A little editing example

Wow it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything! Let’s remedy that.

Ah, editing (or revising, if you prefer).

I was just reading something I wrote years ago, feeling nostalgic, wondering how bad my writing was back then compared to now. As I went along, I spotted a paragraph that could benefit from some obvious edits, and remembered I always wanted to write a post where I show how I pick apart my writing based on well-known writing rules (if such things exist).

So here we are.

Here’s the paragraph as I found it:

As we walked, it seemed to grow brighter and hotter by the minute. I took off my coat and slung it over my shoulder, letting the skin on my arms feel open air for the first time since the fall, then pulled my John Deer cap tightly down on my forehead to shield my eyes. As Jack and I talked about tractor maintenance, irrigation, and other farming matters, I became aware of the fact that he was guiding me back toward the road and away from his house.

I’m sure you seasoned writers/editors will spot the problems right away (probably more than I can, too) but the below is what I see:

As we walked, it seemed to grow brighter and hotter by the minute.’

The way I’m using ‘seemed’ is weak. It implies the speaker’s perception rather than making a definitive statement.

Edit

As we walked, it grew brighter and hotter by the minute.

‘I took off my coat and slung it over my shoulder, letting the skin on my arms feel open air for the first time since the fall, then pulled my John Deer cap tightly down on my forehead to shield my eyes.’

That’s a long-ass sentence right there. If I was going to keep it as is, I should use ‘and’ instead of then, but I think the sentence should be broken up.

Edit

I took off my coat and slung it over my shoulder, letting the skin on my arms feel open air for the first time since the fall. I pulled my John Deer cap tightly down on my forehead to shield my eyes.

‘I pulled my John Deer cap tightly down on my forehead to shield my eyes.’

Did the speaker pull the whole cap down? How could he pull the whole cap down on his forehead?

Edit

I pulled the bill of my John Deer cap tightly down to shield my eyes.

I could also have gone with ‘… my John Deer cap’s bill down…’, but that feels awkward on my tongue. That might just be me.

‘tightly’

This adverb (like most) is not needed. A strong verb would be better.

Edit

I yanked the bill of my John Deer cap down to shield my eyes.

‘the fact that’

There are a lot of problems with the last sentence, but ‘the fact that’ just screams at me. There’s almost never a reason to use it. It slows down the writing. If a character says it, it can be acceptable as part of their voice, but other than that it’s just not necessary. You might keep ‘that’, but that is often also unneeded.

Edit

As Jack and I talked about tractor maintenance, irrigation, and other farming matters, I became aware he was guiding me back toward the road and away from his house.

‘I became aware’

I don’t have a problem with ‘I became aware’ as a rule, but it feels clunky here.

Edit

As Jack and I talked about tractor maintenance, irrigation, and other farming matters, I realized he was guiding me back toward the road and away from his house.

‘back toward the road and away from his house’

Sometimes when something feels off, it may just be the order. I think that’s what’s happening here with ‘toward… and away’.

Edit

As Jack and I talked about tractor maintenance, irrigation, and other farming matters, I realized he was guiding me away from his house and back to the road.

If you’re thinking, “Hey Ron, do you really need both of those conditions? Jack can’t guide the MC toward the house and the road,” you’d be right! What you can’t know just from this snippet is there’s something going on at the house, so I have ‘away from the house’ in there to hint at that and set Jack’s intention (another reason to have ‘away’ first). If an editor told me to pull it, I’d be fine with that.

‘As Jack and I talked about tractor maintenance, irrigation, and other farming matters, I realized he was guiding me away from his house and back to the road.’

Finally (told you this sentence had big problems), I could break the sentence into two sentences to increase readability. This would be especially helpful if I left the previous sentence as bloody long as it was when I started.

Edit

Jack and I talked about tractor maintenance, irrigation, and other farming matters. I realized he was guiding me away from his house and back to the road.

So after all that, this is what I have:

As we walked, it grew brighter and hotter by the minute. I took off my coat and slung it over my shoulder, letting the skin on my arms feel open air for the first time since the fall. I yanked the bill of my John Deer cap down to shield my eyes. Jack and I talked about tractor maintenance, irrigation, and other farming matters. I realized he was guiding me away from his house and back to the road.

Not perfect, but better.

Final thoughts

editing/revising is critical, but you need to be careful not to overdo it. If you do, you run the risk of losing the voice. I may have done that here a smidge, but I think the trade off works. In the end, some will always find fault. Just do the best you can 🙂

 

Thanks for reading,

{RDj}

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