Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cracking Open Words and Phrases

Week of July 24—Revision Strategies that Work!
Wednesday, July 27—Cracking Open Words and Phrases

When we revise we do not so much revise the page as revise our thinking, our feeling, our memory, ourselves—who we are.
—Donald Murray, The Craft of Revision, 3rd Edition, p. 1

In her book, Revision Toolbox, Georgia Heard talks about the concept of cracking open words, phrases, and sentences to get to the real meaning . . . the picture, the heart, the real message, our thinking, our feelings, our memories, our ourselves. Think about cracking open an egg . . .

cracking open a geode . . .

cracking open a mysterious door.

In each case, cracking open the known reveals the unknown. And, in most cases, it leads to something better, more exciting, more useful, more colorful, more surprising. Often in our manuscripts—especially early drafts—we may have non-descriptive words, phrases, and sentences that need to be cracked open and elaborated to really get to the good part. COnsider tehse rather boring sentences:

·   It was a pretty morning.
·   He was a good boy.
·   The food was good.
·   It was a surprise.

These are all telling sentences and we know that good writing shows and does not tell. And even though they tell, they sure don't tell much. The reader is left with questions and uncertainty because of a lack of details. When we crack open words and phrases we're trying to get to the show of the sentence. The process is easy. When you find a word, phrase, or sentence that tells, stop; envision the person, place, or thing; and give words to what you see in your mind. Then use the words that describe what you envision as you rewrite. Let me show you some examples and let you practice a couple of examples, too.

What I Envision
Cracked Open Rewrite
It was a pretty morning.
·        Sun/clouds
·        Palms/sway
The palms swayed as the sun rose in the cloudy sky.
He was a good boy.
·        Trevor
·        A boy scout
·        Trustworthy
Trevor was as good as a boy scout (and just as trusthworthy).

Now it’s your turn. Try cracking open some sentences yourself.

What You Envision
Cracked Open Rewrite
The food was good.

It was a surprise.

The two best keys for cracking open words, phrases, and sentences are specific word choices and sensory details. Now let’s be honest, as picture book writers we don’t have the luxury of writing a 60-word paragraph describing the rising sun like a novelist might. However, we still have the responsibility to show and not tell. We also have the responsibility to fill our books with the best words that can weave our writing into memorable stories.

Don’t feel that you have to use a form or format (like the one above) when cracking open words, phrases, and sentences. Once you’re conscious of cracking open your writing, you’ll find the approach that works for you.

It’s Your Turn!
1. Read through one of your manuscripts. Underline each word, phrase, or sentence that tells or that lacks description. Choose one or two of these words, phrases, or sentences to crack open and see what the results are. Continue cracking open your writing until it shows instead of tells.

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