Rewriting Hints

1. Try this. Take your pen and cross out every unnecessary word in your story. Be brutal. Obviously, you will find articles (a; the) and conjunctions (and; but; or) that can be eliminated. But pay attention to adverbs. Writers often overuse these modifiers when the prose would be crisper with a well-chosen verb. For example, ran quickly could become sprinted.

2. Adjectives are tricky, too. Sometimes they add crucial information or nuance to a sentence. Sometimes they add only clutter. Consider whether you are using adjectives to cue emotion or interpretation. For example, a character may be written as "sad" Maria. Most often, the reader should meet Maria's sadness in her action or dialogue, rather than from the writer's cue. By characterizing with adjectives, you set yourself up to write a certain kind of story, in which you cast a kind of judgement on your character, as Willa Cather does in "Paul's Case." You avoid this setup if you let your characters characterize themselves.

Cross out all the adjectives and adverbs in a few paragraphs of your narrative, except where they are needed logically. (Use possessive adjectives, for example.) You may have to restructure your sentences. Revise this passage and read through it. What changes with the omissions? What is lost? What have you discovered about your writing patterns?

3. Sometimes extraneous words are not immediately apparent. And sometimes it is difficult to identify one's own writing patterns. We may realize our language sounds stilted or purple but we are not sure how to change it. As we discussed in Chapter 7, The Short Story, we get accustomed to writing with a particular syntax and cannot imagine a diverging style. You will recall this exercise from that chapter, as well. Remember, the intent of this exercise is to shift your relationship to your language patterns by examining that relationship at the level of the syllable.

4. Choose a passage from your narrative. Choose the same one that you used in the last exercise, if you like. Rewrite it using only monosyllabic words. Compare the revision and the original. What shifts? What improves?

Consider what you have learned from these exercises. If the exercises were useful, apply them to your entire narrative. Whatever patterns or habits you identified will now be more obvious to you through revision.

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