Posted in Craft of writing, fiction, Writing, Writing exercises

Revision: Ways to Improve my Writing

REVISION 

Editing a paragraph from my book-in-progress illustrates the kind of work entailed in revision. This is the “line edit” kind of editorial work that I do on an ongoing process with my writing partners and for myself. 

 

MY NOVEL. “Her steps were tentative. Fiona wasn’t sure she could avoid the captain’s anger at her again, if he showed up. The anticipation of viewing the sky with Jacob who always looked out for her was a new emotional territory. She followed him.”

What’s wrong with it? It is overwritten and yet now completely clear. Often editors consider this purple prose. Furthermore, it does not articulate my meaning as well as I want. Not a good thing. So, how can I correct it?

Change #1 Passive to Active Voice

Passive voice can usually be found in a sentence by looking for “to be” verbs, like “had been” and “would get to be,” or “was” and “were.”

I use the passive voice in two sentences. When I edit the sentence, I use an action verb and it reads more vividly and sounds more natural.

EXAMPLE #1

  • Her steps were tentative.
  • She stepped toward Jacob tentatively.

EXAMPLE #2

  • Fiona wasn’t sure she could avoid the captain’s anger.
  • Fiona wanted to avoid the captain’s anger.

Change #2 Replacing nomalizations to actions

We nominalize a word by taking an action and making a noun for it. When we do that, we make a static “thing” of something (anger and anticipation), instead of a living, breathing “action” (getting angry and anticipate). These two examples show up in my paragraph. I’ll show you how I changed them to make the sentence more vibrant.

EXAMPLE #1

  • She wasn’t sure she could avoid the captain’s anger if he showed up.
  • She wasn’t sure she could avoid him getting angry at her again if he showed up.

EXAMPLE #2

  • The anticipation of viewing the sky with a man who always looked out for her was a new emotional territory.
  • Fiona anticipated new emotional territory if she viewed the sky with the man who always looked out for her.
  • Fiona did not know what to anticipate if she viewed the sky with the man who always looked out for her.

Change #3 Increase clarity and the way it read naturally  

EXAMPLE #1

“…if he showed up on deck.” This phrase indicates his actions, not my main character. The focus should stay on her. So I edit it to read, “…if he saw her again.”

EXAMPLE #2

  • Fiona did not know what to anticipate if she viewed the sky with the man who always looked out for her.
  • She also did not know how she should act standing next to Jacob watching the night sky. (It took four tries to improve this sentence to see what I more clearly wanted to say. And it had nothing to do with anticipating.)

EXAMPLES #3

  • She followed him.
  • She decided to follow him to the bow anyway.

EDIT FOR IMPROVEMENT

I can make revisions in many ways. You would likely make them differently than I have. But you can see the process and how we improve our writing incrementally over time.

First draft: “Her steps were tentative. She wasn’t sure she could avoid the captain’s anger at her again, if he showed up. The anticipation of viewing the sky with a man who always looked out for her was new emotional territory. She followed him.”

Improved draft: “Fiona stepped forward toward Jacob. She wanted to avoid Captain Best getting angry because if he saw her again there could be trouble. She also did not know how she should act standing next to Jacob watching the night sky. She decided to follow him to the bow anyway.”

 

 

Author:

Fiction and nonfiction writer, traveler, blogger, workshop facilitator. Author of coming-of-age travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away.

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