Bridge to Story

The Red Flag Quick Check List

Editing  is best done in three steps:

Looking, Circling or Highlighting, & Considering.

  1. Looking means going over your writing line-by-line. Reading out loud also helps.
  2. Circling or highlighting danger signs--red flags--that prevent you from writing clearly and concisely. Verbs especially. Circling or highlighting only - the correcting comes later.
  3. Based on your edit notes, considering changes to sentence structures.

Let's go over these one at a time. We won't try changing things as you find them; just circle the things you want to consider working on. We're not revising right now. We’re searching for things to consider editing. Finding a single problem is out of context with your whole piece. So, no changes yet.

Example Toggle

Example:

Red Flag #1 - The flow of your sentences, working or not?

Remember that famous scrambled passage from the net?

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Well, the same is true when you edit – you really don’t see each of your words as they are in each line.  So this trick of reading backwards, a line at a time might help you see better.

If you’re really enamored with your own prose, try reading the words backwards, in pairs, two at a time.

Example:

Tom’s brows rose, like two shuttles lifting vertically off a planet.

Read it as:

Planet a, off vertically, lifting shuttles, two like, rose brows Tom’s.

Reason for this task?

To recognize a cadence in the words, to listen to the vowel and consonants sounds you’re using.   Are there any bumps? Does something seem off? Are you using all ah and ooo sounds except there with the eh sound? Are you noticing repetitions? A harsh sound all of a sudden?

Look at this one:

Then I hear birds chirp and can feel the warmth of that unusual warm fall day long ago.

Read it as:

Ago long, day fall, warm unusual, that of, warmth the, feel can, and chirp, birds hear, I then.

Notice how one of the word-sets (warm unusual) is bumpy in syllable count compared to the other, bum-bum rhythms? Notice the double use of warm/warmth?)  Do you want to edit that bump out or leave it, fix the repetitive warmth or not? Make a note, we’ll be back for it in the exercise page for this topic.

Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle

Lesson Exercise 1:

Sentence Structure

First consider changing the structure of your sentences; then guided by the examples you’ve worked in other lessons and  ones below move on to other ways of fixing disappointing sentences.

When it comes to stiff writing, a lot of times, it all comes down to the way you’re choosing to organize you sentence. In this case, the words spoken followed by (sometimes) who is speaking.

Does every dialogue exchange begin with what your characters are saying?  A long row double quotes down the left side of the page?

“So, what’s on the agenda, today?”

“You tell me, dear.” Sharon said.

“You're driving, missy.” He replied.

“Well, it is my car, Dad.” She complained.

Like I don’t know it’s your car? You never let me forget it missy.”

How can this be restructured? 

Well, you can edit in several ways:

Decide to add something – and do your best not to just tack it onto the end of the sentence. We’re reworking the structure of words then who said them:

Sharon makes a strangled noise in her throat. “Well, it is my car, Dad.”

Add why folks are saying what they’re saying.

He remembers teaching her to drive. “Like I don’t know it’s your car?

Break up a longer bit of dialogue with something in the middle of it

“Like I don’t know it’s your car?”  His fingers reach to tuck the flag of clothes-tag down flat, into place inside her gray T-shirt. “You never let me forget it missy.”

Add in movements they make when they speak.

“So, what’s on the agenda, today?” He asks and leans back in the seat.

Her hand reaches behind her head and smoothes down the short curls at the nape of her neck. “You tell me, dear.”

Add reactions of what the other has said.

“You tell me, dear.” Sharon says. He snorts and clamps his teeth down on the plastic straw sticking out of his Slushy.

Before:

“So, what’s on the agenda, today?”

“You tell me, dear.” Sharon said.

“You're driving, missy.” He replied.

“Well, it is my car, Dad.” She complained.

“Like I don’t know it’s your car? You never let me forget it missy.”

After:

“So, what’s on the agenda, today?” He asks and leans back in the seat.

Her hand reaches behind her head and smoothes down the short curls at the nape of her neck. “You tell me, dear.” Sharon says. But he snorts and clamps his teeth down on the straw sticking out of his Slushy.

“You're driving, missy.” He says.

Sharon makes a strangled noise in her throat. “Well, it is my car, Dad.”

He remembers teaching her to drive. “Like I don’t know it’s your car?” His fingers reach to tuck the flag of clothes-tag down flat, into place inside her gray T-shirt. “You never let me forget it missy.” 

Another Red Flag: Searching for those Word Repetitions

Unintentional repetition of words, (in one sentence, or in a sentence following another one) where you didn’t realize you did it until you re-read your work, brings up the question: Should I substitute a synonym?  Or combine sentences?

Davis told the board, “We thank you for donating and we have a high regard for all those men and women donating their time to our cause.”

‘Those’ pretty much means those men and women so we can cut that. Any extra ‘and’ can be cut. Donating (the second time) was substituted for give time, effort or money (use of a synonym). We switched where we put our cause and there you go. Less repetition.

Revised:

Davis told the board, “We thank you for donating to our cause. We have high regard for those who give time, effort or money to help others.”

How about your work? Ready to check for Red Flags and revise?

Try your best to trim repetitions. Try not to chunk your dialogue away from the narration. Mix the two in your paragraphs for stronger sentences.