As I mentioned in my last post, I had the absolute pleasure and honor of directing a play by an amazing young playwright for the How I Learned to Write Festival, a program created by Philadelphia Young Playwrights. During the weeklong process, I can only hope this talented young writer learned as much from me as I did from her. That’s my favorite part of new play development – through the process of bringing a new play to life, everyone in the room learns about the art form from one another.
The conversations both inside and outside the rehearsal room are great for remembering, too. As we tackle a world that’s never existed before and we explore how best to bring that world to life, we think back. To past experiences, to past lessons, and to past mentors, all which guided us at one time or another. When we offer these kernels of wisdom from the past to our fellow artists in the present, we honor our mentors by paying their mentorship forward.
For me, the How I Learn to Write Festival was rich in remembering. In particular, I remembered two long-forgotten revision prompts from two of my greatest mentors. I was thrilled that one of the prompts was of great help to my young playwright, and I hope that all of the prompts I share below will help any writers out there who are wrestling with revision.
REVISION PROMPTS FOR ECONOMICAL STORYELLING
Writing Process: Revision
Genres: All Genres
There are two major points of focus for any revision: strengthening the story, and strengthening how that story is told. The prompts below focus on the latter, providing four methods that a writer can use while reading a first draft to identify ways to tighten and trim a story.
- When writing a first draft, writers will write the same idea in two or three different ways as the mind figures out which way it truly wants to express that idea. So, Dr. Robert Mooney advised that a good way to trim down a first draft was to look for any times when an idea was repeated, and to make the (sometimes hard) choice of choosing which to keep, and which to cut.
- Maya Angelou once said that after finishing a draft of a poem, she would take out all the pronouns and make them try fight their way back in. Regardless of genre, when encountering any words or lines in a first draft that might be questionable, a good test is to remove them and then read the passage out loud. Did it sound like anything was missing? Only reinsert the words or lines that ‘fight their way back in.’
- While reading over a first draft, two good questions for a writer to ask are, “Does this line more the story forward?” and “Is this information new?” While writing a first draft, it’s natural for the mind to add minute details in order to process how to get a story from Point A to Point B. Since these details most often serve the writer during the writing process more than they serve the actual story, these two revision questions can help a writer step back and begin to look at the first draft from a reader’s point of view.
And, finally, a revision prompt that is so great in scope it forces a writer to think about all of the above:
- When your first draft is finished, cut it down by half – without losing any key plot points, characters, or information. This challenge, given to me by Dr. Howard Blanning, is great to help a writer cut the fat out of a first draft in terms of extraneous words or repeated information. If you really want to put yourself through the wringer, cut your draft in half a second time. This additional challenge forces a writer to question what is key point, and what is not – not a bad question to be ask while revising.
Good luck revising! Remember, whenever I post an activity, prompt, or guiding writing exercise in the Support For Writers section of my site, I will always write a blog post about the activity as well. That way, if you follow my blog you’ll always know when new exercises become available. Feel free to comment or ask questions, or to let me know how these prompts worked for you!
WONDERING WHAT’S WITH THE MEMES? I am having great fun so far participating in Making Learning Connected, and the second “Make” is a meme challenge. While I normally use my own photos in blog posts, it was a pretty neat exercise to consider what memes would work best for the tone and content of this post. I’m pretty tickled by my choices, how about you?