Our own Mafia member, Lisa Lewis Tyre, is holding a short-story contest called The Bertie for students 10-13 years old. The Middle-Grade Mafia will serve as judges and will be posting writing tips for students in the weeks leading up to the contest. Today’s topic is written by Kim Zachman:

Bigger is Not Better and Less is More


When writing fictional narrative for an audience of young people, it’s more pleasing to the reader if the vocabulary utilized is not grandiose or superfluous.

In other words, keep it short and simple.

Sometimes beginner writers feel like they sound smarter when they use big, fancy words. Word choice is one of the most important tools in your writer’s toolbox. There will be occasions when a big word is the most perfect one to express a complex idea. If that’s true, then use it. But if there is a simpler word that will convey the same idea just as well, pick it.

Your goal is to capture the readers’ attention so completely that they get lost in your story and forget they’re reading. Words like grandiose and superfluous require mental digestion (and possibly a trip to the dictionary) which pulls readers out of the action and breaks the magic spell.

An exception is dialogue. Speech patterns are an integral part of character development. The words you choose for your characters’ speech helps the reader learn who they are.

Another common beginner writing mistake is using unnecessary words. Think very, very hard and make sure you really, really, really need those extra words.

Stephan King, one of America’s greatest storytellers, talks about the Rewrite Formula in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. He learned this formula from a rejection letter he received when he was young and unpublished. “Formula: “2nd draft = 1st draft- 10%.”   Extra words are like extra weight in your backpack on a twenty-mile hike. They slow you down and wear you out. You don’t want your readers to get tired of your story before they’re done.

Avoid the grandiose and superfluous and your readers will stay caught in your story to the very end.

For more about The Bertie, deadlines, prizes, etc. click here!