How to Compress Your Fiction — for Power, part 1

I’ll teach six fiction workshops at the 2014 Writing for the Soul conference — everything from looking at your novel’s big picture to sentence structure. In that class on sentences, I’ll include what I call compression, the technique that uses verbs, adjectives, and nouns packed with meaning.

When your writing is effectively compressed, your narrative and action will be more vivid, yet you’ll use fewer words.

“Lean” or “tight” writing means cutting unnecessary words. But compression means much more than lean.

Vividness from effective word choice

Writing vividly means creating a picture in your reader’s mind. In action scenes, this picture often includes a specific movement or facial expression. In narrative passages, this picture helps your reader grasp a truth about your character.

Compression requires careful attention to verbs, especially during action scenes. Use the most specific verb possible.

Many verbs — such as stand, look, see, walk, move, talk, and sit — are too general to be effectively descriptive.

If your character is sitting, is he slouching? Slumping? Perching? These verbs connote attitude. The first gives the impression of laziness or defiance; the second shows despondence or fatigue; the third connotes high energy or nervousness.

If your character is looking at someone, how is he looking? How is he walking? Or moving? Or standing?

Sometimes we try to answer these questions with adverb. It’s easy it is to fall into “-ly” writing like lazily, stubbornly, suspiciously. Adverbs are necessary once in awhile. But if you can replace a general verb and its adverb with one specific verb, do it. So instead of standing stubbornly, your character plants himself, or stonewalls.

Release the Power of Metaphors

Especially for narrative passages or description, look for unusual ways to express your thoughts. Sometimes a metaphor or simile can release an aura of meaning that would otherwise take two or three explanatory sentences.

Nature and everyday life are your best sources for these unique descriptions. Notice how wind ruffles water or moves over a wheat field. How a cat stalks its prey. Hear the click of knitting needles, the crackle of a fire. Note how mist clings to your hair on a foggy day, how your breath hangs in a vapor in the cold. Any one of these releases a vivid mental picture you can use.

Adapted from Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins.

Brandilyn Collins is a best-selling novelist known for her trademark Seatbelt Suspense. Awards for her novels include the ACFW Carol (three times), Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice. Brandilyn is also known for her book on fiction techniques, Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors (John Wiley & Sons). Read the first chapters of all her books at


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