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Choose Your Words Carefully-Guest Post: Barb Han

Today I’d love to welcome my good friend Barb Han who finds herself in the same position as I was this time last year: a debut author with two releases out in the same month! She has Seducing Avery, a sexy billionaire story, out with The Wild Rose Press, and Gone, a romantic suspense, out with Etopia Press. She’s been a Ruby fan from the beginning-she was the first person I called to squeal to when I got the Golden Heart® call. I know you’ll help make her feel welcome-and she has a great offer if you need help with her tips in your WIP.

SONY DSCFirst and foremost, thank you, Diana, for having me here today. It’s such an honor to be with the Ruby Sisters since I’ve been following and supporting many of your careers over the years.

We’re all writers here at the Ruby Sister’s blog, right? In our economy, words are currency. We use them. Lots of them. During Winter Writing Festival (which I’m sure you’re doing), you might be fast drafting. Flooding the market. And that’s okay. Let it flow. In revisions, you’ll want to cut the fluff and squeeze your WIP to wring out the excess.

Why?

Tight writing engages readers.

I brought a few examples of places I found to tighten the writing in my new release, GONE.

Original:  For the life of her, she couldn’t figure out where the hell she was.

Tight:  Where the hell was she?

This was a no brainer. The first example uses fourteen words. The second uses five, is much tighter, and you can see the impact.

Original:  She cracked it open slowly, just in case those men from last night were waiting on the other side. A quick peek revealed that not only were there no people in the bathroom, but there was no shower either.

Tight:  She cracked it open slowly, just in case those men from last night were waiting on the other side. A bathroom. No people. Just a toilet and a sink. No shower?

Thirty nine words have been condensed to thirty one. Did I need those extra eight words? The second version goes deeper in POV, allowing the reader to experience the event with the POV character.

And here’s one more:

Original:  Her stomach started to ache, and her chest felt heavy from hopelessness. Tension tightened her shoulders, and her breath labored. Before she could wind up a good anxiety attack, the big door opened, and she dashed for it. She may not remember who, what, or where she was, but she knew enough to run like hell.

Tight:  Her stomach started to ache, and her chest felt heavy from hopelessness. Tension tightened her shoulders, and her breath labored. Before she could wind up a good anxiety attack, the big door opened, and she dashed for it. She knew enough to run like hell.

The first example uses fifty-six words. The second? Forty-five.

In three paragraphs, we’ve shaved twenty-eight words by writing tight, saved valuable time for readers, and deepened the impact.     

I’d love to hear your thoughts, or see examples from your work in progress (especially if you’re taking part in the Winter Writing Festival). Need help? Post your original, and I’ll see if I can come up with suggestions.  

 

Here’s the blurb to GONE:Gone

A woman wakes from a nightmare so visceral her entire body is shaking. She can think of only one thing—save her son! But the men in scrubs who soon rush in and jab her in the ass with a needle don’t share her sense of urgency.

What’s more, she wakes days later learn there’s no boy and she’s in a mental institution. Her nightmare was so real—her arms still freshly imprinted with memories of holding her son—she’s confused. And her instincts tell her to trust no one.

Gone is her child. Gone are her memories. Everything is…GONE.

And an excerpt:

If memories were liquids, then Elizabeth Walker’s would be blood. Not warm, life-giving, tissue-bathing blood, but cold, coagulated, dried up, and stepped-over-on-the-sidewalk blood.

Memories weren’t liquids.

They were more like fireflies blinking in the dark, daring to be caught, disappearing a moment before they could be reached. And the only liquid left in Elizabeth’s body was a few unshed tears. They hardly ever fell now. Even they seemed to be drying up on her.

Nightmare or not, she would claw her way through any level of consciousness to save the boy. The last ounce of breath she drew from her lungs burst out as a scream, leaving her choking and gasping for air.

The sense of urgency to save him, to do something, burned frustrated holes through the bottoms of her feet—feet that did not touch pavement no matter how fast she moved.

She had to do something. But what?

She calculated the likelihood of reaching him and came up short. He was far. No way could she reach him in time.  Yet waiting, doing nothing, wasn’t an option either. Protective instinct propelled her legs forward, and damn the odds.

“Somebody. Help.” She pushed herself from the dream.

She dug her fingers into her mattress, discharging a crush of bleach into her hyperventilated nostrils. A drowning sensation filled her lungs. She clenched her chest muscles. She gasped, struggling for oxygen.

A door slamming against a wall made her sit bolt upright. Two bulky men in blue scrubs burst into the room.

 

Barb Han’s writing career spans 14 years and most media. Barb’s held positions ranging from Sports Reporter at her college newspaper to Opera newsletter editor to News and Feature Writer for a Fortune 100 company. Barb has penned hundreds of articles in both U.S. and international markets and holds a bachelor of arts in journalism. A member of Romance Writers of America, Barb has served as committee chair for her local chapter. 

Where to find Barb on the Web:

Website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest.

Her newsletter has prizes and cool things just for subscribers.

 

40 responses to “Choose Your Words Carefully-Guest Post: Barb Han”

  1. Welcome, Barb. Great point. As a contest slut, I learned tight is always better from being forced to trim my work to fit contest entry word-counts. It always ended up better when I was done condensing.

    But in my opinion, if you really want to engage readers, deep POV is even more important than writing tight. Words like felt, thought, knew, wondered, heard, saw, etc. all pull the reader out of the character’s experience and weaken the impact. It’s more like telling than showing.

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    • Barb Han says:

      Excellent point, Laurie!! So true. I find in my own writing, they intersect. When I’m looking for ways to tighten a line, etc, it’s often because I didn’t go deep enough in POV.

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Laurie,

      This is so true!!! I’ve recently been reading a fantasy by a best-selling author, and she’s always annoying me with the word felt. She also uses looked a lot, too. Those words just get in the way of the deep POV.

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      • Barb Han says:

        Good point, Hope! Felt and looked should go on our list of words to ‘search’ when we finish a good round of revising. I’m okay with the occasional use. But they’re a lot like cupcakes…eat sparingly!

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      LOL, Laurie. I always call those “contest cuts,” and you’re right: they’re almost always better than the original draft!

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  2. Barb Han says:

    Good morning, Diana! Thanks so much for having me here. You already know how much I love this blog.

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  3. vicki batman says:

    As always, Barb, you are awesome. And great examples. One of the first lessons I learned as a newbie was to write tight. There’s a book out there that is helpful too.

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  4. Addison Fox says:

    Barb:

    Welcome fellow DARA chapter member!!! 🙂 ::waving madly::

    So glad you’re visiting with us today.

    This is a great post and you’ve hit on so many key points. And GONE sounds incredible!!! And that cover is just so stark and startling – it just pulls you in immediately!

    Addison

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    • Barb Han says:

      Hi there, Addison! *waving wildly right back* Thank you so much! The Ruby Sisters are awesome and I’m so honored to be here. You all have made my day!! I’m so proud of the cover for GONE. Annie Melton was the cover artist, and she blew me away with how she captured the mood of the opening scene.

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  5. Donnell says:

    Barb, hi there! Hi, Diana. These are such excellent examples. I’m curious. A lot of courses out there encourage you to expend that currency when writing, e.g. he nodded, to something more fresh he gave a swift nod as though he loathedthe idea. Bad example I know. So I really admire your ability to cut through a lot of verbiage and tighten. Sounds like you should be teaching classes. Congratulations on Seducing Avery and Gone! Now you’ll be expending another currency. Time!

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    • Barb Han says:

      Hey there, Donnell! So glad you could stop by. Working on tighter writing seriously drains my brain. I feel like I’m in the first leg of the learning curve. I like the impact it has on my story, and I can only hope it gets easier with practice. 🙂

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    • Diana Layne says:

      I think on using more words (ie specificity and details) that you want to do this when you want to make a point or magnify the impact. You can’t do it all the way throughout or the book definitely will drag.

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      • Barb Han says:

        Great point, Diana. Part of mastering craft is knowing where to add and where to cut and I’m sure I’ll be working on this for the rest of my career. For now, I try to look for spots where the extra words aren’t necessary. Can I say something with 10 words instead of 15? Does it create more impact? Go deeper into POV?

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  6. Hope Ramsay says:

    Hi Barb,
    This topic is near and dear to my heart. In an earlier incarnation, I wrote songs and poetry pretty seriously. When working with such a tight word budget every word needs to count. I wasn’t such a great poet or songwriter. But I admire those who can, with metaphor and imagery, tell a story in a few stanzas.
    Just yesterday on the drive in to work, I was listening to Garrison Keilor’s Writer’s Almanac and he shared a poem by Norman MacCraig, called in Praise of a Collie. (http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2013/01/17). The imagery in this poem grabbed me right from the start. I offer the poem to dog-lovers, and word-lovers alike. Imagery matters, even in a novel.

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    • Barb Han says:

      In a word. Powerful!

      Thanks for sharing that poem, Hope. It’s gorgeous!!

      Me too, I so admire those who can create this much impact with so few words.

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  7. Kathy aka C. K. Crouch says:

    Margie Lawson’s classes are all about tight writing and how to use things to create emphasis to pull the reader in deeper. Thanks for the tips I never know how to get around felt sometimes.

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    • Barb Han says:

      Hi Kathy! I heard Margie speak at Dreamin’ in Dallas once. She hits the nail on the head, doesn’t she.

      Want to play around with an example or two?

      She felt cold metal pressing into the curve of her back.
      Maybe: Cold metal pressed into the curve of her back.

      She felt fearful.
      Maybe: Fear roared through her.

      I’d love some help. Feel free to chime in…

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  8. Hey, Barb. Good examples on tightening. Congrats on two releases at once. Enjoy the crazy ride.

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  9. Tamara Hogan says:

    I come from a poetry background, where the form pretty much dictates careful word choice and tight writing, but I think my favorite thing about this technique is how much more deep and immediate the point of view work becomes.

    As someone who writes in very deep third person POV, I don’t think I even use “he/she thought” in my latest manuscript. If it’s not dialogue, it’s the POV character’s thought or observation.

    Great practical examples, Barb!

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    • Barb Han says:

      I love how you worded it…how much more deep and immediate the point of view work becomes.

      If novelists get the first couple of lines to hook a reader, then poets get the first couple of words. How much more difficult is that! I greatly admire people who can do that well.

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  10. Great examples, Barb! The book was great before you edited..now it’s awesome!

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  11. Rita Henuber says:

    Barb- Welcome and congrats on your releases. Nice examples.
    For me writing tight has many connotations. Of course, as you suggest trimming words. Tight writing goes hand in hand with writing descriptive and can mean ADDING words.
    I could say, “He stood close. She felt like they were in Cairo again in the midst of their affair.”
    I wrote, “In Cairo he would stand so close every breath she took would bring in his scent. Each one of his heavy breaths would move the fine hairs on her neck as his lips brushed her ear.”
    I could say, “Before opening a can of whoop ass on them she felt obligated to give them a last chance to back out.”
    Or go crazy and use.
    “Before opening a can of gratuitous violence on dumbasses there was probably some Geneva convention rule requiring they be given a chance to run like hell.”
    Using dialogue is another way to tighten. But, it drives me crazy when authors don’t write to character. If a guy is asked “do you want to go into town with me?” He is not going to say, “No not really. Do you mind if I don’t go? I think I’ll read the newest Clancy book and drink some wine.”
    All he’s going to say is “Nope.”

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    • Barb Han says:

      Hi Rita! You make excellent points! I love the examples you provided too. Dialogue is a fantastic way to tighten writing. So true that it needs to be true to character. I think you’re also addressing Donnell’s earlier question about expanding currency. Sometimes, tight writing means adding words.

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  12. Welcome, Barb! As a romantic suspense writer, “tight” writing is pretty much imperative, and I’ve learned so much about it over the past couple years. As others have pointed out, I LOVE reading deep third POV, and tight writing puts us right there in that character’s head. Love. 🙂

    Thanks for the great examples! And congrats on the double-release! 🙂

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    • Barb Han says:

      Hello Anne Marie! You are so right!! Genre dictates just how tight the writing needs to be. Romantic suspense readers won’t put up with long prose, no matter how beautiful!! Pacing would drag. Great point!

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  13. Melissa Fox says:

    Great post, Barb, and timely for me. I’m editing two MSs I wrote before I was fully versed on deepening POV and tightening up writing, and it is such a brain drain! I’m getting better at recognizing it and hopefully better at utilizing it in my current writing. I’m with you about hoping it gets easier with practice! Thanks.

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    • Barb Han says:

      Hi Melissa! Isn’t the brain drain fun!! Please, someone out there tell us it gets easier!! 🙂 I hope I can train my brain to write that way from the git-go. And since I’m wishing…world peace would be great too. 🙂

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  14. Great post, Barb! And the examples are really great lessons. I tend to be a bit wordy. In historical romance it is okay to be a bit verbose, but it is best not to abuse the privilege. I’m off now to search my current WIP for unnecessary words!

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    • Barb Han says:

      Hello Louisa! Historical sounds like heaven after working on revisions to my RomSus this morning. 🙂 Have fun with your WIP! Feel free to come back and post a before/after of a line you’re especially proud of.

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  15. Great examples, Barb, and welcome!

    I tend to write fairly tight and you are right, it’s from being deep POV. Since both of the series I have out now are in first person, you’d think deep POV was a given, but I will still find myself saying something like, “I felt sick to my stomach,” instead of “My stomach clenched from nausea.” That is more of a deep POV issue, but the second example feels tighter and those extra words will often disappear when in deep POV.

    Congrats on your releases and good luck! ~D~

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    • Barb Han says:

      Hi Darynda!! Thank you so much for the well wishes! Isn’t it funny how easy it is to slip? I write some scenes in first person to try to dig deeper into a character’s POV when I’m struggling. It’s tricky. I haven’t tried to write a whole book that way. A scene is one thing…a whole book, well…I’m in awe of your talent (and the others who can pull it off so well)!!

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      • Oh thanks so much, Barb, and that’s actually a GREAT idea! Writing a scene in 1st just to try to get to the heart of it. Never thought of doing that. I do actually write in 3rd quite a bit. I’ll remember that trick!

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  16. Elisa Beatty says:

    Love your examples, Barb!! Thanks so much for being with us today!

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  17. Wonderful post Barb!!! I struggle with writing tight. My first draft is almost nothing like my final version – but, in the beginning, I have to let all those words out. 🙂 Congrats on the new release – sounds fantastic! *hugs*

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