Have you ever read in a recipe,
“In a small bowl, mix confectioners' sugar, extracts and enough milk to reach desired consistency.”
And you had to ask yourself, ‘Desired consistency?’
Sure the words were ones you’d heard, but what did that mean in that context of frosting instructions? Was it cooking jargon?
What were your desired consistencies?
How would you know if your mixing for consistency had been achieved?
When should the mixing stop?
How could you avoid mixing beyond that so-called, tossed-off term, desired consistency?
That’s how a lot of writing guides work. They give a lot of great advice, but a lesser quantity of explanations or examples. You come across fewer Hows and Whys about the topic at hand. Sure they give you the desire to write, and you can maybe take away a found courage to try writing for the first time. Even come away with a plan of attack for your writing. But many lack the ‘How do I actually do that?’ to follow their bits of wisdom.
Tidying your text after a first draft is one point that is often brought up. We’re told that we need to do this, to avoid so much of that dreaded telling. And we need to be thorough too!
But how many times are you shown weaker examples alongside stronger edited versions? Not often enough?
Is it all jargon like, ‘Desired consistency’ to you, the first time editor?
If so, consider these few Hows and Whys for editing a first draft. And think of my writing guide, ‘Tell Me (How to Write) A Story’, (Inspired Quill UK) as sort of a new Story cookbook, thorough instructions included. There are several like these I'm about to show you:
My go-to tool for edits to a first draft is Questioning.
What I mean is: You, asking 'why am I writing in this way?'
1. I start by looking at how my verbs are being used and what they are doing in the scene. Like finding some of my weaker verbs, went, put, came, got, when I find those I question myself, "What do they show?" Really show. And 'How good is that visual I'm making for the reader?
Why would using went be so bad? It is what the character is doing? Right?
Here's one way I explain Telling over Showing.
Are you explaining movements or motions to us by reporting them? Or showing them happening once a scene is slipping from narration into in-scene actions? Are you telling us a report of the actions a character takes? Or explaining how they move? Or are you giving us a story about your Characters in action, without the sentences full of reporting story facts?
1. Went vs moved, or answered, or headed to
Someone knocked. He went to the door. Tells about the movements (knocked, went) your characters made (but little else).
Shows tension, or hesitancy: Not wanting to, at the knock, James moved slowly to the door and waited.
Shows someone has knocked (something was heard first): At the loud knock, James answered the door.
Character in action (because of a reason to be so): The knock woke James, he crawled from the sofa and headed to the door.
2. For every time I see 'to' followed by a verb, [ to catch, to ride, to talk] I ask, 'Can the 'to' be removed?
Can the verb be edited to an —ed or —ing ending, so it’s made to show action in motion, rather than tell about it in reporting narration?
Sue knew Joe was trying to change the subject. (Very telling. The verbs are: knew, was, trying, to change) Not in-action, but reporting about it.
Sue knew Joe tried changing the subject. ( Joe is now shown in action) You can follow this with a line of dialogue showing the new subject Joe has brought up
3. I ask the same with the word of. I look for: of the, of an, of his, of her, of MC's name. Then I ask, can restructuring the line make a more in-scene sentence?
He wanted all of the details of Kit's new boyfriend. (You can see where ‘all of the’… ‘of…’ is a bit unwieldy.
He wanted Kit's details on the new boyfriend, all of them.
Here, the details belong to Kit, and the line reads with a bit more strength than the upper one, which is telling us (reporting) the info. Mostly it means losing the of the, and giving possession to someone or something.
These edit steps helped me a lot. It gave me easy ways to look at my own work. And I think the Nano stuff of mine that's been accepted for publication, got accepted because I questioned my work all the time. And edited for showing in my sentences, over telling/reporting/explaining about things.
Get the book, or contact me for 1-on-1 coaching sessions. Even a single session may turn your writing world around.
About The AuthorE.J. Runyon Author, Writing Coach at Bridge to Story at Bridge to Story http://www.bridgetostory.com/
I am a writer, coach, and the creator of BridgetoStory.com, a writing service providing instruction to novices and other writers online and off. I've coached writers as individuals and in small groups since 1997.