Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Writing Tips & Practice: Rephrasing

crumpled paper

One of the most valuable tools in a writer's kit is revision. Any old master will tell you: Writing is only half the battle.

But what is the process of revision? From the highest level to the lowest, it means revisiting what you've written to ask at every possible point: Is this the right thing to say?

Of course, the first place to look is at the idea itself. Does it mean the right thing? Is it worth saying?

Once you've settled that, it's time to decide whether you've expressed that idea adequately. Ask if the medium and format are the best way, and whether you actually came across the way you meant to.

After you know you've said what you wanted to, it's time to start refining that aspect — not changing it.

This is a matter of knowing multiple different ways to say the same thing and also of knowing the subtle differences each variation lends to the whole.

In painting, this consists of things like hue, tone, and shade. In music, it's timbre, tempo, and intensity. In other words, this is where you sweat the small stuff.

Just like in painting and music, there are simple exercises you can practice to improve this skill.

First: read. A lot. Read as much as possible. You'll need to have a lot of knowledge about how other people say things before you can know how other people are going to relate to your writing.

Next: write something. Anything. A sentence, a paragraph, a whole story. (If you're on that much of a roll, I wouldn't dare stop you for a bit of exercise.) Got the writing out of your system? Now rewrite it, but don't repeat yourself. Say it differently. Need an example?

  1. The quick, brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
  2. A speedy fox, in broad daylight, hopped right over that sleepy pooch, an audacious taunt to the old wretch.
  3. As the hound dreamt of chasing chickens 'round the coop, the crafty fox barely disturbed the air as it hopped overhead.

The same message three different ways. Each variation changes how the sentence itself reads, but it also sets a tone for what we expect to hear from the rest of the story. The first is terse and tells an abrupt description. The rest will likely be dry and quick. The second is an editorialized narrative that betrays a penchant for verbose storytelling. The third provides a more objective view of things with minimal judgment and maximal detail.

There's no goal for quality in this exercise; it's equally important to know what it feels like when you're writing bad prose as it is to know the opposite. Just write three different versions of the same message. Keep in mind that you want a reader to provide the same summary for all three but have a different experience every time.

You can write whatever you want, but here are some samples you can refer to for a quick start if you're having writer's block:

  • Stephanie stepped over the broken glass slowly, carefully placing her toes where she couldn't see any shards.
  • Usually when the winds were this strong, the roofers weighed the risks versus the rewards. This time the late start to the season made the rewards seem a whole lot heavier.
  • Contrary to popular opinion, a shot of espresso does not typically contain more caffeine than a cup of coffee.
  • "There's no way in hell you're getting me on that boat," she said, wrapping her arm around the dock post.
  • Jesus wept.

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1 comment:

  1. Peace and Blessings Andrew,

    Thanks for sharing as always... :)