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Monday, February 1, 2010

Editing: Expand

Sometimes we write out all we have to say and yet, it falls flat. There are several possible reasons for this, a major one being passion (or a lack of it), but first let’s just consider clarity and how you can expand your writing to make it come alive. (I think I’ll talk about passion in a separate blog.)

In this discussion on editing, we are going to play with strategies for expansion.

Description plays a major role in writing. You want your readers to experience something, not sit in a lecture hall and be told something. So as you write, you need to place yourself in the setting and experience it for the first time. As you actually experience the message in your writing, it will flow out of your mind and onto the paper so that your readers can also journey along with you.

I think that description is the first place to look at a piece of writing that you want to expand. So let’s start there.

Take a piece of writing you have already created and start by noting the word count. Our goal will be to double that. 1500 words is a good size for this activity.

Now, take a colored pen and circle all the nouns. Take another colored pen and circle all the verbs. With a third color, make notes in the margins to identify noun-like phrases and whole pieces of action.

Begin working through your piece taking one noun or noun phrase at a time and analyzing its presentation. Consider all the senses: Can you see it clearly? What sounds does it make or conjure up in your mind? What sort of smell would make it more vivid? Even inanimate objects have aspects that ignite feelings and emotions. Tap into those feelings. Taste is a difficult one, but can certainly be associated with even unlikely nouns. For example, disgust or deceit may be described as “bitter”. Then take that a step further – does the deceit of a lover cause a hot belch to explode in the back of the throat leaving the bitter taste of bile on the tongue?

Don’t hold back with the words and images that come to mind for fear of being disgusting or shocking or whatever. Instead, play with exaggerations as you bring each of your nouns to life. Be corny or silly; be horrifyingly shocking. It’s all OK, even necessary, as you trust your talent to breathe life into your work.

After you have gone through the nouns, do the same with the verbs. Add adjectives and adverbs before them; add more sentences full of more verbs that work like arrows pointing to the main action creating a choreography of movement in your scene. Even if it is a quiet, still scene you want to create, there are a thousand plus more ways to describe that.

Next, rework the whole piece adding and changing, expanding images and actions. Count the words and see if you doubled the count. Did you add even more than that? Then sit on it for a week before you reread it.

A week later, get comfortable and read your new work. Isn’t it fantastic!?

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