Although sometimes when you write, it may feel a bit magical, there is no magic wand that you can wave while writing that will make your words sound better or correct all your errors. Only you can do that. It's called revision and for most professional writers, it is the heart of writing. Sure, it's fun to throw words on a page, but it's even more fun to see them shine.
The last step in the revision process is editing. You begin editing after your story revisions are done.
When you edit your manuscript, you focus on:
Spelling, grammar, word choice, descriptions, adverbs/adjectives, sentence structure, length of sentences, overuse of certain words, smooth transitions between paragraphs, inconsistencies, incoherence, imbalance, shifting POV and style, use of the passive voice, pronoun ambiguity . . . yes, the list is long and somewhat tiresome, but this is the place where you can make your writing SHINE.
It’s no wonder that most authors take as much time editing as they do revising and writing their original draft.
Rule of thumb: If you work with critique partners or if you have beta readers to give you feedback on your work AND they share that something you’ve written is confusing to them . . . that is a CLUE it needs to be rewritten.
If a reader has to stop and re-read a passage, she is taken out of the story and that is never a good thing.
One of my favorite “how to write” books – Getting the Words Right is by Theodore Cheney, a college professor, who has some marvelous examples of student work and teacher comments with explanations that teach you how to look more critically at your work.
Go through his book and then you will begin to look more critically at your own work. For example:
Passive Voice versus Active Voice:
The authorization to proceed came from the president. PASSIVE
The President authorized us to proceed. ACTIVE
Gunfire was heard by the peasants on the floor of the valley. PASSIVE
Peasants on the valley floor heard gunfire. ACTIVE
The prisoners were herded down the camp’s main street by armed soldiers on horseback. PASSIVE
Armed soldiers on horseback herded the prisoners down the camp’s main street. ACTIVE
Using shorter, more active words:
If my eyes glance down from my window, I can see a parking lot with snow and ice. People carry packages, huddling over as they balance themselves carefully so as not to slip on the ice.
If my eyes glance down from my window, I can see a parking lot with snow and ice. People huddle over their packages and shuffle cautiously across the ice.
Using shorter, more active words WITH ANALYSIS:
Rose whimpered and leaned against the guardrail. Then without warning she lifted her head, stared at her husband, and tossed herself over the edge of the bridge.
Rose whimpered and leaned against the guardrail. She lifted her head, stared at her husband for a moment, and with an unexpected burst of strength, hurled herself over the rail.
“Tossed herself” lacked the drama that “hurled herself” presents to the reader. There’s also a little gain in emphasis by the alliteration in “hurled herself,” but the main purpose is to make her jump more dramatic and energetic. She might toss an empty popcorn box over the rail, but a body requires hurling.
Monica gasped as she raised her eyes to the bronzed stranger from the sloop, who posed now with his hands on his hips looking menacingly down at Ted’s recumbent body.
Monica gasped as she raised her eyes to the bronzed stranger from the sloop, who was now poised, fists on hips, looking down at Ted’s recumbent body.
Here “poised” is preferable to “posed.” A man may pose against a mantle piece, but if he’s standing on it high above an unsuspecting burglar, he’s poised, ready to leap—a much more suspenseful word. “Fists on hips” make him more menacing than “hands on hips.” We can drop “menacingly.” We are showing rather than telling. Yeah!
This blog concludes our twelve-part discussion on revision.
Next week: new topic:How the films and movies we watch imitate life . . .