Ernest Hemingway:

As Ernest Hemingway once said...
'All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.'

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


I will freely admit to the world (or at least those who are reading) that I love revising. I love the whole process. I've always been one to read and re-read books, but I always assumed it was because I read fast and retain very little. But I wonder if it's more than that.

Maybe when I find a story I love I want to read it over and over, want to crawl into that warm and fuzzy place and let good characters or a good story surround me. It's the same thing with music. When I fall in love with a band, I fall hard. It might be the only thing I listen to for days, even weeks on end. It's the feeling I get when something clicks, when something makes sense, when it becomes as much a part of me as the blood running through my veins. It's an addiction, definitely. And I'm prone to addiction.

Anyway, I love my stories. Love them so much that when it comes time for revision, I want to just curl up on the couch and read them over and over (with a red pen at the ready, of course). I love chopping them up and putting them back together, love finding new words or phrasing, love tightening it up. Maybe I should have been an editor. I've always had an eye for grammar. In addition, I'm a fast writer - I choose to get ideas out quickly as opposed to lingering on a sentence or word even, trying to perfect it. Since I know lots of changes are inevitable, I save the lingering for revisions.

That said, I thought maybe it would be helpful to share some of my revision tips. These are the things I do before my last read, which happens right before I push it out to my faithful readers. All of the lingering and massaging has been done by this point.

Tips for Revision:
  • Using the find function, search for the following words and if used more than say fifty times (this is for novels, folks), figure out how you can creatively nix/replace them:
    • Suddenly (shouldn't be used at all, except in dialogue, maybe)
    • Then (also shouldn't be used - replace with 'and')
    • Groan
    • Smirk (okay to use, just not in place of smile or grin - it's not either)
    • Smile
    • Laugh
    • Giggle
    • Grin
    • Look
    • Eyed
    • Sigh
    • Thought
    • Wondered
    • Considered
    • Hoped
    • Afterward(s) (usually clunky - I try to never use)
    • Realize (can be a filter - it's the author telling the reader what the character is thinking - psychic distance. Go straight into the action. For example: She realized tears were streaming down her face. Change to: Tears streamed down her face. It puts us right in the action without the filter.
  • Only use two 'ly' words per printed page
  • Only use two dialogue tags per printed page (always 'said' - if distinction is needed in dialogue, for example if three or more people are talking, use actions, not tags)
  • Check for past perfect - be mindful of switching from past tense to past perfect tense. For example: A lump was rising in Anne's throat. This is past perfect. Past tense would be A lump rose in Anne's throat. Using 'was' and 'had' is okay when you need to distinguish it from current action (for example 'he had already started reading' implies he started a while ago while 'he started reading' means it just happened), but it takes us out of the action when used improperly.
Okay, so that's my list.  I'd love to add to it - always looking for ways to improve.


Kelly Hashway said...

I'll add 'just'. That's an awful one that 99.9% of the time doesn't have any purpose whatsoever.

Jen Chatfield said...

You're so right. When I scanned my last draft for it I was shocked at how many times it appeared.

Ashley Chappell said...

I'm with Kelly on 'just!' My other bad ones are 'that' and 'which,' although I try to weed out anything passive as soon as I see it. It's amazing how the passive voice sneaks into everything I write...

Great post, and it's nice to meet you!

Jen Chatfield said...

You too, Ashley. I just finished cracking up over your latest post.

I think I've finally nixed the passive voice (unless necessary) but man did it take some work and re-training. Oh, the things I took for granted before becoming a novelist...