I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tweaking the Lines: Revising Your Writing

One of the fastest ways to flounder in writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, occurs when a writer thinks every word they write must be preserved in stone. Only the Ten Commandments merited that status.

We have erasers on pencils and delete keys on computers because almost every sentence we write can improve with a tweak or two. (Believe me, I’ve already used the delete key in the first three sentences!) The Ponderers boast of our own “evil editor”, Beth Vogt, who keeps her figurative red pen hovered over our blog. (We call her that with great affection, and I’m already wondering if two parenthetical statements in one paragraph will make the cut.)

Let me show you a few examples of taking a sentence and tweaking it into something better.

First try: He saw right through her. (Too commonplace.)

Tweaked: Her emotions were a glass house for him. (A little trite plus a being verb.)

Second tweak: The man used x-ray vision on her emotions. (Still didn’t sound quite right.)

Third tweak: The man read her, lingering over every emotional hue like a poet. (Better.)

Here’s another example.

1.  Ben knew involving his emotions was playing with fire. (Cliché.)

2. Involving his emotions, ranked right there with handing a 9-year-old boy a fist full of matches.
 (Same general metaphor, but a bit more vivid.)

I’ll show you one more example of some lines I’ve tweaked.

1. He clenched his teeth, prepared to get this over with.
2. He clenched his teeth, prepared to endure the storm with Lisa.
3. He clenched his teeth, prepared to last out Hurricane Lisa.
4. He clenched his teeth, prepared to brace for Hurricane Lisa

I’m not saying any of these sentences will win a Pulitzer, but I hope you can see an improvement. Most of the time, you should concentrate on revising sentences with "being" verbs and generic nouns. A strong action verb adds a spark of vitality to our sentences, and a specific noun zeros in on an exact picture.

I’d love for you to help me! Take any of the examples above and tweak it. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

~Teri Dawn Smith


  1. It's fun to see how you tweaked sentences to make them better, Teri. I'm trying to think on the fly with two kiddos talking around me. I'll have to come back and see if my creative juices are flowing then. :)

  2. Teri, we're thrilled to have you restored and with us again, on your way to many good things including some fine writing. Thank you, Lord!

  3. Love having you back on the blog, Teri. Yay! And I love your revisions!

    So, your request about tweaking one of the examples...on the Hurricane Lisa one...I'm always looking for ways to cut words. So, if I needed to cut words in that particular scene, that sentence could be revised to:

    "He clenched his teeth, bracing for Hurricane Lisa."

    Or, if I was trying to spice it up, make it more my voice...

    "He clenched his teeth, nerves screeching 'Evacuate!' But he couldn't avoid Hurricane Lisa forever."

    I don't think that's any "better," it's just my voice...which I think can be the challenge in revisions - cutting words if need be or picking stronger words, while protecting your unique voice...

  4. How fun, fun, fun to have you back with us, Teri! You are the MBT Ponderer Miracle!
    And I love Melissa's point: We have to account for Voice in our tweaking.

  5. Can't stay right now, but I'll return. Besides, it's going to take some doing to improve our your sentences!

    So glad to have you back, Teri!

  6. TERI! Welcome back! I love seeing how you've tweaked sentences to make them better.

    I'm at work, so I probably shouldn't do the fun tweaking exercise now, but I'll be thinking about it all day!

  7. Teri, seeing you on the blog and posting with such vivid clarity makes my heart rejoice. I praise God for his miracle in your healing.

    Using my voice, I may say something like this...

    Ben clenched his teeth, contemplating the storm brewing in Lisa's eyes. Where was the crew to rescue him from the approaching emotional hurricane?

  8. It's interesting to see how the different tweaks have different voices. For the emotional hue one, I could hear Susie's voice.

    Here's my tweak:
    He clenched his teeth and braced for Hurricane Lisa.

  9. Hey, I'm loving the tweaks. It's interesting how voice plays a part in each one.

  10. Would you like to tweak my entire manuscript??

  11. I'm baaaaccck.
    I'd probably say something like:
    He gritted his teeth. Time to batten down the hatches. Hurricane Lisa came in one force. Category Five.
    Teri, this is so fun!

  12. Nice, Pat! I really like that one!

  13. Teri,
    So very glad to have you back.

    Love the exercise. Its neat to see everyone's tweaks.

  14. I loved seeing how you made those lines come alive. I especially love the guy "bracing for Hurricane Lisa." A word or two really makes a huge difference.

    Thanks for the encouragement!

  15. Thanks, Patti! Isn't it fun?

  16. I really enjoyed this post! It has me thinking in different directions once again.