Revising a Narrative


Now that NaNoWriMo is over, a LOT of people are revising the novels they just finished writing. Revising is a difficult skill to teach. I’ve told students that revising is changing the words to make it better. That helps them understand, but it really doesn’t tell them what to do.

I’ve heard of teachers who tell students to write down the first word of every paragraph looking for too many repetitions, or to count the words in each sentence to make sure there are both long and short sentences. Nothing kills a joy of writing faster than these drills.

The reality is that most writers have a hard time looking at their writing objectively. It’s very clear in your head, so why isn’t the reader getting it? Or you write a scene you love that doesn’t further the story. It hurts to cut them out. What all writers need is an honest voice to give them feedback. In the classroom, I use the students’ peers to do this. They read each other’s stories and tell the author what works as well as what doesn’t. They’ve all written their own novels, so they have a good feel for missing description or unclear dialogue. Notes the reader makes on the story are very helpful to the author.

It’s also important for the author to distance themselves from the novel for awhile. Wait until the pressure of finishing and the euphoria of completion have faded. You will be in a much better position to revise. I catch myself wondering why in the world I ever thought that chapter was done!

When you are revising, it’s difficult to tell when you are finished. In reality, you are never finished. It can always be made better. It’s your piece, though, so you have to decide when it’s good enough to turn in. With students, I have to train them to raise their personal expectations a bit higher. Otherwise, they would turn it in with zero revisions!

I tell my students that I spent seven years revising and rewriting my first book. If I ask them to revise a story again, I don’t want to hear any complaining!

Teaching Writing

Teaching Writing in Elementary School


Children enter kindergarten loving school. They eagerly begin learning their alphabet and look forward to writing their name. By the time they reach sixth grade, they groan when the teacher says, “Take out your pencil and three pieces of binder paper.” Somewhere along the line, writing has become a dreaded chore. Something has killed the joy. My goal is to make my students’ eyes light up when I assign a new piece of writing. I want them to be eager for the challenge.

When learning to write, children are expected to go from learning to write their name to sentences, paragraphs, then multi-paragraph essays fairly quickly. By sixth grade they are expected to be able to organize their ideas and express them coherently with correct grammar. Along the way, there are many possibilities for a student to experience failure. As anyone knows, the more you fail at something, the less you like it.

ORGANIZATION OF IDEAS…..When a student first learns to write multiple paragraphs, they are usually handed a format to use. By sixth grade, they have different formats for narrative, persuasive, response to literature, summary, and expository. Some of them are so busy worrying about what format to use that they lose sight of the goal: to communicate their ideas on the assigned topic. Maybe instead of teaching format we should teach them to think. Discuss the topic, get them riled up, then let them write. If they are truly trying to get across an idea, it will be organized enough to understand their point.

EXPRESS THEM COHERENTLY…..After a child learns the basics of writing, they are told to ‘make it better,’ often with no specific instruction how to do that. Teachers teach a variety of strategies (transitions, choosing better words, specific sentence structure). Students get frustrated when they use a thesaurus and pick the wrong part of speech. Their sentences become convoluted when they try to twist them into a certain format. They add extra words and bigger words in order to ‘make it better.’ Often, their ideas are lost.

GRAMMAR…..My own students will tell you that I am a stickler for grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Teachers have a habit of marking up an essay in red and handing it back. Students look at the grade and are happy or disappointed. They don’t look at the markups, especially if there are a lot. No one holds them accountable for improving. When they have some program of Daily Oral Language (DOL), instruction targets certain grammar rules. Very rarely, though, do students translate that to their own writing.

So what’s the solution? Practice. Just like any sport or musical instrument, the more they practice the easier the task becomes. When students master the first steps of writing, they can move on to learn new skills. Frequent practice keeps old and new skills sharp. Positive feedback is a must, even if it means letting go of marking some errors this time around. Work on clarity for one assignment and when that’s achieved move on to run-on sentences.

I strongly believe that all students can enjoy writing and do it well. It is a form of communication that must be learned. It drives me crazy when I get a promotional flyer with misspellings or see a sign with a missing comma. (Check out my DOL page) I’m frustrated myself when a student gives up and turns in junk (or doesn’t turn it in at all) because they fear failure. Maybe not everything you put down on paper is perfect, but something is good. Rejoice in that and do better next time!





About Writing

A Lesson in Patience

As my first novel nears publication, I find myself living constantly in my head. At times I am like a child waiting for Santa. At other times, I am the marketing guru brainstorming ways to sell my book. At other times, I revert to the teacher I am in my real life. No matter which persona inhabits my head, they conspire to keep my from sleeping!

When children wait for Santa, they grin eagerly and positively quiver with excitement. Briona Glen Publishing targeted March 2012 for release of my first novel, ON A WING AND A DARE. All I knew about publishing came from working in a bookstore thirty years ago. At that time there were no ebooks. Hardbacks were released, and a year later the paperback came out. My novel will be released as a paperback and an ebook. When I signed with the publisher last summer, seven months seemed awfully fast to publish a book. My excitement has made it the longest seven months of my life–it truly feels like I’m having another baby! Round after round of revising has finally led to the line edit stage. The cover is almost done. Then on to typesetting. It’s tantalizingly close, like when you have half the windows open on that chocolate Advent calendar.

Meanwhile, my marketing ideas are clamoring to get out of my head. I have a blog tour on hold and three people who want to interview me on their blogs. I’ve looked up bookstores in my area to set up author signings, and was appalled to find only seven bookstores in the San Jose area! There’s a writing club at a local high school I want to contact, and of course my Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter followers will have to be notified on the novel’s release. Two out-of-town former students have volunteered to trumpet the news in their states. I have three blogs of my own that will crow it to the stars, and local coffee shops that will put up flyers. I am looking into summer conferences to attend. If you don’t hear about the release of ON A WING AND A DARE, it won’t be for lack of my trying!

The entire process of publishing has been a good reflection on my teaching. I strive to make everything I teach relevant in the real world. I wrote and revised my novel over two years, and I have been revising the revisions for the past six months per my editor’s suggestions. None of my students are able to complain now that their story is perfect and needs no editing! If you haven’t been looking at it for multiple months, you can still make it better! Now my novel is going through a line edit. That means CUPS–capitalization, usage, punctuation, and spelling. Every day in class we work on DOL (Daily Oral Language) and I consider myself something of an expert. I know my students will have a field day if the line editor catches too many mistakes in ON A WING AND A DARE!

Release date…to be announced SOON! I just have to be patient

On my Kindle: Fablehaven #4: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary by Brandon Mull

About Writing

Satisfaction With Your Own Writing

Students, journalists, novelists–in fact anyone at all who writes–experience that moment when the piece is done and you never want to look at it again. NaNoWriMo is no exception. While I have completed 50,000 words on my new novel, IN THE WINDS OF DANGER, it is far from complete. I typed the last word on November 29 and I haven’t looked at it since. My students feel the same way. They have written more on one assignment than they ever have in their lives, and they are sick of it.

The initial excitement of tackling a novel has long since faded to hard work. Now that it’s completed, they are proud of it but unwilling to revise and edit. As we all know, those are key steps. And I am not going to read thirty-one unedited novels! So the question remains, how do I fire their excitement once more about this project?

Professional cover artist Tirzah Goodwin is helping me this year. She has agreed to provide each student with a free custom cover for their novel. We can print the cover and attach it to the student’s work, and Tirzah will feature the covers on her website. So do you want to see them? Check out A Clever Whatever, her blog site.

If you’re a current student of mine, oooh and ahhh over your cover, then get back to revising and editing!

On my Kindle: Here, There, and Otherwhere by Phyl Manning

Expository, Narrative

Editing and Revising

Your written piece is not yet finished even when you place the period after the last sentence of your first draft.  Take a break, celebrate that you’ve completed a big chunk of it, then begin editing and revising.

REVISING is when you change the words to make the actual sentences sound better.  This can be very subjective, but there are a few basic rules I can give you.

1.  Eliminate repeated beginnings of sentences and paragraphs.  If all the paragraphs in your essay/story begin with ‘the’ it’s going to be boring for your reader.  Make sure two sentences in a row don’t start with the same word, and try to start all sentences within the paragraph differently.  Try rearranging the sentence to start with a different word (The dog chased his ball down the street becomes Chasing his ball, the dog ran down the street.)  You might also try adding a prepositional phrase to the beginning of the sentence.  Don’t forget a comma after the phrase!  (The dog chased his ball down the street becomes In the morning, the dog chased his ball down the street.)

2. Make better word choices.  Look at the nouns and verbs.  Can you choose one great word to take the place of an adverb and a plain verb?  (ran quickly becomes scampered)  or to replace a couple of adjectives? (very red becomes scarlet)  HINT: There are a ton of fabulous color words.  Learn a handful and use them!

3.  Add sensory details.  The setting is easy for you to imagine.  After all, it’s in YOUR head.  The reader, however, needs words on the page to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch what your characters do.  Add a prepositional phrase or a carefully selected adjective to your sentence.  (With gale force, the frigid wind rattled the window.)  Do NOT overdo the adjectives!  (With supersonic gale force, the frigid strong howling wind rattled the glass paned window.)

EDITING happens after your revision is complete.  Go through your piece and look for C.U.P.S. (capitalization, usage, punctuation, and spelling)  This can be very tricky because if you are good at these things you wouldn’t have made any errors in them in the first place, right?  Have a classmate, a parent, or a brother or sister read over it if you can.  Sometimes, if you ask for help, your teacher will read it before grading it.  Learn to use the spell-check on your computer for those pieces that you type.  Remember the spell-check will not catch words that are spelled correctly but used wrongly. (Eye sea ewe half too pales of water instead of I see you have two pails of water.)  Have a dictionary close by, and a reference guide for those pesky commas.  Remember, if you can’t find a rule, don’t put a comma there!

Any other good tips out there for revising and editing?  Please share!

On my Kindle: The Help by Kathryn Stockett