Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Draft as Many Versions as Needed for Clarity, Part 2

Edit Is a Four Letter Word, con't

The letter D is for:

Draft as many versions as needed for clarity
Part 2: Edit by Rearranging

Often a story must be rearranged in order to create a harmony, a unity within itself. Everything aspect must blend and every area must not go beyond the intended focus. This step in revising your draft looks at the unity of individual aspects of writing. Before you begin, you need to review the purpose and direction of your writing. What is your goal for this piece? What is the focus? What message are you trying to convey?

The following areas must agree; they must be consistent throughout your writing.

1. Subject matter – Did you stay on subject or go beyond it?
2. Scope – Have you omitted some areas of your topic or have you stayed within the guidelines of your focus? Working from an outline could help keep you organized.
3. Tone – Does your story have a mood, an attitude which is consistent throughout the piece? Can the reader determine easily that your story is serious, sad, humorous, etc.?
4. Style – Does your style shine? Does the style of writing remain the same voice to the end?
5. Point of View – Did you switch point of view?
6. Characterization – Did you develop believable characters with realistic actions?
7. Scene – Do you move your reader through various scenes with ease? Do your characters interact with the scenery as needed, and is that scenery developed?
8. Tense – Are the verbs in the same tense or if there’s a reason to have different tenses, have you kept them in proper sequence. That is, if a subordinate action happens before the main action, the subordinate action must be in the past tense.
9. Sentences and Paragraphs – Does each sentence deal with similar ideas? If the ideas are distinctively different the sentences are not unified. For a unified paragraph the sentences must be related to the paragraph’s topic and be in a coherent sequence.

A coherent story is a combination of logic and form and deals with putting the various elements of your writing in good order. This includes the sequencing of words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into chapters, etc.

The major methods for organizing are chronological, spatial, and from general to specific. In using chronological sequencing, decide whether your story is best told from past to the present, present to future, or present backward to the past? Or should you start in the middle, then go back and then forward? Descriptive passages are usually best suited for spatial logic. The author should move the reader’s eye in a logical sequence such as from left to right, up to down, etc. when describing a scene. When using general to specific organization or vice-versa maintain this order throughout the story. Choose the method that best fits your story and maintain its unity throughout.

All references need to be unambiguous for the writing to be coherent. You must not lose the reader through confusion. Be careful of sentences that begin with pronouns. Does the previous sentence clarify to whom or what the pronoun refers? Refrain from using multiple pronouns in a sentence as the reader may become confused as to who did what.

Be certain that phrases are in their correct places. Check any sentence with multiple pieces by moving the phrases around to make the meaning clear.

The keypunch operator incorrectly punched in a program, which created a power failure in the building where she worked for two days.

…which created a power failure for two days in the building where she worked.2.

Smooth transitions between ideas in sentences as well as between paragraphs are important for clear understanding. When there are several ideas are of equal importance, the sentence needs a parallel structure.

She had never gone to a part alone, much less an event like this.

She had never gone alone to a party much less to an event like this.

Readers appreciate your getting to the heart of a matter in a hurry, rather than being forced to red through paragraphs or pages to find it.

Readers appreciate your getting to the heart of a matter in a hurry, rather than forcing them to read though…

We can attack at night or we can do it in the light.

We can attack by night or by day.3.

When ideas are not of equal importance, the ideas must not be placed in a parallel form. Some ideas are subordinate to others, and the sentence must clearly indicate that for the reader. For these types of sentences it is best to use one of three logical orders.

1. Time – Lay out the events in the order they occurred.
2. Relationship – Show cause and effect as needed. Time order often reflects the relationship between events.

In the following example, the order of time is used. However, this sentence also shows the order of relationship…a cause and effect.

After the storm abated, I went below. Because the porthole had opened during the storm, damage to the crew’s quarters was severe.4.

3. Emphasis – Place the most important event first to emphasize its significance.

After the storm, I went down below. The crew’s quarters were severely damaged—the porthole had opened during the storm. This, after I had just conducted a storm rill in which Howard had been permanently assigned to dog down that particular porthole.

The above example does place the focus on the open porthole rather than on the storm. For this reason, the author must be wise in selecting the type of order that best fits the focus of the writing.

Smooth transitions
One of the easiest ways to have smooth transitions between sentences is to repeat a key word or a key thought from the previous sentence. Sometimes you may wish to use a synonym, but sometimes the same word works best.

Although there are some trite phrases commonly used for transitions between paragraphs, the same technique of repeating a word or phrase used with sentences can be used with paragraphs. Often the key word, phrase, or idea in the final sentence may be repeated or restructured to use in the first sentence of the next paragraph.

Another type of transition is the one between scenes. Often the author can move the reader from one scene to another with a few simple words.

Marge sat in the den at the computer, busily typing as the wind howled. Soon creaking sounds began to intensify. She ran to the windows to see what tree was soon to be history.

Next door, the McGill’s peered from their window, gasping in unison as a huge branch from the elm just missed their house.

As you can see the words next door moved the scene from one location to the next with ease.

Another method is to leave extra line of space between paragraphs indicating that extra time has passed and, therefore, a change of scene.

In some cases, the author may choose to use the last sentence of a paragraph to change the scene rather than the first sentence of the next paragraph. Sometimes, the author may only hint at a change of scene in the last sentence. This would be done to continue the rising flow of excitement.

Bent over the desk for hours, I had managed to block out the sound of the furnace starting and stopping and the creaks of the old house while trying to focus on my writing. I was under a deadline, and the pressure was mounting when…brrr-inggg! Dang, the phone!

I raced to the living room to quiet the monster, tripping on the kids' toys….

The phone ringing indicates an immediate change of scene, whether the phone is in the same room or another.

All parts of the story must be coherent, including the beginning, middle and end. Check your story to see if it flows well between these major elements. The plot is usually hinted at in the beginning and then is developed in the middle. Here the conflict becomes apparent to the point of crisis. The ending provides the resolution of the conflict and ties up any loose ends.

Remember: Although editing is a difficult and lengthy task, you will develop skills that will improve your writing in the initial stages so editing will become easier. There is much detail here, so take one step at a time. Your readers will love you for the improvements, and you will be proud of your work.

Next, the letter D (part 3 of 3) in that four letter word Edit.
D stands for: Draft as many versions as needed for clarity.
Part 3 covers Edit by Rewording

Source (adapted from):
Cheney, Theodore A. Rees. Getting the Words Right: How to Revice, Edit & Rewrite, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, 1987.

2. Cheney, p. 59.

3. ibid., p. 64-66.

4. ibid., p. 69.

©Aulicino 5 Dec 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Draft as Many Versions as Needed for Clarity, Part 1

Edit Is a Four Letter Word, con't

The letter D is for:

Draft as many versions as needed for clarity
Part 1: Edit by Reducing

Editing takes time as I have stated. Even if you choose to write only a couple of drafts and call the last one your final, it is wise to leave several days between each draft. This allows you to get a different perspective on your story. You get a fresh new look at it if you put it aside. This will help you find questionable areas and help you discover how they may be corrected.

The purpose in editing is to make your ideas clear to your reader. There are many methods to editing for clarity, so try one at a time. Remember, draft as many versions as needed for clarity. Do not mentally state you will do only two drafts before you ever begin, but leave that door open. In doing so, you will find the light at the end and be happier for it.

The following method of editing is only one way and will be presented here in three separate sections due to the length of information. The idea of editing is to first remove chunks of text that do not fit the story or chapter. Then to gradually fine tune each paragraph, each sentence, and then your words and phrases. By looking at the large picture first and narrowing your scope, you reduce your work. Remember, editing takes time, but you’ll love the finished product as will your readers.

The major steps for this section are as follows:
Part 1: Edit by Reducing
Part 2: Edit by Rearranging
Part 3: Edit by Rewording

Remember: You write for yourself; you edit for others.

Part 1: Edit by Reducing

Nonprofessional writers are excited to see so many words on a page; however, the professional is pleased to cut their writing into precise text. It is the quality of the words, not quantity that separates the novice from the pro.

When we write we tend to record everything we can recall on the subject or situation. Writing in this manner helps us remember better, and often we are either jotting facts in the margins or writing sentences out of order as more pops into our minds. This often leads to excessive information that hampers the flow of the story.

In your first revision, look for chunks of verbiage that are not needed. How do you find these chunks to remove? Ask yourself if these pieces actually move the story forward. It is very difficult for the novice to remove parts of the story, but save these chucks as they may be revived later for another story or included in this one after alterations.

After removing the larger chunks, focus on the remaining parts and rewrite to smooth any evidence of your splicing and dicing. The reader must not realize you have eliminated sections, but see only a smooth flow of ideas.

The following is an example of reduction:

The restaurant was set back from the road approximately 100 feet. There was parking on both sides of the restaurant and the area set aside for parking was separated by an area of well-kept grass.

The restaurant was set back bout 100 feet, with parking on both sides of the well-kept lawn.1.

As you repair your writing, stitching the story together, you may notice other smaller reductions which are necessary. However, do not complete these reductions at this time. Flag them in some way and return to this job later. Think of this as cleaning out the attic. You can only throw away so much at a time and must stop for fear of tossing something you may later regret. Putting time between your reductions will give you a better perspective on what is really needed.

Once you are ready to continue reduction, look at individual words to see if a larger word is less precise than a more simple word. The goal is clarity and accuracy of meaning. Each word has a slightly different meaning and the writer needs to use the most precise word possible.

As we scrutinize our writing we will find unnecessary words and phrases. For example, instead of writing, “…was very comprehensive in nature,” drop the in nature. Those words do not alter the meaning.

Next, the letter D (part 2 of 3) in that four letter word Edit.
D stands for: Draft as many versions as needed for clarity.
Part 2 covers Edit by Rearranging

Source (adapted from):
Cheney, Theodore A. Rees. Getting the Words Right: How to Revice, Edit & Rewrite, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, 1987.

1. Cheney, p. 33.

©Aulicino 5 Dec 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Educate Yourself on Grammar and Punctuation Rules

Edit Is a Four Letter Word

The letter E is for: Educate yourself on grammar and punctuation rules

Volumes have been written on grammar and punctuation rules. Not only does our language constantly change, but the experts do not agree on some conventions. Different types of writing require different editing conventions. We write differently for newspapers than for books. Memoir writing is allowed more laterality than technical writing. Even publishing houses have their on editing standards.

For reasons of form and emphasis, some writers choose to break the rules. We all know that a sentence must have a subject and a verb, but for emphasis, sentence fragments are sometimes used or even one word. Paragraphs are to have a topic sentence and supporting details, but there are times when a writer uses only one sentence. In dialogue, bad grammar, and colloquial phrases are allowed. Informal writing allows contractions (I’ve, we’ll, isn’t), but technical writing does not.

For all these reasons, any writer may find it difficult to edit for grammar and punctuation.

The internet is a good reference, but use only websites which are authorities on the subject. Avoid the blogs as they allow readers to provide answers and whose authors often do not have the qualifications needed to fully understand the nuances. Editing for grammar and punctuation is not an easy task.

Reliable websites

The Perdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)
Covers the basics in an easy to understand manner and provides worksheets and answers.

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation
Rated number one by teachers. You can buy a book or use some online links, complete with interactive and graded quizzes.

Guide to Grammar and Writing
Has an extensive index, provides quizzes and allows you to ask questions.

Next, the letter D in that four letter word Edit.
D stands for: Draft as many versions as needed for clarity.

©Aulicino 5 Dec 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Edit is a Four Letter Word

Yes, Edit—that four-letter-word which keeps many from writing and others with constant migraines. In Farewell to Arms, Hemmingway wrote the last page 39 times. When asked about this, his comment was that he did so to get it right. This may be a bit extreme, but editing takes more than one or two attempts at revising.

All of us want to leave behind our very best work. That is our vanity. However, your descendants will be grateful for whatever you write. You may choose just to write your memories and stop there, or you may wish to edit your stories and be confident readers clearly understand.

For memoir writing you should not use words to impress your reader, but rather use your natural language. Do not use words beyond your best vocabulary unless the words clarify your meaning more precisely. Your natural language is your everyday expressions, the vernacular. This natural language is used in informal situations and gives your personal history color, individuality, and variety. Even when writing dialog, use the essence of the actual speaker. Capture their personality and attitude. Editing is still important when we use the vernacular.

The language for your stories should be consistent with the tone of the events. Humor is written with a different tone than is a spiritual experience, one being light hearted with the use of hyperbole (exaggeration) while the other more sober and formal.

After writing your first draft, keeping the above tips in mind, you are ready to edit. That four-letter-word for writing is often one which is neglected for many reasons. Most people really do not know how to edit. They do not know where to begin nor understand that editing differs from proofreading.

The goal of editing is to make your reading more easily read. You must use language in a way that you do not call attention to the language, but leave the focus on the story. Language should clarify the meaning you wish to convey. The attention should be on what you wish to express and not how you express it. However, clarity is required for that result.

Books have been written on the many approaches to editing, but with the limited space of a blog, only highlights can be addressed. For the next few articles, various aspects of editing will be examined in more detail. The areas covered are as follows:

.............Educate yourself on grammar and punctuation rules.
.............Draft as many versions as needed for clarity.
.............Incorporate word and sentence variety.
.............Take time to read your story aloud.

Editing takes time. If you feel overwhelmed in the process, just focus on particular sections or aspects of the procedure. As you attempt to edit using the various methods, you will become more aware of proper writing, and you will improve the first few drafts as well as your over all writing. After corrections have been made, you will see your personal writing style emerge. If you are interested in creating that final draft to ensure clarity of your stories, be patient and work methodically toward that end. Perfection takes time.

©Aulicino 5 Dec 2008