The process of polishing your story


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I thought it would be fun to share some of the process me and Mike Lynch are going through as we edit our latest novel Currently we’re trimming and polishing, and trying to make every sentence shine.
Below here is the first paragraph of our novel. I thought it was cool how drastically it changed from the first draft to the...fourth? Fifth? What ever draft this is...
Check it out:
First draft:
Emel Dwayat slipped quietly towards the flicker of movement on the eastern roof of the old library dig site, keeping to the shadows when possible. It was the American archeologist’s idea to mount 500 watt spotlights in the middle of the excavation. She had hoped it would deter looters. Dwayat had complained that the lights would do more harm than good; that his eyes worked better in darkness where he had the element of surprise. His advice had not been taken. Now he crept half-blinded towards the point of motion, dodging the ridiculous spotlights himself, and cursing the day he’d agreed to work for a woman.
Second Draft:
-->A solitary figure emerged from the shadows, darkness draping him like a smooth leather glove. Dressed in black beret and fatigues, Emel Dwayat’s profile was indistinguishable from the mouth of the ancient portico. He pulled the AK-47 closer and slipped towards the flicker of movement under the eastern roof of the Constantinople Library. Despite his muscular frame, he maneuvered nimbly down the remnants of the 1600-year old corridor, keeping to shadows as he crept towards the point of motion, dodging oversized spotlights, cursing the day he’d agreed to work for a woman— and an English woman at that.
Below are some examples of trimming being done to the novel. A wonderful gal named Alethea helped us pinpoint many of these extraneous spots.
Original version:
...he pressed his AK-47 against his shoulder and searched for any sign of movement in the distance. The dark green foliage skirting the excavation’s ridges swayed and rustled softly in a light breeze...
Original version with red highlights to the extraneous words:
...he pressed his AK-47 against his shoulder and searched for any sign of movement in the distance. The dark green foliage skirting the excavation’s ridges swayed and rustled softly in a light breeze...
The clean version:
...he pressed his AK-47 against his shoulder and searched for movement. The dark green foliage skirting the excavation’s ridges rustled softly...
And here is one last example:
Original version:
One day it will be me translating Roman and Ottoman documents unearthed in Turkey, not all these foreigners who come and steal our culture away from us.
Original version with red highlights to the extraneous words:
One day it will be me translating Roman and Ottoman documents unearthed in Turkey, not all these foreigners who come and steal our culture away from us.
Clean version:
One day I’ll translate Roman and Ottoman documents unearthed in Turkey, not these foreigners who steal our culture.
Well, hope that was interesting. I know I personally love seeing how other people clean up their sentences. Let me know if you want more of this type of stuff on my blog. I have TONS of examples of polishing.
Happy writing! And happy reading!

17 comments:

Kat Heckenbach said...

I love how you highlighted the words you were cutting in the examples of cleaning up sentences.

I had a wonderful reader who put parentheses around extraneous words and phrases in my first novel. It was eye-opening! I loved it--I could really see the difference between the "wordy" version and the clean version. She used to tell me, "Chop, chop. Kill your darlings." My manuscript shrunk by--get this--8,000 words because of her.

The really cool thing is that now I see it sooner, and I'm not nearly as wordy as I'm writing the manuscript for my second novel. "Killing my darlings" has gotten much easier!

Joe Chiappetta said...

Polishing is a huge task and I do it quite a lot as well. It's nice o see the improvements. However, I wonder if there will come a time when polishing will go out of fashion in favor of a more immediate one take reality TV influence. I hope not, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Brandon said...

Hi Kat,

Yeah, I've hear that phrase, Killing your darlings". I actually find it enjoyable going through a manuscript and cutting off extraneous words.
Wow, 8000 words, that's really sweet! It's amazing how quickly they add up.

Hi Joe,
Yeah, I hope polishing never goes out of fashion. Luckily I think the visual medium is very different than the written word...however, if you throw in the craze of texting, then maybe that would take novels in the area you fear.

Ban said...

haven't gotten to the 'polishing' phase yet - still trying to convince myself to just type/write !!! but YES, I enjoyed seeing the first and second drafts - it was indeed eye opening. part of my cringes at the thought of 'killing my darlings' after all, they distinguish one writer's voice from another's but I see the need to clean things up ... readers do not want or need the detail we crave in our own stories.

Ban said...

speaking of voice - ignore the typo :D

Brandon said...

Hi Ban :)
Don't worry about polishing until your finished. Like you said, write, write, write!!
Once you've got it all down, then you can turn to polishing.

You make a good point about "writers voice". I wouldn't want to change my story so drastically that it changes my voice. But I think a writers voice will still stay intact after a good polish. If anything, it sharpens the writers voice, because during a polish, you're removing all the extraneous tidbits. And it's those extraneous tidbits that make us sound like everyone else. Overly descriptive, wordy, etc.

Cut those things, and your voice can really stand out.

Robert Treskillard said...

Brandon,

These are really good examples.

I've had to do a lot of cutting, and its amazing how many extra words can be found and removed from the text.

-Robert

logankstewart said...

Great examples, Brandon. I've always liked the editing process. In high school I would diagram sentences unconsciously. This will help with my story I'm working on.

Brandon said...

Hi Robert,
I know you've been doing this polishing thing for a long while now!

Logan,
I never did get into the sentence diagram thing...kinda weird since I have a degree in English.
Glad my examples are a help!

gzusfreek said...

Oh, stop it! I can't believe the transformation. What a great window into you and Mike's brilliance.
I sure need all the help I can get in this department. I wish it came more natural for me :)
Great post, Brandon :)

Brandon said...

Gzusfreek,
Brilliance...? Madness maybe :)

impossiblewriter said...

Hi there! I was directed to your blog via http://csffblogtour.com/, and I just wanted to say congrats on your writing journey with your short stories! What a great accomplishment...and what a great writer you are! Awesome post, if you don't mind me saying. :)

God bless,

Taylor J. Beisler
www.taylorbeisler.com
http://www.eloquentbooks.com/ArintSaratir-WarriorsLight.html
www.impossiblewriter.wordpress.com

Brandon said...

Hi Taylor,
Thanks for your kind words! I stopped by your website. Very nice. Maybe God bless your writing endeavors.

The Duchess said...

Hey, Brandon! Thanks for sharing these before and after examples. They provide GREAT insight! :o)

Brandon said...

Hello Duchess,
I'm pleased they are helpful! I love seeing how other people edit their own work--it can be very insightful as a writer--so I thought I'd share these examples.

lynnrush said...

Oh, very nice. Love to see the changes. I learn a lot that way.

Thanks for sharing.

Brandon said...

Hi Lynnrush,
Glad to be a help. Thanks for stopping by :)