Basic Principles of Writing for Publication #3
Revising and Polishing
by Deb Brammer
You’ve finished your article or short story. Is it good or not? Your feel passionate about your subject, but will the reader share that passion? Something seems to be missing, but maybe that’s your insecurity talking. How do you know what to look for?
When I finish a story or article or scene, I run it past a checklist. My time to let the thoughts flow freely and allow the creativity to ooze out has passed. I set my passion aside and run a critical eye over the piece. I check it for certain things, the same things I check every piece for. The more I use my checklist, the more these ideas become a natural part of my writing.
My checklist is unique to me. It checks things that I have learned to look for, things I know I may miss. You may need to put different things on your checklist. As you read through these articles you may find things you need to check your written work for. Make a checklist that works for you.
I’m going to allow you to take a peek into my brain, to the boring, technical part to give you an idea of what you might want to include on your checklist.
This is a checklist for articles. See my article on polishing and revising short stories for that checklist.
Checklist for a Non-fiction Article
Are they strong, specific verbs in active voice?
Can you make them better?
What words are unnecessary? Extra words slow the pace of your piece. Often you can omit words here and there throughout your piece.
Extra word: She sat down beside him.
Better: She sat beside him.
Are some ideas redundant? Omit them.
Can you rephrase sentences to make them less wordy?
Have you gone on for too long about some subject and do you need to leave passages out?
Is your theme consistent? Do you stay on your subject or go off on rabbit trails?
Is your point of view consistent? (See Building Your Story #2 for point of view in stories.)
1. First person reporting point of view: I tell my story about what happened to me.
Example: When I went to Christchurch I climbed the stairs to the bell tower in the Cathedral.
2. Third person reporting point of view: This is what someone else said or thought or did.
Example: When he went to Christchurch he climbed the stairs to the bell tower in the Cathedral.
3. First person intimate point of view: I as a writer talk to you as a reader. “I” and “you” are both used.
Example: I’d like to suggest that when you go to Christchurch you visit the Cathedral.
Using “we” allows you to avoid preachiness and come along side the reader as a friend.
Example: We often feel lonely. Her are some things we can do to avoid loneliness.
(For more on this subject see An Introduction to Christian Writing by Ethel Herr, lesson 8.)
Is your tense consistent? Have you mixed past and present tense?
Is your mood consistent? Set the tone from the beginning–funny, serious, inspirational, scholarly. You can use humor in a serious piece but don’t present serious matters in a flippant manner. In a story, when you are trying to build to a climax, don’t relieve the tension with humor.
Replace overused expressions with your own fresh alternatives.
What sentences are longer than 20 words? Can you divide them? Do you have variety in sentence length or are they all about the same?
Have you put the most important words in the strongest place? The strongest placement of a word goes at the very end of a sentence. The beginning is the next strongest.
- Weak: At Christmas Jesus deserves first place because it is His birthday we’re celebrating.
- Stronger: At Christmas Jesus deserves first place because we’re celebrating His birthday.
The second sentence is stronger because the point is that since it’s Christ’s birthday, we should be doing things that please Him. The first sentence would be better if you wanted to emphasize the ways you celebrate and that you should have fun at Christmas.
What one thing am I trying to say? Have I developed that thought logically?
Does it hook the reader and make him want to read the article?
Does it introduce the article? Some possible ways to hook the reader are to begin with an anecdote, a question, a striking statement, or a quotation.
Does it stir the reader to care about the subject?
Does it identify a subject, conflict, or problem that is interesting to the reader?
Does it set the tone of the article?
Outline your ideas to see if your thoughts flow smoothly and logically, developing your theme.
Does it resolve the idea without being redundant?
Does it bring ideas together and leave you with a punch?
Does it have take-away value—something that will help the reader and give him something to take away and use in his own life? Does it challenge him to evaluate himself or increase his faith in God?
Does it avoid making a judgment and let the reader come to his own conclusions?
Some good endings:
Resolve the problem that was stated at the beginning of the article.
Surprise the reader with an unexpected ending.
Use a quotation, pun, or anecdote to leave the reader something to think about.
Sum up the ideas without being redundant or give a word of advice.
When you have finished your piece and made changes from the checklist, set it aside for a few days. Then read it again. Write and rewrite until your piece says exactly what you want it to say. Read it out loud. Give it to a friend to read.
Have you done your best work or are there some parts that you know you could improve? At some point you have to quit fiddling with it or you’ll actually make it worse, but keep working until you’re sure your thoughts are clear and you’ve done your best. Then you’re ready to submit it to a publisher—but that takes us into another article.
Rewrite this sentence so that the basic meaning is still conveyed, but so that it avoids wordiness. See if you can write it in less than fifteen words.
- The happy little children played merrily together with the big, golden, furry dog; running excitedly back and forth, jumping up and down and over each other, and rolling on the grass together.
Possible solution to Challenge — The children frolicked on the grass with the golden retriever. (10 words.)