Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Ways to Make your Writing Sing and Other Thoughts on Editing by Jess Butterworth

My writing goes through many drafts before I’m ready to show it to anyone. After all, as Roald Dahl said, ‘good writing is essentially rewriting.’ I’ve eased up on this in my workshops with other writers because with them I’m in a safe environment where our goal is to help each other create, but everyone else has to wait a long time before they’re allowed a peek at my work.

I began Running on the Roof of the World on an MA, alongside feedback from my creative writing tutors and peers. By the time my agent read it, the book had already been through eleven drafts (and it was about to go through many more).

Starting book two without that same MA support and safety net was scary, but after finishing one book I knew I was equipped with the tools to write another, which made it liberating too. Step by step, I finished a messy first draft and shaped that into a story.

Now I’m at the stage where I want to ensure my writing is the best it could possibly be, before I share it with my publisher. I’m editing, editing and editing.

Throughout this process I’ve written myself lists as reminders of everything I know and am learning. This one is inspired by children’s author, Steve Voake.

Ways to Make your Writing Sing

1.     Are the verbs doing the hard work they should be? For example, ‘he grabbed the keys,’ is more effective than ‘he quickly picked up the keys.’  
2.     Are there unnecessary filter words? ‘Tom slams his fist down,’ is often more immediate than ‘I see Tom slam his fist down.’
3.     Show don’t Tell. Allow the reader to feel what the character is feeling. Instead of saying that she feels shy, describe the body language or movement that might demonstrate it.
4.     Is every sentence revealing something about character or moving the story forward? Unintentional repetitions?
5.     Use the Active, not Passive voice. In an active sentence the subject is doing the action: ‘John chases Paul.’ In a passive sentence the subject is acted upon: ‘Paul is being chased by John.’  

Jess Butterworth 



Susan Price said...

Good practice, Jess. I do all of this, though I've been at it so long, most of it I no longer think much about.
I am particuarly bedevilled, though, by the passive. I am always having to rewrite to the active. Why I can't just write the first draft in the active, I don't know. Even though fully aware of this failing, I still find whole passages written in the passive when I come to edit.
Anybody else got a particular writing fault they are always having to correct?

Steve Gladwin said...

Thanks Jess for this and Sue I can't think of a specific but I spent the best part of six months a couple of years ago writing only in pencil in a notebook and then writing it up. By some miracle it seemed to cure my tendency to waffle and overwrite. I think it's still working!

Jess Butterworth said...

Yes, me too! It's reassuring to hear it happens to others too. I think, at times, in a first draft I'm telling myself ideas for the story, which is where the passive voice slips in for me.

Jess Butterworth said...

I love this, Steve! I still think some of my best scenes are the ones I began in a notebook.

Sheena Wilkinson said...

I read this without glasses on as HOW TO MAKE YOUR WRITING STING! Which also sort of works! This post was very apt for me as I'm struggling to the end of a draft knowing I'll have to lose about 20% of it...