Monday, April 20, 2009

Dramatic Punch Lines

It’s amazing what a good editor can do to improve a manuscript, and every writer can benefit from an objective eye and a discerning red pencil.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of a few changes that can make a good book better, and I discovered how valuable that can be when an editor, Paula Stallings-Yost, offered to look at the first few chapters of One Small Victory before I submitted it to a publisher. Paula and I are good friends, and we have periodically done some editing for each other, and that input from fresh eyes has been much appreciated.

One of the things Paula pointed out to me was the importance of using a dramatic punch line. I knew about comedic punch lines and how the timing of delivery can make or break a joke, but I had never thought about dramatic punch lines until Paula pointed it out in a passage of my first chapter.

Here is what I had originally written:

Sometime soon she'd have to clean out the closet. Isn't that what usually happens? Tears burned her eyes and she turned abruptly away. She didn't know. No one had ever told her. And there wasn't even a book to answer the myriad of questions swimming in her mind. There were books on choosing a college. Books on how to plan a wedding or how to help your child find a job. But no one had ever written one on what to do when your son was dead.

That was okay writing, but Paula suggested taking the reference to the book out of the third paragraph and saving it for the punch-line:

Sometime soon she’d have to clean out the closet. Isn’t that what usually happens? Tears burned her eyes and she turned away. She didn’t know what was supposed to happen. No one had ever told her. And a multitude of questions swam through her mind like restless minnows in a pond. There were books on choosing a college. Books on how to plan a wedding or how to help your child find a job. But no one had ever written one on what to do when your son dies.

See how much more power that passage has with the rewrite?

I am so grateful to Paula for her expertise, and thankful that I kept an open mind and listened to her instead of putting my defenses up because she dared to mess with my style.

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Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.



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5 comments :

  1. Isn't it amazing that sometimes it's not the big global changes but the small ones that make a huge difference?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Shoot me. I actually prefer the first version. I liked the way the last line hit me in the first one so much more than in the second one. Does that mean my judgement is poor?

    ReplyDelete
  3. No, Yvette, your judgment is not poor. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yes, I love those "dramatic punch" lines. This can help make the difference between a decent read and a quotable book that sticks with you long after it's over.

    --Lisa
    http://authorlisalogan.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great website, looks very clean and organized. Keep up the good work! antibacterial Read a useful article about tramadol tramadol

    ReplyDelete

The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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