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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Word Nerd weighs in on Revision strategies


Lynne H. (a.k.a. the Word Nerd @ askthewordnerd.blogspot.com) is more than a mere reader or editor.  She's like a no-nonsense personal trainer for writers.  I've been the fortunate beneficiary of her critical eye on my last two projects, and I've asked her to share some of her editing insights today.  Thank you, Lynne!

Thanks, A. C., for inviting me to post on your blog.

Stephen King said it well:  “When you write you tell yourself a story. When you rewrite you take out everything that is NOT the story.”

 I’ve been asked to talk about revision. Revision (not to be confused with proofreading)  is probably the most difficult part of the writing process, but it is also the most important. Consider “revision” as a “re-seeing” of your work. This is where you focus on content:  characterization, action, tension, pacing, and word choice. There is analysis involved.  Sometimes it is painful. You may have to give up some beloved phrases, ideas, or plot points.  You may have to delete a character that isn’t working. Put your ego on the shelf and think of your story, your characters, and, most important, your readers.

First revision hint:  Be logical! Go through and find the “easier” fixes, those dealing with redundancies or word usage first.  Look for “blinking eyes” or “nodding heads.”  While we’re on the subject of nodding, is it necessary to tell your readers that somebody “nodded silently” as Brandon Sanderson does so many times in the Mistborn series?  “Silently” is completely superfluous, unless somebody’s brains have been replaced with marbles.  Maybe they can nod “slowly” or “briefly,” depending upon whether they’re hesitating or hurrying as they acquiesce, but “silently”?  Please, no. On that same note, look for redundancies in your descriptions.  “Round orbs,”  “loud explosions,” or “tall giants,” for example.

Trust your reader to be as logical as you are and delete any unnecessary information such as “Rebecca clasped Jane’s two hands in her own two.” Yes, sadly enough, such passages in published works exist. Unless this is an alien species that holds hands with their feet or boasts more than one pair of hands, you have not added any relevant description nor have you aided your reader in seeing what you see. Better:  “Rebecca clasped Jane’s hands in hers.”  And some would argue that “in hers” isn’t necessary either. Now you have room to have Rebecca look in Jane’s eyes and thank her, warn her, or encourage her, which goes much further toward character development than letting your reader know that each girl has two hands. 

The benefit from using logic and eliminating redundancies when revising is that you get clarity as a bonus. A clearer sentence is a stronger one.