dog barking at us," restructure to focus on
the action. "A stray dog barked at us."
Don't tell how something was, show it. Engage the reader. Rephrase
"thousands of butterflies were everywhere" as "Monarch butterflies coated
the fence and covered every rock." Be specific. Get out your thesaurus and
have fun coming up with the exact word to express your thought. Readers
breeze through concise, vivid writing like a boat slicing through the water.
Consider sentence length and vocabulary.
is especially important if you're writing for children because
multi-syllable words bump up reading level. Using many three- and
four-syllable words in several long sentences raises reading level quickly.
Even if you don't write for children, varying sentence length creates a
rhythm in writing. Shorten sentences to add impact. Longer sentences slow
down the reader and help ease the flow of the story. Divide long or compound
sentences into two for better clarity, and use punctuation with purpose.
Your goal is to entertain, not to overwhelm.
Review draft manuscripts with the above items in mind. Write tightly and aim
for clarity. Readers feel your caring when you KISS them.