Editing the sentence: This is what I am talking about

Monday, November 7, 2011

I wrote the other day of a post-NaMoWri contest.  An editing exercise focused quite simply on the sentence.  The details and prize are described here.  I hope you'll enter in.

I am interested in the sentence—its arc, its clarity, its shape, its purpose.  I happen to think that it matters.  And so today I thought I would share a little of my own editing process.  These sentences below are from a novel-in-progress.  The first series is from the raw first draft.  With them, I am very baldly, without artistry, writing down what happens.  Making a record.

She hid the photographs beside the Leica beneath the bed.  She told Vin that she had been out in the garden and had turned to see a family of deer at the forest's edge.  She gave great detail to a lie too easily spun:  She had seen a buck and two does, and she had chased them.

Here, then, are those sentences two drafts later (with many more drafts, no doubt, still to come).  I have concerned myself not only with the what here, but with the rhythm and the movement of the words.  It's still not perfect, but it has been improved:

She hid the photographs beneath the bed, made up some story.  There had been deer, she said, at the forest's edge—a buck and two does by the stream.  They had stood there not moving, or perhaps one cusped ear of the buck had shivered—a sign, Becca told Vin, a beckoning. 


Serena said...

Love seeing the difference here. The first set is like you said, an observation, a reporting, while the second has more nuance, emotion, detail.

Lilian Nattel said...

I also love seeing the change.

Becca said...

Now that was a learning experience. Thank you for sharing this. It's like putting the phrasing in a music. The first was words on the page, the second was lyrical.

Linda said...

Thank you for sharing these passages with us. One of the things I love about your writing is the musicality, the fresh wording, and the vivid imagery. Seeing your first draft and then seeing the change lets me see HOW you get from plain recording to the gem studded results that fill your books. Reading this was a light bulb moment for me!

Sarah Laurence said...

The second sentence has more nuance and lyricism. I found the varied punctuation a little distracting so that's where I'd go in the next round of revisions. It's fun to look inside your creative process. I love fiddling with a sentences almost to a fault.

patti.mallett_pp said...

Ditto - what Becca said and what Linda said.

Thank you so much for sharing, Beth! It is exactly what I am wanting to know, after my wonderful week-end with "You Are My Only."

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