Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Let's Edit a Story, Part 2!

Here’s another look at the story discussed in my previous post, with a little more information added. (Remember, major editing will wait until the story is fully roughed out.) 

 The day my mother put on Dad’s work boots, our life changed. I held my hair up off my sweaty neck and peered out the dusty glass. Mom stomped through the muddy yard, carrying a rusty hammer and cardboard sign on a wood stick pointed at the end. 

Here’s my take on this rough start of a story: The repetitive rhythm of adjective-noun and repeat, is annoying. 

Sweaty neck 

Dusty glass 

Muddy yard 

Rusty hammer 

Cardboard sign 

Wood stick 

Break the pattern. Keep a couple adjectives and kill the rest, or arrange the sentence differently. 

Which adjectives to keep, and which to lose? We can assume the character is hot, or she wouldn’t be holding up her hair. We guess without being told that her neck is sweaty. Cut sweaty. Next, a dusty window reveals something about the house and/or the people living there. Maybe it has to do with the amount of time for cleaning the family has, that they’ve been gone a while, or something about their priorities. We get an idea about the place just by the mud in the yard and the dust on the window. Those details create mood. For now, I’d keep muddy and dusty. 

 Mom stomped through the muddy yard, carrying a rusty hammer and cardboard sign on a wood stick pointed at the end. Look at this. Too many images weaken the focus. I’d omit the highlighted part highlighted. It’s awkward, and when you read about someone carrying a hammer and a cardboard sign, you’ll assume the sign can be hammered to stand in the ground. Don’t waste words creating an image the reader will get, anyway. 

Now we are left with Mom stomped through the muddy yard carrying a rusty hammer and cardboard sign. I doubt if deleting the word rusty will affect the story. Get rid of rusty for now, but you may grab it later if you decide the hammer being rusty is important. Also, consider the word cardboard. You can bet that if the sign is elaborate, the fancy details would be mentioned. Otherwise, it probably doesn’t matter if it’s made of cardboard, tag board, or a sharp scrap of metal. Wanting to know what the sign says is what will keep us reading. House for sale? Eggs for sale? Free stuff? Everything must go? 

Last, change glass to window, because dusty glass could be that of a china hutch. Here, it’s best to be specific. 

Before continuing the story, consider the fact that Mom stomped through the yard. No grace in her walk here. This might suggest she’s in a specific mood. Maybe what the sign says explains that mood. Chances are, after you’ve made these changes, you’ll see something else needing attention. For instance, in––I held my hair up from my neck and peered through the dusty window. Mom stomped through the muddy yard, carrying a hammer and cardboard sign––there’s an echo on the word through. 

Echoes are repeated words that do not sound lyrical. They sound loud and distracting. The text could read, Mom stomped across the muddy yard … 

Write and edit along with me. Watch for new lines and edits in two weeks. Until then, happy writing! Also, I’d like to use your work for future posts. Young writers welcome! Send me your family-friendly short story for a free edit. Use the little envelope icon in the right margin to contact me. Stories 300-1200 words will work best. No picture books, please, and let me know if you are under 18. 

Note to readers: I recommend finishing a story before tackling any major editing. Look for the biggies first––weak character arcs, pacing problems, voice, and plotting problems––before weeding out extra words and accidental rhymes. It makes no sense to labor over a page you eventually delete. For learning purposes, we’ll do some minor line editing on this story as we go along and developmental editing once we have a beginning, middle and end.


  1. You have really taught me a lot!

    1. Sorry to reply so late, but I'm glad that last post was helpful to you.

  2. Great eye, Deb. I have been having a hard time getting into a reading rhythm recently, and much of the issue is, I think, the overuse of adjectives, and just too many words to describe something. Less is more. I think you make great points above. Cut, cut, cut to just what is needed to get the point and image across. And, as you say, get the draft done first. Thank you.

    1. Honestly, I often think the problem comes when we focus so hard on only getting the point and image across that we forget we also have to establish mood with these few chosen words. So then we add more words for mood. It's always a tough call to know when it's too much and when it's not enough.