Last post, we discussed how to begin the revision phase of writing a novel or memoir. A lot of it might seem passive: let it rest, read it through, hire an editor. But what if you want to tackle the revisions yourself?
Writing Tip for Today: Not every writer can afford a pro, and self-editing is a skill you should be acquiring anyway–it will improve your writing overall. Here’s how to get started with revision that transforms your draft in the most transcendent ways:
- Attack Your Verbs. I like to be sure my verbs are pulling their weight. So should you. You might begin by circling them or highlighting them in a scene or chapter. Are the verbs sharp and particular? Or passive (using a form of to be: is, are, was, were)? Strong active verbs help eliminate the need for modifiers and give the reader a clear picture of what’s happening.
- Axe Excess Modifiers. By strengthening your verbs and using particular nouns, you can get rid of dead wood adverbs (ly words) and adjectives. Take a look at your modifiers–do you see any patterns, such as two modifiers before the noun (the old white house)? Try eliminating at least one here and there.Hemingway was a minimalist–that is, he often relied on strong active verbs and particular nouns to avoid the need for modifiers. You can, too.
- What Does the Camera See? This last one is a little more sophisticated. By holding your chapter up to examine what the camera is focused on, you’ll be better able to separate the narrative (telling) from the scenes (showing). Be warned, though: Narrative is best for parts that should be summarized: they help us bridge time periods that DO NOT MOVE THE STORY, in order to get us to the next SCENE (which DOES move the story). Resist the urge to act out inconsequential story bits (like waking up in the morning or traveling from one place to another), and save your best scene writing for the good stuff. Watch movies or TV to analyze how filmmakers go from scene to scene and which things are acted out and which are hinted at. Try it!