Monday, August 3, 2009

The Self-Editor

One way to improve as a writer is to improve as an editor—an editor of our own work. So, we're going to take the time to put our skills to practice. Right now, we'll learn how to spot weaknesses in copy. This way we'll be better equipped to recognize it in our own manuscripts, and it'll jumpstart us on the details of "craft."

Please show us how to improve the following opening taken from a historical novel (488 words). This is from my own work and I messed it up real good for you. "Ouch." In the end, I'll show you the final draft. Trust me, it's much better! Yes, this is my pride speaking.

Be sure to read the How to give feedback link for pointers.

Looking forward to your responses!


The Master's Wall

Chapter One

Rome, 76 A.D.

David walked very quietly along the dark street. Those terrible soldiers had taken his parents. The soldiers had dragged them out of their home.

Now David was following them. Where would the soldiers take his parents, he wondered. He felt like crying. He felt so scared.

Maybe he could get help, he thought. The family friend, Manius, might be able to help. David knew Manius would know what to do.

Voices echoed through the dark street. David stopped in his tracks and pressed his back against the wall of a nearby apartment. He shivered with fear. He saw a shadow. A rat ran across the large stones through the empty street. David jumped.

David sighed with relief, then he slowly peaked around the wall. His whole body trembled and quivered as he gripped the brick wall of the apartment. That's when David saw that three soldiers were standing over his parents in the small street.

One of the soldiers pushed Mamma forward. She tripped and fell against Abba who caught her, and she held on with her fists to his tunic. Abba helped her up and held her against him, but another soldier jerked them apart.

David felt very angry. He hated the way those soldiers were treating his parents. They acted like his parents were criminals, but they weren't.

David saw a soldier whip out chains and jingle them in front of Mamma's face, laughing. David could tell his mamma was scared of that mean soldier. But he didn't know what to do.

David heard the soldier chuckle as he knelt to bind Mamma's ankles, while another soldier held her arms securely behind her back. It hurt and she bit her lip to keep from screaming.

David hoped Abba would do something. Abba had to save Mamma. But now Abba's arms were bound behind his back.

David continued to watch as the soldier locked the shackles into place on Mamma's ankles. The bad man then ran his fingers up Mamma's leg, pulling her stola up to reveal her thigh. "Nice," the soldier said softly.

"Let her go!" Abba screamed and pushed away from a soldier. "She has nothing to do with this!"

David watched the third soldier run over and hold Abba back. "Oh, really?" the soldier said. "That's not what we heard." He motioned toward the man touching Mamma and shouted, "Aulus, shouldn't convicts pay the full penalty for their crimes?"

"Oh, yes," Aulus whispered. He smiled and continued to touch Mamma, to touch her in places David had never seen Abba touch her. He touched her too much and he touched her everywhere.

Stop, he thought. David clenched his teeth. Stop touching her right now.

The mean, wicked, burly soldier's hands touched her all over her. It scared her.

David knew someone had to stop him. But no one else was around to help.

No one but David, so he ran straight for the soldier. "Get away from her!"

All work posted on this blog is under copyright protection.


  1. A commendable idea for a post/posts. There is no doubt that it will be useful to many, including myself. I shall return when I have a tad more time to devote to it. Excellent.

  2. Without rewriting I would say ONE of the big issues here is you don't go into deep POV. Drop the THOUGHT, FELT, WONDERED. Put them into questions to himself or SHOW his feelings instead of saying he felt angry show the feeling. Your doing way too much telling and not enough showing in this. And I'll let the next poster take it from there. Great Job Sandi!!

  3. The little snippet is well done, except for a few things I saw. I take it this is in first person, where his thoughts and fears are allowed. The second paragraph where he thought about Manius, his thoughts should be after he introduced Manius. Did they really have apartments in that time? Wouldn't they be houses? If this is first person, how did he know his mother was scared? "She jumped and had a frightened look on her face." He could not feel how she felt. The part where "touched her all over her." One of the her's should be eliminated. Also, there is a lot of David's name used. I know we don't need a lot of "he" but we can go too far with a name.
    You asked for this Sandi. I hope I was not too brutal.

  4. Thank you everyone for your responses. :-)

    Katt, not too brutal at all! This is the idea. It's one way to learn. And remember, I rewrote this poorly on purpose. So you won't hurt my feelings.

    Keep at it folks. There's a lot more to find.


  5. Hey, Sandi, this is a great blog! Wishing you all the best with it!


  6. neat idea for a blog! i'll have to check back often to see what all tips you give. :)

  7. Hey, this is like "Where's Waldo" for writers!
    Here's some "Waldos" I found:

    1. The word "David" is repeated 18 times.

    2. You don't say who the terrible soldiers are in the first paragraph.

    3. Lots of telling. He felt this, he felt that.

    4. peaked should be "peeked."

    5. whip out chains (cliche and modern terminology).

    6. Which soldier is Aulus? It isn't clear. I assume Aulus is the mean wicked burly soldier, am I right?

    I'm sure there's more.

  8. Great job, JS!

    And yes, there's lots more.

    Anybody else want to try?

    Have at it!

  9. This is a good beginning of a story. Let me add two things I noticed in addition to the great criticism you already have above:

    The word "very" is unnecessary. Eliminate it and find stronger verbs.

    Also be careful of "was" or any form of "to be." These tend to result in passive sentences, not action ones that you need in this section. Replace the "wases" again with action verbs. You'll have to rearrange the sentence and it's a bit more work but results in stronger writing.

    Keep it up!

  10. Thank you, Bonnie! Great catches. Excellent. You came close to it, Bonnie. There's still one snag that no one has caught yet. Anyone want to give it a shot?