process, Revision, Writing Exercises

Expansion and Compression

TLDR: Revision (and small scale editing) is a process of  expansion/embellishment and compression/cutting.

The last two weeks I’ve talked about the Snowflake Method, essentially addressing high level planning and revision, but suppose you have written your story, ironed out logical inconsistencies, and your characters’ motivations are clear.

In that case it’s time for the nitty gritty editing.

My advice for fiction is going to parallel the advice for essay writing given here at Enchanting Marketing.

Step 1 is to find your focus, but that’s the revision process. That’s the Snowflake Method. That’s what came before.

Step 2 is to make your story flow smoothly, particularly by eliminating the pot holes of stray ideas.

Exercise 1: Revise the following paragraph for flow.

Nobody knew what to do. The king had sent horses and men, but they couldn’t find enough pieces. Even if they had found the pieces, what could they do? There was egg yolk splattered all over the pavement. What a mess. Humpty could not be put back together again.

Step 3 is to add substance. The author of the Revision Process in Writing post says that “Writing is a process of expansion and shrinkage.”

This resonates with me. Each revision pass I make either balloons the word count, or slims it down and I think both are vital. Step 2 (editing for flow) is a narrowing, shrinking, and removal pass. Step 3 is an expansion pass. In this step you should fill in details of the world, embellish the dialogue. Go wild. You can (and will probably have to) double back to step 2. That’s ok.

Exercise 2: Add substance to the following paragraph. Also notice how I revised it for flow since the previous draft.

There was egg yolk splattered all over the pavement. The king’s horses and men couldn’t find enough pieces to put Humpty back together again.

Step 4 is sentence by sentence editing. This is where the magnifying glasses come out and you worry about little things like sentence length, word choice, rhythm, and transitions. Reading out loud is immensely helpful for step 4.

Exercise 3: Revise the following paragraph for sentence length, word choice, and rhythm. Also notice how I added substance since the previous exercise.

There was egg yolk splattered all over the pavement and rot had already set in and the smell of sulfur hung in the air. The men had to reign their horses to pull their noses from the pavement as the horses sniffed curiously at the mess. The captain of the king’s men ordered everyone to fan out and search for pieces of the deceased, then bring those pieces back to him. The captain collected a few paltry pieces of egg shell, glistening with snotty albumen. The pieces were a jigsaw puzzle beyond their ability to solve. Humpty was one puzzle that would never be put back together again.

Step 5 is proofreading. This is the step in which grammar and spelling errors are addressed.

The most important things to remember are:

  1. You will work most efficiently if you start from the most important and largest issues and work steadily towards the smallest, least important issues.
  2. Writing is a process of expansion and compression. Fill up the text with all your favorite embellishments, then cut away everything but the lean muscle.
  3. Revision is cyclical, not linear. You can and should double back to earlier steps.

Thank you for reading. I hope you found this useful. Good luck and keep writing!


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