Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's All in the Details (Polishing Your Story)-Taryn Hutchison

Last week, I advised you to write without editing. Today it's time to edit. No one ever writes a first draft fit for print. Everyone needs to self-edit, to tighten their words so they sparkle.

In my 21 years of mission work, our printed newsletters could only be one sheet of paper, occasionally front and back of that one sheet. We had to have a theme and be concise, telling one main story. Today, I get free-flowing and never-ending email updates from friends of the harvest. It's too much. When you take time to trim your material, you'll find it has more impact and is more readable. After all, what's the point of writing if it's not read?

Whole books are devoted to the topic of self-editing. I'll try to distill a few tips for you that helped me:

1. Organize your material.
Make sure you have a theme that comes across. Each story (or chapter) needs a beginning, middle, and end. Unanswered questions or unresolved tension will keep people reading.

2. Show, don't tell.
Rather than give a long narrative explanation (telling), let the reader enter the story and see for herself (showing). Example: Don't explain that someone was angry. "He slammed the door" gets the point across.

3. Limit adverbs and adjectives by using strong verbs and nouns.
Change "Susie walked very slowly" to "Susie plodded" (or sauntered, ambled, or strolled). Instead of "the cute, small house" use "the bungalow" or "the cottage."

4. Read your writing out loud.
That way, you can hear the rhythm, catch things to fix (such as the same word used repetitively), make sure it flows.

5. Less is always better.
I'm applying this principle now as I hang pictures and organize things in our new house. (Yes, we made it to North Carolina after spending Thanksgiving week driving cross-country!) I'm editing our belongings.

It's painful to bury treasures in the closet, and it's painful to delete your darling words. Maybe I should have put more time into editing this blog instead of our knick-knacks. I admit. I'm learning, too.

It's a lifelong process to polish your words and make them shine.

Encouragement from the Pros to Polish Your Story:

"Use the right word and not its second cousin." Mark Twain

"Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style." Matthew Arnold

"Omit needless words." Rule 17 of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White

"The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. There's not much to be said about the period except that most writers don't reach it soon enough." William Zinzer

"The business of the novelist is not to relate great events, but to make small ones interesting." Arthur Schopenhauer

"Caress the detail, the divine detail." Vladimir Nabokov

"Details make stories human, and the more human a story can be, the better." Ernest Hemingway

"Revise and revise and revise - the best thought will come after the printer has snatched away the copy." Michael Morahan

Don' Forget! Send in your stories this week! The contest ends December 14th. . . see the sidebar for details. Value your voice and your story...we sure do!


Wendy said...

Sigh, I wish I could. Here in Australia the kids are on summer school holidays and we're preparing for a 2 1/2 week tour round family for the first Christmas we've been at home for for five years! No time this time, but maybe next time (if there is a next time)?

Anonymous said...

Enough said. (I like the quote about not reaching the period soon enough.)



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