Writing Exercise: Shared Poetry (Campfire Style)

Think hot potato. Then think poetry.

That’s right, a really fun and probably terrible poem is about to burst into existence.

Here’s a writing exercise I did with my sister for funsies, and it was really really fun.

What you need:

  • 2+ people
  • 2 different colored pens
  • 1 or 2 pieces of paper
  • A timer (you can Google “timer” and get a really simple one)
  • A dash of imagination and adventure

Here’s the rules:

  1. You put the timer on for 30 seconds at a time.
  2. Start the timer! You each start writing a poem on your page. Hopefully you have legible handwriting.
  3. For 30 seconds, you write and write and write. When the timer goes off, finish the word you’re on. (Or don’t! You can cut off in the middle of a word if you want!)
  4. Trade papers! Start the timer again!
  5. Go back and forth like this until you’re about half way down the page. Now might be a good time to change the timer from every 30 seconds to every 45 seconds (or longer).
  6. When you get to the bottom of the page, stop! Or if you think the poem has ended or needs more space, feel free to keep going or stop early.
  7. Your poems are done!
  8. You each get to add a title to one of the poems!

Here are some helpful hints:

  • Leave an inch or two at the top of the page so you can add a title once it’s finished.
  • Leave an inch or so margin on the left side of the page in case you want to go through and add doodles or art or something later!
  • Use pens that have a different enough color so you can tell who wrote what.
  • Don’t forget to sign and date it! Sign it in the color you wrote with.
  • If you finish it and want to share it with us!
    • Twitter: tag us (@McRebecky and @MelAnn1313) with the tag #campfirepoetry
    • Instagram: @MelAnn1313
  • If you just want to let us know if this was helpful or fun, leave a comment here and share your experience!

Here’s what one of ours looked like!

20161126_201501

The final version, typed:
Except Nothing
the aroma of damp, decaying leaves
and crisp fall air with nothing,
nothing on the skyline except
except
except
maybe that’s just it — Nothing.
Does it frighten you?
You, who has spent time frolicking in fields
of death — graveyard flowers, cracking headstones,
trash left by those who couldn’t forget
the emptiness of horizons, the loneliness of what
once was, now only a void.
This is you.
Or it was. At least. Once. It was. I promise.
Death. You are Death. Right? Or have you
abdicated that title in exchange for a
new one. Are you Angel? My angel?
I almost feel the decay of winter
chilled against my fingernails, my toes. Is this–
this– the sky you’ve left for me?
Bleak, gray, unyielding to my cries and prayers?
Except
Except
It is not empty. I am not empty. I am Death, too.

Show Don’t Tell #11

Show Don’t Tell! That means I’m going to provide a bad writing example and show you how to fix it!


THE BEFORE PARAGRAPH

Akira stood motionless at the base of the sixteenth tower.(1)  It was(2) an immaculate structure(3) with reflective metallic siding.  There was(4) no possible way to scale it due to this very reason.(5)  The sides were sleek as ice, and the tower loomed(6) in ever-present luminosity(7); it was radiating(8) in a facade of light.(9)

1: This throws us into the story with a couple key pieces of information: Akira is the main character (or she better be—I hate it when a story doesn’t start with a main character). There are 16 towers.

2: This is but the first of 3 sentences in the first paragraph (in which there are only 4 sentences) that are passive tense. Not good.

3: An immaculate structure? What does that mean? It was clean? Conceived by a holy creature? Sure, it goes on and says metallic siding, but that’s only marginally more descriptive.

4: Passive Points: 2

5: Whoa. Yikes. Passive horror. This sentence is giving us a lot, but poorly because it’s raising more questions (and flags) than answers. Sure, you can’t scale a skyscraper. Obviously. But this sentence implies the main character was trying or wanting to do so. But why? And why can’t we see that thought process (or associated conclusion)? Plus, saying “due to this very reason” is clinical language that has no place in the action of a first paragraph.

6: Finally, an active verb! Even though it doesn’t tell us much.

7: Aaaand it’s ruined. If a reader has to take a step back and say “what the hell does that mean,” then there are a few options of what terrible mistakes were made. 1.) You were trying to be fancy and original, and you fell flat. 2.) You used words incorrectly. 3.) You used the wrong words. This shiny sentence screwed up all 3 of those things. Because 1.) ever-present luminosity is needlessly wordy and doesn’t give us any details beyond “consistently shiny” which was already told to us in the second sentence, and 2.) it isn’t “loomed in luminosity,” it’s “loomed with luminosity.” In is the incorrect preposition to use here, because it denotes positional relationship, when really the brightness of an object is a quality it possesses. And 3.) saying “ever-present” is not just garish, it’s not correct. Unless there’s some magic juju going on, that tower is not going to be luminous all the time. To me, “luminous” means an object is generating light (probably a consistent tone of light), not reflecting it. When I picture a reflective metal building, luminous is not the word I would pick. (Passive points: up to 3)

8: Passive points: 4! This could easily easily be “it radiated light.” Make your verbs do the hard work in a sentence!!

9: I don’t know if this sentence is trying to be punny or what, but it’s using “facade” incorrectly. A facade can mean two things: the front of a building or a ruse/mask. If this sentence is trying to tell us that the tower itself has a fake mask of light, then I don’t know what genre we’re in anymore. If this sentence is trying to say the front of the building is shining, then… sigh… a few things. 1.) This paragraph has told us the tower is bright about a million times. Make sure you’re using the real estate of your page (especially your opening page) to describe multiple things. Keep an eye out in your writing for when you are over-explaining or when you’re explaining/describing the same thing in multiple ways. Cut back. Let one or two descriptive sentences do their job, and move on. 2.) This sentence uses the wrong preposition again. It can’t be radiating with a facade of light if it’s the facade itself that is glowing. And 3.) Freaking semicolons.


THE AFTER PARAGRAPH

Motionless, Akira stood at the base of the sixteenth tower.(1) Its sleek metallic siding caught the cold moonlight, like sparks hovering on every curve of glass.(2) She couldn’t scale the tower like she had with the others.(3) The metal would be like ice beneath her fingertips if she could even find a single handhold.(4) She’d have to go inside.(5)

1: Did a slightly switch to offset the sentence with “motionless,” because I think it gives it more rhythm.

2: Not the best simile, I’ll grant, but it gets the job done. We get the sense that light is reflecting off the tower without being beaten over the head with it. I did make an assumptive leap and decided it should be nighttime. This gives us time/setting.

3: Now that we’ve deleted extraneous description/language, we have more real estate to play with in the opening. Here we get a bit of history: Akira has stood at the base of 15 other towers, and she climbed them. That takes strength and strong motivation. No, we don’t know what that motivation is yet or what is gained by doing it, but we get a sense of that movement and history.

4: Here we find out that she free-climbed the tower. That takes strength and guts. We’re starting to get a sense of Akira, which is where the focus should be. Early on, the priority is learning about the main character—what they’re doing and why—not to extensively outline the physical surroundings. A few sharp details are better than a page of dull details. Plus we’re getting some more tactile details other than the fixation on light (visual) that we had before. Ice on her hands is a physical detail that’s important.

5: And lastly, we have direction. We know a bit about what’s going to happen next. Sure, we don’t quite know what the tower is, why she’s climbing them, or even how old she is. But we have some good details, a sense of previous and next steps, and a smidge of motivation. She’s done this before, so we can infer it’s a part of a longer goal.


What do YOU think? How would you tweak/change the Before paragraph differently? Any thoughts on the changes to the After paragraph?

Check out the rest of the Show Don’t Tell series!

Show Don’t Tell #10

Show Don’t Tell! That means I’m going to provide a bad writing example and show you how to fix it!


THE BEFORE PARAGRAPH

A door swings open by aid of a gentle hand revealing dank, desolate hallway.(1)  It appeared(2, 3) not to have seen the light of day in at least a century.(4)

The rhythmic sound of footsteps(5) faded in and out from above.  With every other step, a shaft of dust filtered through the ceiling cracks and fell to the ground, settling in a thin layer across the floor.  There is(6) a heart-wrenching wail from above, and it reverberates through the walls(7) and shakes the very air(8); you shirk back.(9, 10)

1. This is interesting phrasing here. Aside from a bit of comma help, it also is strangely arranged. It’s putting the hand (character) as a secondary object. That’s okay, I suppose. A bit flowery. But it’s also a bit jarring when really all that’s happening is a door is opening.

2. This is filtering language. Instead of just saying “the hallway hadn’t seen the light of day in a century,” we’re filtering it. Filtering language: We use filters all the time–it adds a bit of distance to the statement, makes it seem more like an experience than a fact. When you’re telling your roommate you sort of got distracted on the way to the store and ended up a little bit off track by that pretty cool house on the corner, and then you got the spooks and ran off, so you didn’t quite make it to the store today, you’re really filtering the message of: Dear Roommate, I didn’t go shopping today. We have no food. We’ll have to scavenge like raccoons. Filtering is fine when you’re trying to get out of trouble in real life, but it’s extra words and loose imagery that can be easily strengthened.

3. Also, this is an unnecessary tense change. “a door swings” = present tense. “It appeared” = past tense.

4. Golden opportunity to throw in some actual details. What does a century without light look like?

5. Times like this, there are ways to condense the language. Be aware of things like “the sound of” or “a feeling of“. These can be chopped down to say directly what you want to say. “A feeling of dread overtakes you” or “Dread overtakes you”?

6. Tense change #2.

7. Through the ceiling? Since it’s from upstairs?

8. Look for all your “verys”. Find them all. Now put them in a little box. And light them on fire. From the ashes, select any surviving verys, and give them nice homes where they can grow old safely. Most “verys” are NOT needed, ESPECIALLY in the “in the very air” types of ways. It just screams melodrama.

9. First: It should be “shrink” not “shirk.” Second: SEMICOLONS ARE EVIL. Okay, not evil evil, but pretty bad. Opinions on these creatures vary, but in my opinion, the only time you need them is when you really want to have a comma splice, so you throw in a semicolon as a way to stave off the finality of a period. In this context, using a semicolon detracts from the rhythm. We want this reaction to either be tied to the action it’s reacting to or separated if it’s more of a decision-type action. What does that mean? It means if the actions and reactions are happening at about the same time, include them in the same sentence. If it’s a reaction that is more of decision, consider having it be it’s own sentence.

10. Um, hello? This is second person? And it takes until the end of this section to learn this. Is this why that first sentence is so weird? Is the author trying to make the second person narration a surprise? My advice: don’t. In this case at least, it makes the reader confused, and we have to go back and re-read in a bad way. Like, “I’m lost where am I” sort of bad, not the good way of “wow, look at how the author wove in foreshadowing!”

 


THE AFTER PARAGRAPH

The(1) door swings open, revealing dank, desolate hallway.  It hasn’t seen sunlight in so long, that everything seems stained with shadows.(2)

Footsteps thump on the floor above you(3), and with every other step, a shaft of dust filters through the ceiling cracks and falls to the ground, settling in a thin layer across the floor.(4) A heart-wrenching wail reverberates through the ceiling, the walls, even the air, making you shrink back.(5)

1. Articles (a, the, an) are tricky. Are we talking a specific door or one among many? Since we only see one door here, let’s go with the.

2. Not only do we avoid a bunch of mamby-pamby language and saying “century,” we get to invoke a bit of imagery. Plus, “stained with shadows” is a bit of lyrical fun! If language isn’t fun, what’s the point? (communication? historical record-keeping? Twitter?)

3. Now we’ve eliminated the directionally-vague “fade in and out from above”. I mean, are the footsteps dancing up there? BONUS: we get the second-person narrator sooner. I would maybe even move it up to the first line, because clarifying the narrator is pretty much priority uno, above setting and above drama.

4. This sentence is basically the same, but consider the pace here. Filtering, floating dust that settles in a thin layer is a slow movement. This is juxtaposed with the “heart-wrenching wail” in the next line. That’s a pretty big tonal shift. Maybe this is a good place for a paragraph break or a couple more sensory details before the shift? Also consider that the dust wouldn’t just be settling on the floor, but on the character’s head/face.

5. This sentence says the same thing as previously, but it’s condensed so that the verbs and nouns are playing nicely together.

6. A note I have for this passage in general: it’s an opening passage, and it’s trying to set a scene and mood, but it offers little in terms of motivation or purpose. I mean, I love a good jaunt through a creepy room as much as the next physically-absent-writer-who-doesn’t-actually-have-to-be-there, but I need to know why. Or even show the character experiencing this. This passage is pretty focused on the physicality of the scene, but doesn’t provide a lot of the character’s interpretation/experience of it. And beyond the character actions, we need the character’s thoughts/senses. The amount of access we have to a character’s thoughts is called psychic distance. And since this is in second person, we should expect A LOT of access to the character’s thoughts. Smaller psychic distance. And really, if you’re setting a creepy mood, we really need to see the scene through the lens of the character, because that’s how we as readers will experience it.

 


What do YOU think? How would you tweak/change the Before paragraph differently? What are your thoughts on what to add/take away to make it better? Any thoughts on the changes to the After paragraph?

Check out the rest of the Show Don’t Tell series!

 

Show Don’t Tell #9

Show, don’t tell! Let’s dig through some examples to learn by experience. This time, I’m editing what is essentially the pitch for a story. A pitch is a small paragraph (sometimes just a sentence or two) that convinces someone they want to ready your story. We’ll also chat about sentence fluency, which is the variation of sentence length in a story. Sentence fluency relates directly to style, tone, pacing, and tension.


BEFORE

*Charlie had vague recollections of his brother.(1) His brother(2) died when Charlie was 18.(3) The police told him the details but not the conclusion of the investigation.(4) His brother was found twenty miles from home. The last time he was seen was two days before that. There was no proof whether the death was homicide, suicide, or accident.(5) Charlie always knew for himself what he believed. Now he seeks justice. (6)

1. This is a good place to give a couple short descriptors of the brother to give us a sense of the brother (who isn’t even named, so we have to be given something).

2. Already, the repetition of “his brother” is getting tiresome.

3. There is little to no emotion going on here

4. And is this a quote from that dry report? This sentence should evoke emotion in the reader, because we want to be in Charlie’s shoes here. But this sentence is very bland.

5. The previous three sentences are essentially list items, but they’re broken up and don’t build tension in any way.

6. I can almost sense the punch that this sentence is supposed to hold, but I can’t feel it. And it doesn’t actually tell the reader what Charlie thinks, and it doesn’t tell us what he’s seeking justice for. Which is kind of bad. We need to have an inkling of the tension here, and we don’t.

 

AFTER

Charlie’s memories of his brother, Kevin(1), were clear: choppy hair, scarred knuckles, skinny arms.(2) Kevin disappeared on April 13. Two days later, a detective gave Charlie the bad news. His brother: dead.(3) The body: twenty miles south on the riverbed.(4) The ME’s report: no signs of foul play, no signs of suicide, no signs of anything but a tragic, terrible accident.(5)

But Charlie knows what happened on that riverbed three years ago. His brother’s death wasn’t an accident. He knows the killer’s name.(6) Worse, he knows the killer’s game.(7)

1. I gave the brother a name here for the sake of clarity, and it’s smoother to be able to refer to a character by name rather than a +2 word title.

2. You can infer a lot from a character from just a few descriptors. First note: the law of 3. Three items in a list is naturally a pattern (one is an anomaly, two is a connection, three is a pattern). But the inherent contradiction of scarred knuckles (which we might assume is a youth eager to fight) and skinny arms (lack of muscle definition, so maybe not so eager) is enough to create the barest trace of mystery about this character.

3. Watch this pattern — Short.

4. Medium.

5. Longer.   — This pattern builds tension from smaller details to larger, and then ends with a bang.  We’ve talked once before about sentence fluency in #5. Sentence fluency is the variation of length in sentences. It’s what keeps a reader engaged in a story. Knowing when to build tension or pull up short with punchy sentences is key to developing pace and tone in your writing style. Sentence fluency is what lets you to build tension in the structure of the sentence itself. Isn’t that awesome? It’s not just what we say as writers, but how we say it. In the very nature of the sentence and the structure of the page, words take on a bigger influence.

6. Just like the last few numbers (3–5), the previous three sentences have the opposite pattern: long, medium, short.

7. This is where you make sure you’re ending on something really strong. And yes, these last two sentences rhyme. Which, of course, isn’t necessary, but it’s a bit of artistic flare in the sentence itself. One of the best pieces of advice I can give all aspiring writers is to read poetry. Not the poetry you hate, because that won’t help you. (Okay, it will, but you want to find poetry you enjoy before you try reading poetry you don’t like.) Poetry is a condensed form of storytelling that focuses on imagery, language, rhythm, and tension. I’m not saying you have to be a brilliant poet, but learning and observing how to fiddle with language on a focused level like in poetry will give you a lot more control over this complex thing we call language.


What do YOU think? How would you tweak/change the Before paragraph differently? What are your thoughts on what to add/take away to make it better? Any thoughts on the changes to the After paragraph?

Show Don’t Tell #8

Show, don’t tell! Instead of just giving writing advice, let’s dig through some examples to learn by experience!


BEFORE

He didn’t want to go to the south coast, because it was often overrun by deserting sailors who would wield short swords. (1) He couldn’t go north to the mountains whose peaks were covered with deadly snow. (2) He had to go in the one direction he needed to and didn’t want to. (3) East toward the person he had wished to forget, but who would now save his life. (4)

 

1. This sentence feels very stilted. Very “this and this because this and this.” We want it to feel smooth, more like the way someone would talk as opposed to a written report. The reason we want that is because this sentence started with “he didn’t want”, which means we’re learning about what someone is thinking and why they’re thinking it. Because of that, we want it to sound the way someone’s thoughts would sound.

2. There’s a bit of a grammatical issue with assigning “whose” to “mountains” because a mountain is a what not a who. Aside from that, this sentence could do with a  bit of tightening.

3. Ahhh, we’re ending a sentence on “to,” which is just no fun at all. It makes the sentence feel tangled. Maybe adding some tactile information here is better.

4. I can sense the gravity of what this moment is supposed to feel like, but it feels like a letdown. Maybe after reworking the rest of the paragraph, it’ll feel stronger. But we might end up rewriting or condensing or expanding it depending on what the story needs.

 

AFTER

He couldn’t (1) go to the southern coast. It was overrun by sailors wielding short swords. To the north, the mountains were peaked with deadly snow. (2) Already, fires glowed in the west (3) as mobs of injurious (4) warriors fielded the dangerous craggy paths to hunt him. He only had one choice. East. (5) East toward the  tributary village where he spent his childhood running two steps behind Lily Penbook. Where she kissed his cheek, laughing, before jumping into the cold, rushing river. Where he had waited and waited for her to resurface. Where she never did. (6) He had to travel east, toward Lily’s mother–the woman who never forgave him. The only woman who could save him. (7)

1. It seems like a small change, but switching it to “couldn’t” instead of “didn’t want to” not only condenses the language but also strengthens his resolve. It also solidifies the fact that the place he really doesn’t want to go (east) is the direction he has to go.

2. We’ve eliminated repetitive verbiage and still made it clear to the reader that he can’t go north.

3. Added “west” just so that we’re literally narrowing the character’s options so that when we tell the reader the character is stuck going east, it’s clear and hard-hitting.

4. “Injurious” is sort of a fancy word, and it might not be a good fit here. But that’ll depend on your audience, the level of vocabulary employed through the remainder of the story, and if it flows.

5. And since we’ve spelled out the other terrible options, this truly does feel like the only choice. Now we can outline why that choice is also terrible–but in a more conflict way instead of a death-y way.

6. Now we get that sense of why he doesn’t want to go east, and what’s waiting for him… and why he needs to go there.

7. Language is a fun thing, guys. Honest. See how we get that rhyme with these last two sentences: “forgave him” “save him”? Then we’re left with the mystery of how can this woman save him, and is she willing to help him at all?


What do YOU think? How would you tweak/change the Before paragraph differently? What are your thoughts on what to add/take away to make it better? Any thoughts on the changes to the After paragraph?

Show Don’t Tell #7

Show, don’t tell! Instead of just giving writing advice, let’s dig through some examples to learn by experience!


BEFORE

At seeing the small child raise her hand, she felt (1) her heart tighten with powerful emotions. (2)

“What is it?” she leaned forward,(3) wanting to ask but not actually speaking. (4)

The girl faltered and pulled her hand back down. (5)

With it, she (6) felt her heart crumble into tiny, breakable pieces.(7)

1. With most sensations and observations in a story, we don’t need the “she looked and saw” or the “she felt” parts. We can skip right to the what, and it’ll be implied/obvious that the character is experiencing these things.

2. What emotions? This is too vague to tell us anything. Also, we don’t have a sense of why this is important. Is the small child volunteering for tribute or trying to answer a math question?

3. Not a dialogue tag.

4. But the character IS speaking, and DID ask? It’s unclear whether the “she” who is leaning/wanting to ask is the narrator or the small child.

5. We can tighten this up. A lot of times, you see things like “back down” and “up to” or “forward closer”, which are both redundant and probably not even necessary.

6. Again, unclear which “she” we’re talking about. This is when proper names are useful.

7. This image doesn’t flow, and it’s cliche. And it doesn’t jive with the hand lowering (the “with it” part of the sentence implies that the movement of the girl’s hand mirrors a metaphoric movement of the narrator’s heart, but the two images aren’t consistent).

AFTER

When Lacey raised her hand, Ms. Benson’s heart tightened. All year, Lacey had only raised her eyes to the chalkboard with the faintest glimmers of recognition. Never once had she raised(1) her hand.(2)

“Yes?” Benson leaned forward. Go ahead, ask. Ask anything.(3)

The room shifted with the creak of metal chairs and wooden desks.(4) Lacey’s eyes dipped from the board down to the floor. Her fingers curled into a fist, her fist lowered to her desk, and she slumped deep into her squeaking chair.(5)

As Lacey’s hand lowered, Ms. Benson’s heart sank. Another day of silence. Another moment lost.(6)

1. The raising of her eyes is now linked to the raising of her hand. This ties together the physical expressions.

2. See how we get a better sense of the stakes? It’s important not to know just what is happening, but also why we should care.

3. Getting access to Benson’s thoughts aligns her as the narrating voice instead of the confusion we had earlier. Plus, it gives us the words she wants to say but doesn’t instead of telling us she isn’t saying something.

4. Gives us location and a sensory detail.

5. Since we know this moment is important, it’s vital to spend enough time there. No, it doesn’t take a lot of actual time to lower one’s hand, but we need to spend time writing/reading these moments to get a sense of their weight and utility.

6. This gives us Benson’s sense of disappointment without outright telling us in over-flowery language.


What do YOU think? Every opinion matters! How would you tweak/change the Before paragraph differently? What are your thoughts on what to add/take away to make it better? Any thoughts on the changes to the After paragraph?

Cut Word Count Without Cutting Your Story (Pitch Wars Revision #4 & Show Don’t Tell #6)

Things I Struggle With and How I’m Fixing Them
(I’m outlining my revisions process during the September and October of Pitch Wars (which is what again?). It’s not just me! Other mentees are blogging, too.)


*

Word Count is TOOOOO long.

The easiest way to cut word count is to cut scenes. Do we really need this conversation when we could just sum it up in two sentences of summary? Slash. How do we feel about the three day excursion that doesn’t move the plot forward? Chop.

Sometimes, you want to keep a scene, but you still need to cut word count. All the events are relevant, but it’s still somehow too long. I’m going to give you this wonderful, helpful analogy-story of me eating an egg.

“Just eat the last of the egg,” argued Grams.

“I don’t like the hard yellow part,” I say, with the defiance of a child who has not yet learned the magic of ketchup.

“Just two more bites, and then you’re done, okay?” Grams had her this isn’t really a question so eat the stupid egg face on.

I stared at the egg with the contemplative determination of a kid who was just learning to toe the line of literal interpretation and “the spirit not the letter of the law”. It’s a dangerous place reserved for spunky children who want to go swimming because technically it’s not a storm if there’s not lightning or thunder. (You can boil all this conflict down to one thing: The word “technically” had entered my vocabulary.)

Thus began my arduous task.I carefully sliced the white bits from the sides of the egg, carefully arranging it until I had enough for a forkful. I showed my grandma Exhibit A, got a nod of approval, and downed the bite of egg.

“One more bite,” she said victoriously, eyeing the perfectly round yellow glob left on my plate.

I stared at the egg. One more bite. I could do this. But how?

I flipped the egg over. The bottom of the egg was white, and I carefully peeled and sliced and pulled off every scrap of white. Minutes later, I showed Grams my final and clinching Exhibit B.

She had on that face of “You technically did exactly what I asked even though you know what I meant.” But she also had the eyes of, “OK, I’m a little impressed, and maybe I should reward cleverness?”

And, as is the case when it comes down to face vs. eyes, the eyes won.

Down the hatch went Exhibit B, and down the trashcan went the Evil Yellow Egg Glob.

That’s basically a victory of my young childhood. I know you’re impressed. (Note to any people raising tiny humans out there: always acknowledge and praise cleverness. It gives you pride and inspires you to aim for cleverness and intelligent solutions later in life. Or, like me, it makes them snarky, sarcastic rule-skirter who you want to smack on the back of the head about 70% of the time. Either way, I think that’s a win.)

Let’s tie this back into revision, shall we?


*

Chop it To Bits!

Like shaving off the white parts of an egg, you can cut down on the “extra” material that isn’t relevant to your story. A lot of this has to do with wordiness (either in dialogue, syntax, or basic grammar). You can cut down the word count without cutting the story. Let’s try it with the brief story above. In it’s above form, it’s at 310 words. Let’s cut that down to size like the bright yellow glob it should be, yes?

Just eat the last of the egg Eat the rest of your egg,” argued Grams.

“I don’t like the hard yellow part.” I say, with the defiance of a child who has not yet learned I hadn’t yet learned the magic of ketchup.

Just tTwo more bites, and then you’re done, okay?” Grams‘ face said: had her this isn’t really it’s not a question, so eat the stupid egg face on.

I stared at the egg with the contemplative determination. of a kid who was just learning to toe the fine line of between literal interpretation and following the spirit not the letter of the law. It’s a dangerous place reserved for spunky children who want to go swimming because technically it’s not a storm if there’s not lightning or thunder. (You can boil all this conflict down to one thing: Tthe word “technically” had entered entering my vocabulary.)

Thus began my arduous task. I carefully sliced the white bits from the sides of the egg, carefully arranging it until I had enough for a on the forkful. I showed my grandma Grams Exhibit A. got After a nod of approval, and downed ate the bite of egg.

“One more bite.she said victoriously, She eyeingd the perfectly round yellow glob left on my plate.

I stared at the egg. One more bite. I could do this. But how?

I flipped the egg over. The bottom of the egg was white, and I carefully peeled, and sliced, and pulled at the thin layeroff every scrap of white. Minutes later, I showed Grams my final and clinching Exhibit B: the second forkful.

She had on that face of “You technically did exactly what I asked even though you know this isn’t what I meant.” But she also had the eyes of, “OK, I’m a little impressed. and mMaybe I should reward cleverness?”

And, as is the case when it comes down to of face vs. eyes, the eyes won.

Down the hatch went Exhibit B, and down the trashcan went the Evil Yellow Egg Glob. (aka E.Y.E. In which case, the EYE did NOT win. It’s a little confusing, I know.)

Even with the addition of the completely unnecessary (and yet funny) sentence at the end, this drops the word count down to 231. That’s a decrease of 25%!  (Aside: It’s weird to have an exclamation point after a percent-sign, yes? Or is that just me?%)

Almost a quarter of the length cut down from just getting rid of unnecessary language! Crazy town! If you want to see the finished version of the Egg Story (without all the cross outs and green text), you can scroll to the bottom of this post.  But all the exciting stuff happens up here, to be honest. Like percentages and other punctuation getting together for a party which somehow feels like an overactive censor: %!%! %?!%. See? Exciting. Then again, you might find self actualization while scrolling that extra distance!

So, take a look at the final version below. What else would you cut or add back in?

What do you do when you’ve got to cut word count?


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Want more writing tips?

  • Check out the previous posts I’ve done on revision.
  • Or check out the Show Don’t Tell Learn By Example series.
  • If you have questions or suggestions, comment here or tweet it at the #pitchwars hashtag on Twitter!
  • Don’t want to scroll back up? Here’s the list of blogging mentees I mentioned earlier.

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Shiny finished version:

“Eat the rest of your egg,” argued Grams.

“I don’t like the yellow part.” I hadn’t yet learned the magic of ketchup.

“Two more bites, and you’re done, okay?” Grams’ face said: it’s not a question, so eat the stupid egg.

I stared at the egg with contemplative determination. I was just learning the fine line between literal interpretation and following the spirit of the law. It’s a dangerous place reserved for children who want to go swimming because technically it’s not a storm if there’s not lightning or thunder. (You can boil this conflict down to the word “technically” entering my vocabulary.)

I carefully sliced white bits from the sides, arranging it on the fork. I showed Grams Exhibit A. After a nod of approval, I ate the bite.

“One more.” She eyed the round yellow glob.

I stared at the egg. One more bite. I could do this.

I flipped the egg over. The bottom was white, and I peeled, sliced, and pulled at the thin layer. Minutes later, I showed Grams Exhibit B: the second forkful.

She had on that face of “You know this isn’t what I meant.” But she also had the eyes of, “OK, I’m a little impressed.”

And, as is always the case of face vs. eyes, the eyes won.

Down the hatch went Exhibit B, and down the trashcan went Evil Yellow Egg.


(hey there, folks who scrolled all the way down. This is just an extra “hey there” in case you didn’t find self-actualization on the way here. It’s a good consolation, right? And really, you’ve gotten three “hey there”s including this last one, so really you’re coming out ahead.)