Revising on a sentence level

Revising on a sentence level

The first draft of a novel is intensely difficult to write. You’re creating characters, plot, setting, dialogue, details, theme, and a host of other things at once. It has to hang together, and for any of it to work, it all has to work on at least a basic level. In a way, the better the writer gets, the harder it is to do because a good writer is aware of flaws a novice writer might miss.

That’s why I like revising. Once I have the whole first draft mess down, I can draw a deep breath and start making the book better. Sometimes the revisions are big. I add a whole scene or subplot. But many times they’re small.

Below are examples of small edits to a bit of The Trickster, the book I’m currently drafting about Dilly from The Wind Reader. The scene is between a father (Gavun) and a son (Fitch), who are smugglers. I’ll italicize the changes I made between versions 1 and 2 and explain why I made them. We’re in Fitch’s point of view.

Show character reactions, avoid clichés, and develop relationships

Version 1
Gavun loosened the drawstring, peered inside, and smiled broadly. “Loni is a boy after my own heart.”

Version 2
Gavun loosened the drawstring, peered inside, and smiled broadly. “Loni is blood of my blood all right.”

Fitch snorted.

Gavun raised an eyebrow. “What?”

“Nothing.” Fitch refused to be jealous of Loni.

Why I made these changes

“After my own heart” is a cliché and I wanted something more specific to the fantasy culture I’m creating. Elsewhere, I’d used the phrase “blood of my blood” to suggest the value Gavun and Fitch put on family, so I used it here.

The rest of the passage is new because Fitch needs to react to what his father says about Loni, who is his cousin. There’s tension between father and son here, and Fitch needs to notice that his father is praising someone else, not him.

Additionally, the relationship between Fitch and Loni is important, but Loni isn’t on stage much, so I need to take every chance I can to develop it, or at least Fitch’s half of it.

Reduce wordiness, make sure which characters know what

Version 1
“Some Fire I bought at the Blue Whale had an odd smell. Loni says that can’t be ours, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one of the other island kinships is smuggling bad stuff in.”

“What kind of odd smell?” Gavun walked to the shelves, pushed on the empty half of the top one, and stuck the bag in the space that opened behind it.

Fitch struggled to describe a smell. “Kind of flowery only drier. Less sweet. It’s an herb called Mage flower. It grows wild in Vaum.”

Version 2
“Some Fire I bought at the Blue Whale had an odd smell. Loni says it isn’t ours. Aren’t they buying from us anymore? Whose stuff is it?”

“What kind of odd smell?” Gavun walked to the shelves, pushed on the empty half of the top one, and stuck the bag in the space that opened behind it.

Fitch struggled to describe a smell. “Kind of flowery only drier. Less sweet. It’s an herb called Mage flower. It grows wild in Vaum. It makes people suggestible.”

Why I made these changes
The first change (from “it wouldn’t surprise me…” to “Aren’t they buying…”) incorporates wording from the section below this one, so it’s meant to cut wordiness. It also focuses in on what Fitch wants to know: who is supplying this herb?

“It makes people suggestible” is the heart of a situation that makes Fitch feel deeply guilty. As it happens, the reader would already know this by this point in the book, but I want the reader to know that Gavun knows it too because Fitch tells him right here.

Sound like the POV character, create subtext to indicate what a non-POV character is not saying flat out

Version 1
“Loni’s right,” Gavun said, back still to Fitch. “Our Fire’s good.”

“Are you still buying from the same people?” Fitch persisted.

Gavun turned around. “Yes, and I check what they give me. You think I’d let someone cheat me? It’s not ours, Fitch.”

Version 2
“Loni’s right that it isn’t ours.” Gavun moved the basket holding their mending in front of the hiding place. “I have no idea who else Evia might be buying from, curse her.” He turned around. “Another kinship is trying to undercut us. I’ll take care of it.

Why I made these changes
To me, “back still to Fitch” didn’t sound like Fitch would sound as he watched his father, so instead, I gave Gavun an action that would still suggest how he was turned.

There’s some rewording whose genesis I can’t remember, and then there’s “I’ll take care of it” to show that Gavun is trying to make Fitch stop thinking about the odd smelling drink.

Keep characters sending signals to one another

Version 1
Before Fitch could press, he added, “I wonder what the lord’s daughter is hiding. Let’s see what the man you replaced has to tell us.” He picked up the mask hanging on the back of his chair. “Where’s yours?”

Version 2

“Tell me if you find out who it is. Nera had some last year. That night…” Fitch cleared his throat. “The night she died, I told you I nudged her to do something exciting, but it was the Mage flower that left her open. I’m going to find the bastard who gave it to her and make him pay.”

Gavun shot him a look from under half-lowered lids. “No good comes of hanging on, Fitch. Let it go.” When Fitch opened his mouth, Gavun waved a dismissive hand. “I wonder what the lord’s daughter is hiding. Let’s see what the man you replaced has to tell us.” He picked up the mask hanging on the back of his chair. “Where’s yours?”

Why I made these changes
The italicized material in Version 2 is all new. I wanted Fitch to persist even when his father tries to put him off. And I wanted him to make his intention clear to Gavun.

Then I wanted Gavun to make another attempt to put Fitch off. (“No good comes of hanging on, Fitch. Let it go.”)

I realize these are tiny tweaks, but they’re among thousands of such tweaks I make when I revise. Characters need to react to events, especially point of view characters. Wordiness needs to be trimmed. The POV character needs to have desires and goals, so we know whether to cheer or groan as they go forward. Other characters (like Gavun) need to react to them and oppose their goals, even in subtle ways. It needs to be clear who knows what and how they learned it.

There’s no way I could control all that in a first draft. And that is why I love revising.


Finders Keepers (Zharmae 2015) by Dorothy A. Winsor is available in e-book and paperback. E-book only $3.99.
Amazon      Barnes and Noble      Indiebound

Twelve-year-old Cade discovers he’s a Finder, one able to sense the presence of precious heart stones, at the moment his mother is arrested for having the same ability. While trying to avoid contact with the potentially addictive stones, Cade sets out to rescue her, aided (maybe?) by a girl who wants Cade to help her steal every heart stone he can find.

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2 thoughts on “Revising on a sentence level

  1. Fascinating to see revisions at this level of detail, and their purpose — like a writing class! Thanks, Dorothy!

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