Revision Techniques

We’re approaching the end of our first year as an online literary magazine. Did you submit? Were any of your pieces published? If so, congratulations! If you weren’t published, however, or if you received an email from one of our staff members asking for revisions and didn’t know how to go about that, then I might be able to help you out.

Here’s a few revision techniques I’ve picked up from four years at Douglas Anderson:

Poetry:

  • Symbolism is your best friend.
    You never want to give your intent away, or in other words, be “too tell-y.” Instead, utilize devices such as extended metaphor and related imagery to communicate what you would like to say about your topic. Think of it this way: You wouldn’t tell your best friend that the pair of shoes or the shirt he/she picked out was in every way revolting, would you? Hopefully, you would show them another pair of shoes or shirt in an attempt to dissuade them from buying that crime against vision.
  • Diction is your favorite aunt.
    Poetry is all about what specific words are used and where they are used. How you describe certain events, atmospheres, or even people says a lot about how you or your narrator feels about the topic of the poem and goes a long way in building an intent (what you want the reader to leave with after reading your poem [or story]). It’s similar to how aunts tell stories. Aunts always seem to have the best stories and usually they are the best because the way in which the aunt tells it is exciting or thrilling, depending on the type of story being told.
  • Syntax is your parent.
    In my experience, not many writers are fond of utilizing structure and line breaks because it is so simple that in poetry it seems almost unnecessarily acknowledged. However, your line breaks can say a lot about the tone of your poem. For instance, choppy lines that break before the thought is finished (and usually at a grammatically incorrect spot) help to build tension. Don’t brush syntax and structure aside because, like a parent, it is often trying to guide you to the best possible outcome.

Fiction:

  • Characterization is key.
    Writing to communicate an intent is all about specifics. What did this character do? Why did he do it? How does he feel about that blue vase in the kitchen that was given to his mother by the character’s stepfather? Remember that you can characterize by what a character does, what a character says, what another character says about that character, and what the narrator says about that character.
  • Perspective, perspective, perspective (and POV)
    A lot of times, a story that has met a road block can be freed with one question: Whose story is this? This is a huge huge concept for a writer to tackle. Ask yourself what you want the reader to know and how you want him/her to view your character. This is where you start playing with pairings. For example, a first person point of view from the perspective of one of the outlying characters (such as the narrator in The Great Gatsby ) brings the reader in close to the action but still allows the writer to keep secrets from the reader until the time is right for a big reveal.

Non-Fiction:

  • It’s all about using techniques from poetry and fiction to make a true story more fun, creative, and relatable.
  • Use poetic imagery to communicate how you feel and foreshadow possible events without having to spoon-feed the reader.
  • Use fiction techniques such as dialogue and setting to bring the reader in close to the story.

–Sarah Powell, Non-Fiction Editor