Writing Tight ― Editing for Impact
©Diana Cosby 2014
I enjoy discussing writing, and one of my favorite topics is editing. Editing is the writer’s opportunity to tighten their work to ensure each word works, each sentence counts, and that each chapter supports their story and propels it forward. As with anything you do in life, the spin you give each individual endeavor makes it dull, fun, or a challenge.
*The following are not hard and fast rules. Like anything else in writing, the below can be bent, twisted, and downright ignored. The important thing is that you use what works best for your story. As I’m a visual learner, I prefer giving examples of how each topic is used.
F A S [Feeling→Action→Speech]: The natural progression in how we react is by feeling, action, then speech.
Anger flared in his eyes, then he turned away. “You’ll finish before we go out,” he stated and set the plate upon the small table.
Anger flared in his eyes, then he turned away. He shoved the plate on the small table. “You’ll finish before we go out.”
*Not only did this align the sentence into a natural sequence, but it eliminated the dialogue tag as well.
The last word and its impact: You help create calm, suspense, drama, intrigue and so on simply by the word you choose to end each sentence. I consider this one of my more important writing tools. Remember, the last read is most remembered.
Example: For a moment she could only stare, mesmerized.
Mesmerized, for a moment she could only stare.
*Do you see how by simply switching around the words the entire sentence changes? Stare is a stronger word and ends the sentence in a strong tone.
Focus and impact at the end of the sentence: If you wish to achieve a more powerful ending, keep the focus of your sentence on one thought. You can do this by removing the word and.
He jumped down to the ground and ran.
He jumped down to the ground, then ran.
Be specific: the more specific you are, the easier it is for the reader to visualize what you’re trying to create. It’s important to ensure you don’t dwell on the unimportant, but rather layer or weave your description within the story to the right degree.
It seemed like forever since he’d shown her a magic trick like that, when in fact it’d only been a week.
It seemed like forever since he’d shown her a magic trick that made her smile, when in fact it’d only been a week.
Before: She stared at her mom, understanding how silly this must look to her.
After: She stared at her mom, understanding how silly being caught dressed up to look like Britney Spears must appear to her.
Use a variance of words: We all have our favorite words. When you repeat the same word over and over again, unless for a brief, specific reason, it weakens the story.
Use of odd or unfamiliar words: Use of odd or unfamiliar words will draw attention away from the story.
Unless the word is needed for a specific reason, use words that the reader will easily understand.
The use of three: To give a story point more impact, choose three words which accent the moment and drive the story forward. It’s like a story breath or pause, which does anything but stall the story. In fact, it’s like a moment of poetry to your prose:
The river churned like a silken ribbon under the moonlight, a light wind rippled across the field of rye in a slow caress, and beyond that stood a cluster of elm and oak where he’d hidden and secured his mount.
He gritted his teeth, turned his mount north and kicked him into a gallop.
Less is more: The more concise you can keep your words, the greater the impact. Example:
In front of –tightens to- Before.
Solid motivation: Ensure that each scene or action is motivated and has purpose. Otherwise, the scene or action superficial and will slow the story down.
Author intrusion: When we’re in the viewpoint of a character, we know they are thinking. In my opinion, it’s unnecessary to put, he thought.
I must get inside, he thought! Becomes→I must get inside!
Pace: Longer sentences slow the story down and bring a softness to your scene. Short sentences pick up the pace and create tension.
“Get out. Now.”
She glanced back.
“I said now!”
Sunlight slipped between the edge of the cave and the wall of water to entwine in a spectacular prism. Encased within the mist of colors along the floor’s border grew green stalks, which arched toward the sun, each stem tipped with a slender white flower.
Writing to the positive: For stronger sentences, write them with a positive spin.
“If you hadn’t of tried to escape before, I would not have given a second thought to allowing you free rein within my home.
“If you hadn’t of tried to escape before, I would have given you free rein within my home.
It and clarity: Say what you mean. By using the correct word instead of it, we add clarity, thus giving our story greater impact.
Before: If anything, it would make the inevitable parting worse, at least for him.
After: If anything, the extra time spent together would make the inevitable parting worse, at least for him.
Using character name vs. she/he:
.How much is too much? –Balance- What feels right for you. Clarity.
Transition to and out of past memories: Use the key word, object, or thought to transition the to the past. At the end of the reflection, use the same key word, object or thought to bring the reader back to current story time.
The little things, use of the senses: Using the senses allows the reader to evoke strong images. It’s the little things you insert in your manuscript, the intimate touch, the attention to detail that creates a visual picture in your reader’s mind and emotionally moves them. A hole in a sock? A tear in the screen? How about a field filled with butterflies? The smell of pie on a hot summer day?
Eight senses: Eight senses? Surely you mean five? No, for writers, there are eight senses that we deal with when we write. They are:
Touch Taste Smell Sight Hear
Sense of time Sense of space Sense of the unknown
Words of impact: You salt your story with impressionistic words for a reason; to create a mood, to evoke emotion into the reader. If the moment calls for a storm and mayhap tempers are high, use words that unsettle the reader. They won’t realize that you’re manipulating their feelings, but this is exactly what you’re doing.
Before: Thunder echoed from above.
After: Thunder ripped through the heavens. Hard blasts that shattered the earth with a merciless bite.
*The new sentences contrasts ripped and heavens—opposing aspects. Then you underline your emotional effect by throwing in the descriptors blasts, shattered, and merciless. This should leave the reader a bit unsteady, frazzled perhaps, but you’ve evoked emotion which aids the story moment.
Active words versus was: There are times in every story to use the word was, but often, we can find active words that will work as well and increase story impact.
New paragraph for impact/stand alone lines - White space: Gives reader a split second to absorb, a shifting of gears.
Show don’t tell:
Before: He was angry.
After: He shoved away from the table and stood. His eyes narrowed as he scanned the hall in search of one. Where are you! He’d find them, then they would pay.
Dialogue tags: When feasible and the communication within the scene is clear, omit dialogue tags. If you can incorporate an action verb vice he or she said, do it. Your story will move faster.
Before: “I don’t know,” John said. He stood and paced the room
After: “I don’t know.” John stood and paced the room.
Contrasting words: To enhance a moment in a scene, you can use contrasting words or opposing words. This unique blend enhances the scene moment.
Silence clattered between them.
The crowd fell into a frantic calm.
Contrasting words: To enhance a moment in a scene, you can use contrasting words or opposing words. This unique blend of opposing words enhance the scene moment.
I hope you have enjoyed the writing topics presented today. I look forward to questions or comments. Thank you for stopping by!
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