First Revision Strategies for Narratives

slice-of-life2When I talk with writers about revision, I always suggest that they begin by looking at the content to see if they have developed their ideas. Elaboration is key to good writing. Students should practice reading their work aloud with expression and think to themselves: Is there a place in my writing where I said something but could say something more?

Ask students to work with partners. As each writer shares her piece, ask the partner to listen for places where more details/information can be added. Mark these places with small sticky dots or a light pencil mark. Try for two different kinds of elaboration. Here are some suggestions:

Character: Flesh out the individuals in your piece of writing. Select a key feature of the character and develop him/her like a cartoonist or portrait artist would. How do her hands look? How does her mouth work when she smiles or talks? In The Witches, Roald Dahl writes: With each word she (The Grand High Witch) spoke, flecks of pale-blue phlegm shot from her mouth like tiny bullets. (1983, p. 72-73) What about the character’s hair, eyes, clothing?  Close your eyes and try to picture the character in a specific location.

Dialogue: In a narrative, dialogue is a key element. Readers expect that talk will be scattered throughout a story. Let the characters talk instead of telling what they say. Show the character’s personality – what he is thinking and feeling. If your writers are not sure how to punctuate conversation, forget about that for the moment. Ask them to skip a space or indent every time a different character speaks, and concentrate on creating a voice for each character. From The Witches: “You may rreee-moof your vigs!” snarled The Grand High Witch. (1983, p. 69)

Setting the Scene: Look for places in the narrative where places are mentioned but there are no specifics about what those places look like. Add details – use your senses – to develop them in greater detail. Try to create a picture in the reader’s mind. From The Witches by Roald Dahl: At the back of the room there was a large folding screen with Chinese dragons painted on it… I tiptoe to the back of the room and settled myself on the thick green carpet behind the big screen. (1983, p.57)

Looping: (For older writers) Find the best part of your story – the place where you believe everything is working well. Begin writing right at this place. Forget about the other parts.  Spill your words here as quickly as possible. See if your piece wants to continue in that direction. See where your writing takes you, and then decide if it works for you – if you are happy with it.

Write More: What else do you know about this character? Place? Particular story?  Is there a sequel to this story?  Is this piece really two stories?

3 thoughts on “First Revision Strategies for Narratives

  1. These are excellent points. I always feel that revision is difficult to teach because our young writers tend to have little patience for this part of the process. It’s so important though and you’ve shared many great ways to embrace the revision process. Thanks, Lynne!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As always, great tips. Lynne. I always had my students read their pieces out loud to themselves and a partner. I think they amazed themselves at the things they found to revise that they missed when just reading the piece silently.

    Liked by 1 person

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