Tag Archives: rewriting

Taking those extra steps will make you crazy, but they’re worth it.

I have neared the mouth of madness. I have sat on the tongue of crazy.

And it’s all because I’m working on getting it right. Taking those extra steps to make sure my writing is the best it can be to quote the Army slogan.

This work entails printing out the manuscript, not once, but twice, sometimes three times because reading the print version helps me catch stuff I can’t always see staring into a computer.  This also helps me find when I have used a phrase or word over and over.

This means going through and getting rid of adverbs, and declaring war on passive and vague words like there, was, am, it, must, could, and try, among others.

Reading the story for content problems, such as closing gaping holes in plot and that your characters stay in character. Making sure the theme is consistent and your symbolism isn’t overt. Ramping up the conflict in each scene, be it emotional or action. Searching for clichés.  Being on the lookout for the times I have changed the name of my characters in midstream (Come on, haven’t you done that?)

Let your critique partners have a go at your work to suggest improvements and what you did right.

One other thing I do is beat back the impetuous urge to send out my first and second draft because I think the work is done.  It isn’t. Maybe geniuses will have the perfect novel after two passes. I can’t.

Despite the craziness of rewrites, the more you work on your piece the better it becomes.  That makes the madness worth it.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

Rewriting made easy, well easier

My writing friend and I whined the other day about rewriting, which is not unusual. We both agreed that writing the first draft is a joy because it all pours out and we don’t have to answer to anyone, not even ourselves.

But then comes the rewriting. Making sure the piece makes sense to someone else besides ourselves. Making action words out of the passive. Killing off those nasty words that make editors cringe. One way to start a rewrite is to read your writing out loud to catch the rough spots and make sure your dialogue sizzles like fajitas. I do that with most of my drafts and my dogs and cat love it because they think I am talking to them. I know the process is faster without reading out loud, but you will be glad in the end.

A few years ago I attended a great workshop on rewriting that made the chore easier. This includes terminating the “tell” words that slow down our writing, and replace them with showing. So after I finish with a major rewrite I do a find and replace these words when I can. It makes me work harder but the writing is better. Try it on these words:














You’ll find this challenging because it requires you to work harder. Yeah, I whine about rewrite because it is work. In the end, the effort pays off.

-Patricia Santos Marcantonio

Eliminating prepositional phrases

I’m in the process of editing my current novel and looking for ways to make my writing better. One way to reduce words and clarify meaning is to identify and eliminate as many prepositional phrases as possible.

For example, in the above sentence, “in the process of” is a prepositional phrase. I could just as easily say, I’m editing my current novel.

When writing, I listen to the voice in my head, putting words down as I hear them. That doesn’t make them golden, or darlings I’m reluctant to kill. That makes them patterns of speech I hear in my head. My job as a writer is to edit those patterns for clarity.

One way to spot prepositional phrases is to look for the following words, which are often used in prepositional phrases:

about                       below              in spite of                  regarding
above                       beneath          instead of                  since
according to           beside             into                             through
across                      between         like                              throughout
after                         beyond           near                            to
against                    but                   of                                toward
along                       by                     off                              under
amid                        concerning     on                             underneath
among                     down               on account of         until
around                    during             onto                         up
at                              except             out                            upon
atop                         for                    out of                       with
because of              from                outside                     within
before                      in                     over                          without
behind                     in front of      past                          with regard to

Here are some examples from the first chapter in my current novel.

Herb’s stomach could no longer handle food. Just the thought of it sent him to the refrigerator in search of another beer.
Better: Just the thought sent him searching for another beer.

The residents of Aspen Grove don’t talk.
Better: Aspen Grove residents don’t talk.

We can sit in front of the fire and make snowflakes.
Better: We can sit by the fire and make snowflakes.

Rows of fat becomes fat rows. The decision of Abbie’s mother becomes Abbie’s mother’s decision. In an efficient manner becomes efficiently.

As you eliminate prepositional phrases, you’ll discover verbs and adverbs become stronger. For example, Abbie responded to the allegations with vehemence becomes Abbie responded vehemently to the allegations, resulting in less words to wade through and a clearer picture of Abbie.

In Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us, Jessica Page Morrell describes too many prepositions as “the carbohydrates of writing.” She gives the following examples to streamline your work:
went up in flames: burned
at a later date: later
drew to a close: ended
in the vicinity of: near

You get the picture, simple and concise. Too many prepositional phrases put distance between important words and dull your writing.

The next time you sit down to edit, besides looking for ly words, to be, and redundant sentences, keep an eye open for excessive prepositional phrases. You’ll be surprised how much better your story will be.
-Bonnie Dodge

Short story contest, deadline August 12, 2011

What are you doing to sharpen your writing skills? Here is a challenge.
Boise State Public Radio along with the Idaho Department of Tourism and The Story Initiative at Boise State University are sponsoring a writing contest open to anyone with an Idaho story to tell. Here’s the kicker. Stories must be no longer than 120 words and must mention at least one Idaho location.

A short story in 120 words? Is that possible?

Yes. I’ll show you how.

I recently attended a workshop where we were required to write a story spurred by a picture from a magazine. In my picture, two boys stood beside a barn, their cowboy hats tipped over their faces. All you could see was their chins. We had fifteen minutes to write a story. When we were finished, we were instructed to count the words in our story and cut the scene by 25%. We were then instructed to reduce the story to one sentence.

What? Impossible? No, it wasn’t. It did take some creative thinking though, and what I discovered was that paring the story made the heat rise. Every word had to pack a punch.

To illustrate, here is what I wrote:

Jonathan’s hat teetered on his head, always tipped so I could never see his eyes. I’ve know Jonathan since he was a toddler and though he has changed dramatically through the years there has always been one thing constant, the way each straw hat he dons dips slightly so I cannot see his eyes, or whether or not he is listening to me as I speak, or if his eyebrow teaks and twitches when I talk about his sister Cara.

In his younger years, Jonathan’s hats changed rapidly, almost faster than the size of his T-shirts and Levis. His body grew fast, but his head seemed to grow faster, sprouting as if it were trying to grow away from his body. The first hat I remember was a straw cowboy hat his grandmother had given him on his first birthday. It was woven from straw and had a red string that wrapped around his chin.

25% cut

Jonathan’s hat teetered on his head slightly. I cannot see his eyes or if his eyebrow twitches when I talk about Cara.

Jonathan’s hats changed rapidly, almost faster than the size of his T-shirts and Levis. His body grew fast, but his head grew faster, sprouting as if it were trying to grow away from his body. The first hat I remember was a straw cowboy hat his grandmother had given him on his first birthday.

One sentence

Jonathan’s hat teetered on his head like a shadow every time I asked about Cara.

Try it. In 120 words or less, write a story about Idaho. Pick any subject, say the Malad Gorge, and in a stream of consciousness way, write everything that comes to mind about the gorge. Don’t ponder, just free write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, begin revising, cutting useless and redundant words like small, very, ly adjectives, etc. Revise again and again until you have 120 words. When you compare the two versions of your story, I bet you will discover that your second version is clearer, tighter, and more powerful.

What are you waiting for? Get busy. The deadline is August 12, 2011.

Here is more information about the contest:


Boise State Public Radio (BSPR), along with the Idaho Department of Tourism and The Story Initiative at Boise State University, present “One Minute Idaho,” a writing contest open to anyone with an Idaho story to tell. Stories must be no longer than 120 words and must mention at least one Idaho location. Entries may be mailed or emailed by midnight, Aug. 12. Contestants may send multiple entries.

The “One Minute Idaho” writing contest is part of BSPR’s ongoing effort to engage with the community, and the contest plays a significant role in demonstrating the important contributions individual experiences make to the community and state.

The top three winning stories will be recorded, posted on the BSPR website for download and aired on BSPR stations. Winners also will receive tickets to see Ira Glass, host and executive producer of National Public Radio’s This American Life, at the Morrison Center on Nov. 5, to a reception prior to the main event and an overnight stay at an Idaho bed and breakfast. Glass will select one of three winning stories to read aloud from the stage of the Morrison Center.
For official contest rules and to submit a story, visit http://www.iraglassinboise.com.
– Bonnie Dodge

Writing is rewriting….

Yes, we’ve all heard the phrase. But this is a good article about why it is indeed important.