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It is the lot of a first draft to be the dumping ground for sundry swathes of ‘darling’ destined for the verbal killing fields. As I draw to the end of this new draft zero I ponder what comes next. Run off a hard copy, read it through in as few sittings as possible in order to get an idea of how it works as a story. Next I’ll arm myself with a bunch of sharp pencils, a note pad, a highlighter pen and a willingness to laugh wryly at myself, and begin the second pass. This is when I start giving myself advice and hopefully identify any massive plot holes and structural issues.

By the time I get to the fine-tuning however, something more will be required.

Compelling prose requires big words – lyrical, signature words drenched in clarity; paragraphs stopping us in our tracks, causing us to pause and sigh before carrying on. That said, too many words are worn out by constant overuse. Small and seemingly innocent, they congregate in clichéd clusters waiting for a gap in the narrative. Within the spell of a lovely sentence, these words often have no meaning and serve no purpose. Their only function is to render a perfect sentence cursed. I don’t mean proud, exquisite, conjuring words. What I’m talking about are the little ones, expressing nothing more than the bad habits of language. A beautiful sentence is rarely enhanced by dull, irrelevant words. (See title for good ‘but’ usage.)

Ironic perhaps to choose a Virginia Woolf quotation: she was after all partial to a bit of wordage. She also had an acute eye for the lyrical and she understood style. The individual writer chooses her style. Our voice tends to choose us; style is something else and can be considered. We can edit our style as we edit our narrative arcs, poke around in our plots and ravage our purple prose.

I’m getting ahead of myself: there are miles to go before I’m ready for this level of close editing. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded though and to that end, I best get a move on…

* Virginia Woolf

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