Tuesday, December 2, 2008

writing workshop part 2

Welcome to part 2 in my series on writing. Part 1 is here....


Now that you've finished your first rough draft, its time for the first refinement.

1) Every paragraph and your story as a whole needs to begin, to be built, and then ended. This holds true for both your overarching story - and each component paragraph. The reader should be able to sense where you are going from the very beginning.

2) Rewrite as many sentences as you can, changing from the passive voice to the active voice. (NOTE: sometimes this is impossible to do). The passive voice is anything that uses a version of the "be" verb - am, was, is, etc.

3) Revise all non-specific identifying words - words like "he", "she", "they", etc... If a stranger reading the sentence doesn't know who "he", "she" or "they" are, you have a problem. Never assume your reader knows. Change it to the right name.

4) Make sure all of your verbs are in the same tense.

5) Use normal everyday words. Big high falutin words can be appropriate in certain settings, but rarely unless you are writing an academic treatise to a specialized audience. Its also a little too precious and can make the author seem a little full of herself. We lawyers can be guilty of this. I once read a brief where the entire first paragraph was in LATIN. With no translation. I still wonder what it said.


"Wrap article in 200lb weight box and place in authorized recepticle at a designated facility for the transmission of postage item"


"Put in a study box and drop off at the post office."

6) Follow the KISS principle. KEEP IT SIMPLE SILLY (ok. The original uses the word stupid, but I don't like that word). Have you ever been listening to talk radio when someone calls in and takes 20 minutes to set up their question and they never get to the actual question because they've run out of time? Ask yourself - what's your point? And then relay that point in as short a sentence as you can without losing the meaning.

It is absolutely startling how much more powerful a short concise statement is. Play a game. How many words can you remove from a sentence and still keep it's original meaning? Too much detail might be unnecessary to the purpose of your sentence. If it is unnecessary, get it out of there. It obscures your real intent. But take care not to fall into the trap of the 80%. I know many 80%-ers. I.e. These are the people who tell you/write only 80% of what you need to know. You must figure the rest out. And if you don't know how to do it, somehow, its YOUR problem. In my mind, though, the root of this kind of approach is sheer arrogance. READ MY MIND and YOU BETTER BE RIGHT or YOU'RE STUPID. Ummm. No thank you. Sometimes this might work. Most of the time? It doesn't. Say what you need to say - not one word more, and not one word less.

7) Next, shorten your sentences. Try to put a period in everywhere you have a comma, to see if it works. If it does CHOP your sentence in half and rewrite it so you have two independent sentences. Where you have a new subject, start a new paragraph.

Now. Lets apply these rules to an example. I went back and read my original paragraph from session 1 and realized it would not work. My habitual writing style had already unconscioiusly applied a-lot of these rules.

Let me try draft 1 on a new story:

About a month ago, a friend sent me an email inviting us to join him and a bunch of his friends on Friday morning, to play flag football. I had been concerned to raise it to him. I knew my son, who I knew he would not want to go. C was so anxious - he had never been a football player before, and besides, there were so many video games to play and he had a long 4 day weekend with no homework to play in. It was friday morning, and he was angry that he had to put his game down and go outside, where it was cold and there were no one he knew and it was foggy and the house was warm. The dogs were playing with him and he wanted to stay warm. B was insistent and C was whiney and they went on and on and on and on and on and on. It seemed to go on forever and was so frustrating to listen to. Until finally they finished, and then they got dressed, and then they opened the door, and then they got in the car and then they drove to the school yard that was up the windy road and about 10 miles away in the middle school in the next city over. But when they got there, they were already playing on a muddy field, where it had rained recently and there was mud everywhere. Everyone stood around wondering what to do. They saw the other people and then everyone broke into teams. They played foot ball for a little while until they got tired, and then they went to the monkey bars to play some more while they finished up the game without them. Afterwards, C was so happy that he got to play football and to see them after all.

Here's the rewrite with the rules in play:

About a month ago, a friend sent me an email inviting the boys to join him and a bunch of his friends on Friday morning after Thanksgiving, to play flag football. C hesitated when I told him about it. He had never played football before, and he wanted to play videos instead.

But Friday came, and sure enough, an angry C refused to put his video game down to go into the cold outdoors. There would be no one he knew, and he wanted to stay warm at home. B insisted and C fought, until finally they got ready and left.

When C and B got there, they found the group already playing on a rain-soaked muddy field. The group re-did the teams and played. The boys, however, got tired after just a little while. One by one, they went to play on the monkey bars, while the adults finished the game.

Afterwards, C proudly relayed his success in playing, and his joy in seeing some old friends afterall.

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