Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Editing Paragraphs

I've been editing my manuscript this past week and it has been difficult. I admit I don't see my problems like I should, especially when it comes to paragraph structure.

My father is an author, editor, and ghost writer in the CBA market and he graciously edited my first four chapters when I finished my first manuscript. It was a lot of work for him and since he usually has many deadlines himself, I asked him to stop and get his own work finished. Poor guy, he was really nice in his edits, but he had a lot of things to say. Here is what he said about my paragraphs:

What I’m trying to do here is give your sentences more elegance, more connectivity to each other, and a little more drama. The sentences need a certain balance and rhythm. I can’t clearly describe what I mean, but you will develop an ear for it. Sometimes it helps to say your sentences as you put them down. 
Hhhmm, that's a little vague, isn't it? As a new writer, how am I supposed to know what it is supposed to sound like? I'm reading through my work as I edit and for the most part and thoroughly enjoying myself. So what does he mean? Well, he went on and gave me questions to ask myself as I write, or in my case, edit. 

Are they as expressive as they could be? 
Could the verbs and nouns be more vivid without going over the edge? 
On the other hand, have I used meaningless, unnecessary words in order to achieve rhythm and balance? 
Does this sentence sound a little trite? 
Do the sentences feel balanced?
Does this sentence end too abruptly? 
Is it constructed so that the action it describes is sequenced correctly? 
Have I repeated words or phrases (other than “and”, “the”, etc.) that I used in sentences close by? 
Does the sentence build toward its climax or trail off, diluting the meat of the sentence? 
Am I showing or merely telling? 
Are all the actions and words consistent with the personality and deeper motivations of the characters? 
Are all their actions and words rationally motivated? 

There’s a lot to think about in constructing each paragraph and each sentence within it. I'm sure it takes several passes through your work to see all the problems it has, and even then you will probably miss some! But hopefully, this list of questions will help you focus as you edit.


Heather Sunseri said...

That's a great list, Sherrinda.

"Is it constructed so that the action it describes is sequenced correctly?"

That one sticks out to me because my husband is always circling a phrase at one end of a sentence and moving it to the beginning, or a sentence at the end of a paragraph and drawing a line to where it should be. It always sounds better when he does that.

Are you editing the manuscript you thought about abandoning? I bet you are learning a lot, b/c editing has forced me to learn so much more about the actual craft than if I were to just write another first draft.

Katie Ganshert said...

Wow - great stuff today Sherrinda! I love that you shared these questions. I'm going to bookmark this post!

Krista Phillips said...

Love the questions! Definitely useful!!!

I do think SOME of paragraph structuring is you voice, and it will be different for everyone. It's even different in parts of your book (high action might have more short, choppy sentences, for example)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Heather, I know exactly what you mean. When my dad edited my first few chapters, there were sooo many sentences where he moved the end to the front. It was amazing how much better it sounded!

Katie, thanks for the tweet! I find these questions invaluable as I am editing, though I confess, to not "seeing" what I should anyway. :)

Krista, you make a good point. I know I was questioned about my short paragraphs. I tried to explain that today, readers don't want to get bogged down in the long expositionary paragraphs. They like action and an "easy on the eye" look.

Casey said...

Great post, Sherrinda. :) It must be helpful having an editor in the family. ;)

Jody Hedlund said...

That's an excellent list, Sherrinda! What wonderful wisdom from your dad! Thanks for sharing it!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Casey, it would be more helpful if I utilized him more. He's so busy with work, I don't have the heart to ask him to help me. :)

Tana said...

This is terrific! I'm guilty of using extra words just to create a rhythm I do love that though. Thanks for the tips!

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

First, as a word of encouragement....since you clearly don't abuse your father's gift...consider that he loves helping you. Our kids never get to old to need our help. You've put a twinkle in his eye:)
Second, editing can be mindboggling. Sometimes I feel lost and can't figure out what else I need to do. Your list will come in handy. Thanks:)
Great post!

Jill Kemerer said...

Thank you for sharing this. I know what he means about saying your sentences. When I read my work out loud, I always catch sentences that need to be restructured.

Jessica Nelson said...

Oh my goodness! I'm so jealous he's your dad!!! :-)
Great advice. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Jan Cline said...

Terrific advise. This is a check list I will keep!

patti said...

What a great list. Natasha my agent has a similar one.
But often I don't "see" the flaws in my own work...
So I need a checklist for a checklist???!!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Thanks for the list. Editing presents many challenges. Any help to tame that beast is most welcome.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Thanks, ladies! I know I am extremely lucky to have my dad. He is brilliant. :)