Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tight Writing


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.


At a writing conference this past fall, I took a class called Tight Writing from Brandilyn Collins. Everyone who signed up was asked to submit the first few pages of a work in progress. Brandilyn would select some to edit in front of the class. One of the ones she picked was mine.

I was so excited.

I learned a lot from this, and I wanted to let you take a look so that you could see what she did. Now, keep in mind that Brandilyn is a suspense author, so she writes very tightly. But my opening chapter of Outcasts is very suspenseful and I valued her input. She edited more than this, but for the post, I just used the first few chapters.

Brandilyn's main point in the class: "You want your readers to feel your scene, not read your scene." By that she meant to purposely craft each sentence to give the emotional rhythm that you want your reader to feel. So, long sentences for relaxed, pondering scenes. And short ones for tense, stressful scenes. And to remember to make ever word count. Too many words decreases tension in a scene.

So here is a series of intros for Outcasts. First is the version I turned it to Brandilyn.


Prologue
July 2088


Almost there.
Kendall strode around the curve of Belleview Drive and fixed her gaze on the messenger sign at the end of the block. The flying white envelope on a red circle flickered in the night.
She wanted to run—to at least jog—but held back, forcing her legs to keep their long strides, swinging her arms, and breathing in the mixed scents of dryer sheets and waffle cones from the Belleview Laundry on her right and the Cinnamonster ice cream shop across the street.
Barely four weeks had passed since she’d given birth in the Surgery Center, and Kendall’s medic had told her to wait at least six weeks before doing serious exercise. So Kendall walked—everywhere—determined to firm up the wrinkled skin of her abdomen, determined to look normal again, determined to forget.
The medic had also advised that Kendall wait to return to work until the six weeks had passed, but the loneliness of staying home with her depressing thoughts and the worry over the task director general’s summons—and no baby to hold—had been too much. Kendall had begged Tayo to let her come back to the messenger office early.
But even the cool night air couldn’t keep Kendall’s thoughts from the summons. She had no way of knowing if the task director truly had business to discuss or if this was another one of the Creature’s games.
What could he possibly want now? He had taken everything from her. She had served her term in the harem and had given the ultimate sacrifice, so this couldn’t be a surrogacy request. Safe Lands customs said she deserved a two-year reprieve for her service to the nation. No, she felt certain this summons was of a personal nature.


And here is Brandilyn's edit of my first few paragraphs. She edited in Track Changes, so what she deleted appears in strikethrough, and what she added is underlined.



Prologue
July 2088

Almost there.
Kendall strode around the curve of Belleview Drive and fixed her gaze on the messenger sign at the end of the block. The flying white envelope on a red circle flickered in the night.
She wanted to jogrun —to at least jog—but held back, forcing her legs into to keep their long strides. Kendall swung, swinging her arms, and breatheding in the mixed scents of dryer sheets and waffle cones from the Belleview Laundry on her right and the Cinnamonster ice cream shop across the street.
Barely four weeks had passed since she’d given birth in the Surgery Center. , and Kendall’s medic had told her to wait at least six weeks before doing serious exercise. So Kendall walked everywhere, determined to firm up the wrinkled skin of her abdomen, determined to look normal again. D, determined to forget.
She wasn’t supposed to work for six weeks either. But The medic had also advised that Kendall wait to return to work until the six weeks had passed, but the loneliness of staying home with her depressing thoughts and the worry over the task director general’s summons—and no baby to hold proved had been too much. SheKendall had begged Tayo to let her come back to the messenger office early.
Kendall picked up her pace. But even the cool night air couldn’t keep Kendall’s thoughts from the summons. She had no way of knowing if the task director truly had business to discuss or if this was another one of the Creature’s games.
What could the task director possibly want now now? He had taken everything from her. She had served her term in the harem, and had given the ultimate sacrifice. T, so this couldn’t be a surrogacy request. Safe Lands customs said she deserved a two-year reprieve for her service to the nation
This summons had to be personal.. No, she felt certain this summons was of a personal nature.


And here is Brandilyn's edit of my first few paragraphs after I accepted all her changes. See how much shorter it is? 


Prologue
July 2088
Almost there.

Kendall strode around the curve of Belleview Drive and fixed her gaze on the messenger sign at the end of the block. The flying white envelope on a red circle flickered in the night.
She wanted to jog but held back, forcing her legs into long strides. Kendall swung her arms and breathed in the scents of dryer sheets and waffle cones from the Belleview Laundry and Cinnamonster ice cream shop.
Barely four weeks had passed since she’d given birth in the Surgery Center. Kendall’s medic had told her to wait at least six weeks before doing serious exercise. So Kendall walked everywhere, determined to firm up her abdomen, look normal again. Determined to forget.
She wasn’t supposed to work for six weeks either. But staying home with no baby to hold proved too much. She had begged Tayo to let her come back to the messenger office early.
Kendall picked up her pace. What could the task director want now? He’d taken everything from her. She’d served her term in the harem, had given the ultimate sacrifice. This couldn’t be a surrogacy request. Safe Lands customs said she deserved a two-year reprieve for her service to the nation
This summons had to be personal.


And here is my rewrite in the end. I took some of Brandilyn's advice, but I needed some of what she cut because I was planting clues. And in a few places, I just liked the way I worded things better. Whenever you get an edit, you need to weight each item carefully. And I wanted to make sure I kept my own voice. This is how it now appears in the book.



Prologue
July 2088

Almost there.
Kendall strode around the curve of Belleview Drive and fixed her gaze on the messenger sign at the end of the block. The flying white envelope on a red circle flickered in the night.
She wanted to run—to at least jog—but held back, forcing her legs into long strides. Kendall swung her arms and breathed in the scents of dryer sheets and waffle cones from the Belleview Laundry and Cinnamonster ice cream shop.
Barely four weeks had passed since she’d given birth in the Surgery Center, and only two since she’d moved out of the harem and back to the Midlands. Kendall’s medic had told her to wait at least six weeks before doing serious exercise. So Kendall walked everywhere, determined to firm up her abdomen, look normal again. Determined to forget.
She wasn’t supposed to work for six weeks, either. But staying home with no baby to hold … Add to that her depressing thoughts, worry over the girls from Glenrock, and the task director general’s summons—it had been too much. She’d begged Tayo to let her come back to the messenger office early.
Kendall picked up her pace. What could the task director want now? He’d taken everything from her. She’d served her term in the harem, had given the ultimate sacrifice. This couldn’t be a surrogacy request. Safe Lands customs said she deserved a two-year reprieve for her service to the nation. 

This summons had to be personal.


What do you think of this type of editing? Can you see how Brandilyn cut unnecessary words from my writing and tried to use rhythm to create an emotion? Think you can do it as you go back to edit your work?

19 comments:

  1. I'm not to line edits yet, but I'm getting there and these were great examples! Totally understood :) Thanks!

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  2. This is really interesting. But do you think added words can help with author voice? That's one thing I worry about when I'm cutting into my manuscript for revision. I'm worried that if I make every sentence as slim as possible, I'll cut out my voice.
    Thanks for the great post!

    ~Sarah Faulkner

    inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

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    Replies
    1. Sometimes, yes. I take that into consideration as I'm cutting. Sometimes I want to keep the line as is for the character's voice more than I want to trim words. Most the time I trim, though.

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  3. Huh. I never saw that kind of editing before. I'll have to try it out. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Oh yeah, I noticed that Outcasts release date on Amazon had been switched to Jan 7. Why do they keep changing it? It went from like Nov 25 to Dec 17 to Jan 7.

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    2. I know! They're torturing me. :-( This date is for sure, though. I have some ARCs in my house to prove it!

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  4. This was a very interesting post. I tend to write very tight, and I am always checking myself, "Does this still work?" It's odd though because I'm also a very tight painter. In fact, my work is so tight, my art instructor gets a headache watching me painstaking paint every single brick of an alley wall : )

    One thing I work towards in my writing is to make it as tight as needed while following a natural thought process.

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  5. Wow, that's awesome. I haven't edited yet, but I'm going too. I need to go through and reread all these editing posts. I see there are seventy of them in editing label? Whoa. That should help me a bunch as I prep for the edit of the first draft!

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    Replies
    1. Wow. I guess we like writing about editing over here! LOL

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  6. Oohh, yes! I love what she did! Especially how she cuts out the Laundry "On the right" and the ice cream parlor "across the street". Thanks for the post!

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  7. I edit so many times over. The first time I fill in all the gaps, which ups my word count, then after maybe 2-3 of those ADDING edits, I start cutting. Tightening my writing is my favorite and least favorite part. It's tedious, but it makes my stories SO much better. Great post!

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  8. Tightening my work has been something I've learned recently. Before, I knew virtually nothing of it.

    Though I'm currently focusing on the idea of keeping the plot moving, I've been learning some bits about tightening the actual prose as well.

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  9. Aha. Very interesting. I'll need to look out for this. Pacing, for me, is something I never seem to get right on the first try. Second drafts sound miles better. Thanks, Jill!

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  10. I might be able to, if I can force myself to d it. UGH. This is really cool, Jill! Thanks for sharing!! :D

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  11. My English teacher did the same thing as Brandilyn, but with our thesis statements. She edited about ten in front of the class, and mine was one of them. It was hard to see her slash out my words, but in the end, it was so much stronger.

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  12. This is something I've struggled with a lot in my own writing. One resource that helped me a ton was the book Write Tight by William Brohaugh. Fantastic resource.

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