TIP OF THE WEEK: Edit Backwards


I’m honored to have been asked to contribute to this growing list of storytelling tips. This one’s for anyone who writes:


Words have power and the most powerful word in a sentence should come last. I could have written: Words have power and the last word should be the most powerful one in a sentence. But that would have put the emphasis on “sentence” when I wanted to stress “last.” See the difference?

Sometimes, this kind of writing just happens because it’s the way we speak, but often it’s the result of careful revision. Save some time to review and revise what you’ve written and you’ll wind up with a stronger story. And when you do revise, edit backwards.

Look closely at the ends of sentences. Have you ended with the word that conveys the most meaning? Or have you allowed an unnecessary phrase to sneak in and steal your thunder? A few examples from stories I’ve seen:

“They gave up and left the area.” Why not just stop at “left?”

“The chrysanthemum show featured 51 varieties of the flower.” Pray tell, what else would it have featured varieties of? Kill “of the flower.”

“After fighting breast cancer for 20 years, she died of the disease.” If she died of something else, by all means tell me. Otherwise, delete “of the disease.”

Editing backwards will help you spot wasted words and even entire sentences you can dump. Just think how much time you’ll save. Maybe even enough to add more NATs!