Revision: Sentence by Sentence

September 23, 2009

This is a great exercise to strengthen your writing skills a sentence at a time.  The idea is to pick a random sentence and pull it out of context to see what it reveals and how it can be improved.  Here’s the process: 

Either grab the book nearest you or go to your own manuscript:

*Turn to page 56.
*Find the fifth sentence.
*What do you notice about this sentence? 

*What can you do to improve this sentence?

I pulled the following sentence from my novel:  Between Shadow’s Eyes

I’d worn sweat pants to bed, so I only needed to pack a few items and pull on my coat. 

What I noticed about this sentence was that it revealed alot of information:

1).  The reader knows what type of clothing the narrator is wearing.

2).  It is probably nightime.  Not only does the narrator indicate that she has worn sweat pants to bed, but she intends to pull on her coat. 

3).  The narrator is in a hurry.  She doesn’t want to take the time to change and she doesn’t intend to take all her belongings.

4).  It is cold outside since she thinks about grabbing a coat.

How can the sentence be improved?

1).  The reader knows what type of clothing the narrator is wearing, but not the color or condition.  Notice the additional information in the revised sentence.

I’d worn my old gray sweat pants to bed, so I only needed to pack a few items, grab a flashlight, and pull on my coat.

2). It is also possible it is early morning.  By including that she is taking a flashlight, the reader will know it is nightime.

I’d worn my old gray sweat pants to bed, so I only needed to pack a few items, grab a flashlight, and pull on my coat. 

3).  The narrator is in a hurry but we don’t know why.

I’d worn my old gray sweat pants to bed, so I only needed to pack a few items, grab a flashlight, pull on my coat, and sneak out before  Psycho Woman woke up.

4.  The weather is not critical and actually detracts from the main point so that it diffuses the tension.  With the addition of the flashlight, “pull on my coat” is not vital information.

Revised sentence:

I’d worn my old gray sweat pants to bed, so I only needed to pack a few items, grab a flashlight, and sneak out before  Psycho Woman woke up.

Note how the addition of detail, particularly adding the narrator’s motivation, coupled with the removal of extraneous information, increased the tension in this sentence.

Try this with  your own novel or even a published book.  It’s a great writing exercise.