What follows is a short excerpt from a story. The author, “Richard,” generously donated his work to be edited before a live audience (you). At my request, he made no edits to it. He simply typed the words that came into his head and let them be once they were down. I then edited his work in the same manner that I would edit any other book.
This is an example of why rewriting is so crucial. The idea behind this scene is gripping and evocative. The phrasing of the scene holds it back from its true potential. By changing the word usage, Richard’s true intent for the scene can shine through.
For this draft, the main focus has been phrasing and the efficacy of words. Always bear this law of writing in mind: “Never say with ten words what you can say with two.” By altering the phrasing of your writing, we can convey your scene more clearly and let the reader enjoy the images without being bogged down by words. Specifically, some of the edits I made include the following:
- I turned passive phrases into active ones. For instance, I turned the phrase “a spear had already been thrust” into “one soldier thrust his spear.” This phrasing is more direct and exciting.
- I cut out equivocating language and helping verbs. There’s no reason to say that a soldier “began sliding a slender sword” when you can say she “slid a slender sword,” or to say that splinters of wood “were sent scattering” when you can simply say they “scattered.” Again, more direct and exciting.
- I removed some adjectives in favor of potent verbs. Adjectives are okay in moderation, but they’re never as impactful as a rightly chosen verb. You don’t need to say that the boys wailed loudly. You can just say that they wailed.
- I removed some unnecessary detail. For instance, there’s no need to describe the steps the soldiers go through to ready their weapons. The audience only needs to know that they ready them.
With these changes to your phrasing, the reader can better grasp the scene as you imagine it, and they will care more about the town and the victims of whatever sickness is plaguing it.
Struck-through text is a recommended deletion. Italicized text is marked for rephrasing. My direct additions to the text are in blue font, and my notes are in [bold with brackets].
[If your scene starts with someone speaking, show what they say. It’s a good way to pull readers into the action and introduce them to the characters.]
While Hannah tried to reach him with words, [Vague phrase. Use something simpler, like “called out to,” and be sure to include to whom. There are two males in this sentence.] Raeklin had already
gone sprinted off after his brother. Because of the [whose?] considerable lead, he hadn’t the chance to fully grab him the youngling and drag the youngling him back to his work before he darted around the corner of a house which blocked their view of and into the open square. As soon as Raeklin turned, he saw Feran standing still, completely frozen in place. Panting slightly from the quick run he’d speak after catching his breath,
Raeklin spoke as he caught his breath. “Hey. Come on, this is the least we can do for…them…”
his words trailed off as He finally saw what stopped Feran.
the three riders stood talking to Father Lyrik with while the other two standing stood guard at the door to their [whose?] home. The door to which had been barred, and the fellow villagers were being kept from coming any closer. Both brothers moved at the same time , slowly moving toward s all the commotion. One of those trying to peek over the crowd was Brestle, who happened to noticed the boys and their bewildered looks. He came slowly to them boys and tried to place a hand on each of their shoulders. but was quickly shirked They shied away.
“Boys, boys! Now hold on! We’re not sure what’s going on yet and we need you to wait until the men from the Church have figured it out, all right?”
momentary delay only gave Raeklin and Feran time to collect themselves for a desperate dash to their home. Raeklin used his strong shoulders to shove through the on-lookers[,] and Feran followed closely behind. All at once They were stopped again by the armed men riders, who could not be moved as easily as Brestle had been. The two brothers struggled against them men for only a second before a loud shriek blasted [Awkward. Rephrase.] from within the hovel. Any conversation immediately stopped and The door started to jostle and pound. [There are better verbs, like shuddered. Or describe the blows on the door, how they thunder or ring out.] Raeklin shouted, “What’s happening to my parents?” Raeklin shouted.
The soldier speaking to Father Lyrik came walking swiftly to the other two and
began slid ing a slender sword from a plain scabbard. Once the arm had been lowered again they could all see the She had a sun-tanned face of a strong woman with and a narrow chin. Her eyes were a piercing green and the flame of her hair only intensified the serious composure she presented. With her movements Her comrades stepped to the side and forcefully shoved the two boys in either direction away before pulling their axe and spear into a battle-ready stance raising their own weapons.
Hannah only then managed to clear
sounds of screaming intensified as it the hand withdrew and another hard thud struck the door. It only took one more blow before splinters of wood were sent scattered to the ground and the door bre aking broke from its frame. In only a flash The image of their mother flashed before them. was displayed to them and Before they could react, a one soldier thrust his spear had already been thrust into under her sternum, and the other with swung the wide top of the a broad axe now pressing against into her stomach. Her children The boys wailed as loudly as this specter of death flailed flung her arms forward, with the two men straining to hold her back keep her in check.
[Who is speaking?] “I am Braena! Named Saint by the Holy Church! This, this is the result of the sickness.” Braena took a step to the side to allow everyone to see exactly what was happening.
No one’s jaw was kept from being open. All The crowd stood with shocked looks as their friend, their neighbor, woman who had been so docile now stood with a spear through her heart yet still struggled. Skin that was had once been delicate and luminous was now seemed to be a putrid shade of green and coated in a black mucus that seeped from the sores on her shriveled body thin frame.
Thomas Beard is a writer and editor with the Consortium. Every Wednesday he shares an article about revision, rewriting, and story structure.
Watch for his debut epic fantasy, The Orphan Queen.