Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Ideal Final Draft--Carol Brinneman

In the last few weeks, I have enjoyed editing eight articles from women readers of this blog. As an editor, I don’t suggest or make changes randomly, just because I happen to like one word or grammatical structure over another. I’m hoping to see a number of elements line up to make a strong, beautiful piece. And I do my very best, too, to honor the author’s style and content.

I also try to encourage the writer by pointing out what she’s doing well. One of my own mentors would always give me positive feedback through numerous, short comments written on my manuscripts: “Beautiful!” “I know whatcha mean.” “Love this wording!” “Praise the Lord!” And if she had trouble understanding or disagreed, she always couched criticism in kindness. I try to follow her example.

Here’s what I hope to see in your article by the final draft:

  • A message that is appropriate for the chosen publication
  • Correct grammar and punctuation
  • A compelling lead (an opening sentence that is so interesting it will compel people to keep reading)
  • A logical, step-by-step presentation, which creates no confusion or (even minute) hesitations as one reads
  • Good word choices—the best and most exact ones possible
  • No repetition of any particular word near its last occurrence
  • No repetition of any words, thoughts or information, except for intended emphasis (in other words, “tight” writing)
  • No Christianese
  • No sentimentalism (forcing emotions on your reader, ones they may not have)
  • No sentence using negated verbs when positive ones would do (Ex: Jane didn’t want to go. Better: Jane refused to go.)
  • No passive constructions, unless unavoidable
  • Variety in sentence length
  • Good rhythm within sentences, and from sentence to sentence (yes, a tad subjective)
  • Emphasis in the right places—the strongest, most memorable words in a sentence occur at the beginning of the sentence; the second strongest spot is at the end
  • A conclusion that “snaps,” surprises, satisfies the reader and not one that drifts off lazily. It will often reflect the first sentence/paragraph in the piece
  • Strong verbs; no “have” or “be” verbs (is, are, was, were, etc.), which are considered weak; unless unavoidable
  • No -ing verbs as main verbs. Instead of “I was thinking,” use “I thought” or “I think”

What if you don’t agree with an editor’s suggestions? What if her changes distort your message? Usually, you are not obliged to accept them. It is, after all, your article with your name on it. However, beginning writers will be wise to accept most of what an experienced editor suggests.

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