STORY LEVEL versus SENTENCE LEVEL: Thoughts on Revising

IMG_2191One of my trusted critique partners asked if I had time to look at her story. She was having trouble working out some plot issues and asked if I could read it at the story level, rather than the sentence level. I hadn’t heard that distinction before, but it really hit home.

To my way of thinking, revising at the sentence level is sort of like decorating a house. By the time you get to this stage, you’re interested in really making your house, er, story, stand out with the perfect paint colors and amenities (think imagery and symbolism).  You’re aiming for stunning crown moulding and countertops (think delectable phrasing and wordplay)! At this stage, you might also check to make sure your new curtains are hung straight and your carpets are laid out smoothly (think punctuation and grammar). Indeed, it’s these little final touches that will give your house its sparkle and charm. If you love playing with words as much as I do, you probably LOVE revising at the sentence level.

The problem is, as writers, we sometimes get impatient and rush to sentence level revision, without first checking to make sure the  story is structurally sound. But if the manuscript isn’t yet working at the story level, all that lovely decorating is labor in vain. What we need to do first is get out our hammers and saws and check to see that the story frame is solid. This is hard work. Sometimes it requires sawing off whole sections and re-hammering them in new angles or locations.  Sometimes it means ripping out and totally ditching certain beams, and replacing them with new wood altogether.  This is story level revision and it’s not for the weak-hearted. But take heart, because it builds muscle and, if you’ve got the stamina and patience, it will transform your stories into masterpieces that shine on every level.

So this week, why not pick a story from your draft collection, and revise it at the story level.  Happy hammering and sawing, er, I mean revising!

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16 thoughts on “STORY LEVEL versus SENTENCE LEVEL: Thoughts on Revising

  1. Oo, I like this analogy. I’ve done both story-level and sentence-level editing, inherently, although I’ve never considered it this way before. Great points, as always, Laura! Thank you!

  2. Ah, the Big Picture vs. the nitty-gritty… I find some critiques are far stronger at one than the other. I’m a much better big picture feedback giver.

  3. Great post! Love the analogy with constructing and decorating a house. It makes a sometimes-abstract process more concrete, and it’s less violent than my recent comparison of critique to taekwondo. 😉

  4. Thanks for stopping by, all, and I’m glad this one hit home. For the record, I like the decorating phase best as well, though restructuring is satisfying in its own way and so very necessary. Happy writing!

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