"My tongue is the pen of a skillful writer."

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Beauty in the Breakdown: Editing Description

When autumn arrives, I go into academic mode. Blame all those years of school when fall not only meant new things to wear, but new things to learn. With this concept in mind, we'll start September with the first installment of a series called Beauty in the Breakdown. It will cover how to edit various aspects of a story, starting with description, dialogue, narrative and scene.

Since these elements are common, we often take them for granted and don't make each word count, because we can still get by without each word saying exactly what we mean. Yet, it's increasingly important to be selective about what to keep and discard, because in this competitive environment more people are writing, but not everyone is writing well. So, here are reasons to perfect your craft: to distinguish yourself from other writers, learn about writing through your work, hone your editing senses, and improve your style and technique.

The best time to edit—whether it's description, dialogue or narrative—is after giving the work a rest. If you're editing your own work, paper is still a great way to see your writing from an outsider's perspective, as is reading it somewhere besides where you normally write. It's also important to look back over a section after you've finished the next. This provides a perspective you wouldn't have otherwise. While editing, slow down so that you can see—and hear—the words and phrases.

One of the commonest facets of fiction and nonfiction is description. Whether you're describing a place, an event or a character, description is everywhere, so much so that we often fail to view it critically. And a critical perspective, in the constructive sense, is key. If you catch your missteps, your work will be more highly regarded and more publishable. Description is important, too, because through your portrayal, you're asking the reader to trust you, and today more than ever that's a tall order. Still, trust is essential, and a writer must prove worthy of it. Look for more on editing description in the next post.

For a free online editing workshop, visit my website Adele Annesi.

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