Monday, May 25, 2009

Winning Writing + Edits = Learning Opps

*Y'all know by now the graphic above expresses the opposite of my way of thinking, but just wanted to mention in case you're new 'round here. And if so, welcome!

Good morning, boys and girls. Ms. Ledbetter hopes you are having a fine day away from "school," and that you are remembering to celebrate the important meaning of Memorial Day here in America. Whilst you gaze upon the smoke rising from your barbeque pits, please take a moment to think of/pray for our military men and women and their families. Thank you. :)

The last word on the Gumbo Writer Writing Contest is that I think it was a great experience for everyone, but I realize I may be a tad prejudiced in my thinking. I know I benefited by reading your awesome entries. Getting to see examples of good word-crafting reinforces the importance in my own writing. Looking over Nannette's edits of Barb's and Michelle's work reminded me too of the necessity of sharp eyes and editing pencils. It also made me feel good we made some of the same comments to the submissions. And I think everyone (submitters and readers alike) learned a bit about what sets great writing apart. Hopefully, we see that we must put our writing out into the world, even when it hurts. That's the only way we can grow and improve.

Sooooo, here are the winners' work again, with permission, and Nannette's line editing comments. Please enjoy. And are subject to a pop quiz at any time. *snirk*

Note: No need to click on the editing markers within the work itself. They are spelled out fully beneath each piece!

Let me know if you found this post helpful, so I can make plans for future contests!

Edit of Michelle's ~~~~~ [removed by request of author]

Edit of Barb's short story extract~~

This is a very nicely written excerpt of historical fiction. Writers of historical fiction need to walk a fine line, telling readers who may not be familiar with an era or incident what they need to know without sounding pedantic. You do this very well by pulling your readers right into the time period with small hints. “The guard” calls her name. The ship is a “a prison” they took with them. From what I read, I wasn’t totally sure of the situation. I guessed they might be traveling to Australia? But this is just an excerpt from the story, and I’m sure that becomes clear further on. In the meantime, you create tension and pique readers’ interest right from the beginning by telling us that the main character doesn’t want to be identified as a Clegg.

One thing you want to watch out for is overuse of the verb “to be.” “Is” and “was” can’t be eliminated entirely, but the standard structure of subject and verb “to be” feels draggy and bland if used too much. You can punch things up a bit by varying sentence structure and using stronger, more active verbs.

Overall, though, this is a worthy submission deserving of first place. You’ve made me very curious about the rest of the story.

Extract from a short story

I had never met the sea. I didn’t know that the land just stopped with nothing until the rocks and water below[NC1] . And the sound. It was like thunder at ground level rather than high above. I was afraid of it but I wouldn’t let it show.[NC2] Walked with my head up and my steps measured. Clean I was, when I entered that ship.[NC3]

Not that I knew a body[NC4] . When the guard called my name from his list, there was no one to recognise me. But it wasn’t loneliness that settled on me, it was relief. Now I could leave things. I didn’t have to be one of those Cleggs, said with a certain look[NC5] . I could keep clean and private[NC6] .

It was trouble for me at first. Being on this floating dungeon, a prison that we took with us. The sickness rolled through me, but vomiting at the railing made things worse[NC7] . Every time I looked down in the grey waters I realised there was nothing holding me.nothing held me. This ship was nothing to the sea. If the planks of wood were gone, I would be falling without end.Only planks of wood came between me and falling without end[NC8] .

The days had a deep rhythm[NC9] . I was woken by the growing heat below decks, the light not reaching down there. At first I walked the decks avoiding others. But then I heard more food was given to those who worked. When one of the guards came looking for a midwife I presented myself. I know it had only been lambs, but birthing is all the same[NC10] .

It was a different life with the free settlers. They had lanterns and sheets and meat without slime.[NC11] Some evenings I allowed myself to dream that it could be so for me. I started to wonder about a future and how it would be on the land. Maybe I could find myself a man. One who was weak and who could be driven. One who was foolish enough for my needs. A weak man, who could be driven. One foolish enough for my needs.

I birthed their babes. I cleaned them up and made them soup. All the time I was watching their men folk, looking for the links and discovering who belonged where. I gained a name as a healer and people were askingasked for me. What I didn’t know, I guessed. It was clearI learned that broth and sleep could help most things. I lost a few but that was expected. Wrapped in their cloaks we lowered them into the sea.

Sometimes a coin was pressed into my hand [NC12] and I sewed it into my hem. Feeling them brush my ankles as I walked, I wondered what it would cost to buy my way out. It was while dreaming on the deck like this, that I heard the end of it. ‘Why that’s Clegg. She knows the future. A true caulbearer.’ I could have sobbed at those words. The gig was up and I had to go back to being me.[NC13]

[NC1] Great introductory line and very evocative.

[NC2] This is what I referred to in my critique. Two sentences in a row start with a pronoun followed by “was.” Think about varying the structure and/or employing stronger verbs. E.g. Instead of “I was afraid” you could say, “I feared it” or “It caused fear in me.” Especially in the first paragraph, you want to establish a stronger voice with your readers.

[NC3] Maybe a comma here, to make it read better?

[NC4] Love the use of vernacular. A great way to tell us who this woman is.

[NC5] Terrific. I love the way you keep putting out a little more line before you reel us in.

[NC6] I like the use of the word “clean.” We can’t help but wonder what it means in this context.

[NC7] These are the kind of sentences you want. “The sickness rolled over me” is a great way to describe sea-sickness.

[NC8] A s noted in my introductory letter, I’m not saying these are the exact words you should use. These are just examples of how you could punch up these sentences to greater effect.

[NC9] Deep rhythm works with the image of the sea. Also the next sentence is one of those where the verb “to be” works. You don’t need to strike it from every single sentence. Too many strong verbs and convoluted sentences can be over-kill.

[NC10] This confused me a little . On first reading I thought she was being asked to birth lambs.

[NC11] This says it all.

[NC12]This is another sentence where it works.

[NC13] Now we know who he Cleggs are. This is good.


Jessica said...

Wow, this is super helpful! I loved that you had a contest. Both these comments and the ones on my entry were great! Thank you both so much!

Deb Shucka said...

This was so helpful and wonderful to read. It's always a gift to get to experience the editing process - even with someone else's work. Maybe even better with someone else's work because my emotions aren't attached.

I would love to be able to read both pieces rewritten.

Thanks, Angie, for doing this. I always love it when you're in teacher mode.

Nannette said...

Wow Angie, this post is a tech miracle! Way cool! Gotta say, I'm glad my editing style includes positive comment cuz otherwise there wouldn't be much to these edits.

Also, I was right about Australia (pays to know your history). Barb kindly sent me the rest of the piece from which this was excerpted.

What a joy these two were to read, and all the other subs too. Thanks again for including me.

Lady Glamis said...

This is awesome to see the edits! I loved both of your comments on my piece, and plan to make a few changes soon. This whole contest has been amazing! I do hope it helps others see how edits can work for the author. Ultimately, it's up to the writer what to do, but getting different angles and opinions is invaluable!

Anonymous said...

This was most helpful. Sometimes, no matter how many rewrites from the author, another set of eyes can tweak the piece for clarity to make it extraordinary. Thanks again for the contest and your valuable input.

B.J. Anderson said...

Congrats to the the two winners and thanks for putting your stuff out there! It was a great learning experience!

Angie Ledbetter said...

Jessica, glad you enjoyed. :)

LOL, Deb. You can take the woman outta the classroom...

Nannette, thanks for lending us your expertise. And as far as techy accomplishments, I lucked out. Just copied and pasted from the Word doc straight into a post. Wheeeee!

You are so right, Lady G. Getting a consensus from trusted readers helps point us in the right direction, but only we as the originators know the destination. :)

I agree, ageffert. Sometimes others see what we miss. And you're welcome.

B.J. glad you got something out of the contest!

Barb said...

Thanks once again Angie and Nannette. It was great to be a part of this and to get your input.

jinksy said...

I'd like to read the original next to the edited version too, so it'd be a direct comparison...

Terri Tiffany said...

I loved reading the edits and comments! this whole contest was very very helpful for sure. Thank you again!

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