Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


KISS Your Readers, Show You Care

By Lisa A. Wroble
© 2006,
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.

Keep it simple, silly.

Most 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.

Dump 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.

Focus sentences. What 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"? Don’t bury the action in the sentence. Zero in on it instead.

Comb 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."

Paint images. 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. This 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.