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17.06.2011 02:12    Comments: 0    Categories: Fiction Editing  Fiction Elements  Fiction Writing  Writing  Writing Craft  Writing Tips      Tags: barzun's  reviser's guide  

Here is, as promised, the set of questions that must be answered favorably to your copy before you can call your revision finished.

I. What is the tone of my piece? Have I indulged myself in language that is toplofty, patronizing, technical for mere showing off-or have I been simple & direct throughout, never falsely modest, but always sincere and respectful to the reader?

II. Is the movement of my prose satisfactory to the mind and the ear? Are my sentences on their feet, varied in rhythm and length, and carrying each its full weight of meaning and implication-or are many of them rendered obscure by my inattention to matching parts or thrown off balance by the weight of modifiers and afterthoughts.

III. Have I tested and retested the meaning of each statement of mine to preclude ambiguities? Have I made fast every pronoun to its proper mooring-the slightest error is fatal-or have I allowed my private comprehension of the sense to blind me to one confusion after another?

IV. On the same subject of ambiguity, have I linked modifiers, clauses, and compound sentences in the clearest manner possible-or have I produced a number of danglers, manifest absurdities, and other false leads that will require the reader to start the sentence again and do the work I have left undone?

V. Can I say, looking at single words, that every one of them means and connotes what I think it does? Or has my diction been spoiled by threadbare clichés, pseudo-technical jargon, unthinking metaphors, and that excess of abstract words known as the noun plague?

VI. Still on the subject of words, have I been strict as well as clear-or have I committed any illiteracies, malapropisms, ludicrous confusions by echo, or heedless jingles by alliteration and rhyming syllables?

VII. I turn now to my theme and ask myself whether the ideas of which it consists have been set down fully and in consecutive order-or have I again relied on my understanding of the subject to bridge over gaps in thought and to disentangle snarls in description?

VIII. In the layout of my paper have I devoted space and furnished detail in proportion to the importance of each topic-or have I concentrated on what interested me and skimped the rest, whether owing to a poor outline or the neglect of a good one?

IX. Since readers have in common the desire to be enticed and to experience afterward a sense of acquisition, have I contrived the most engaging opening for my subject and the ending best fitted to leave an impress on the mind? Or do I fumble my way at first and leave matters in the air at the last? To which query I would add: do the divisions of the paper provide breathing spells at once significant and agreeable?

X. Have I read my copy and made it both correct and sightly? Or have I been inattentive, ignorant, lazy, and rude about typing, spelling, syllabication, punctuation, inserts for correction, and other marks for the reader's convenience?

The answers to all these questions should be Yes and No as the sense of each contrast dictates. "But," you may say, "will you look at all those demands! Just to think about them is exhausting." Very true, and no one expects that you or any other writer fulfill them all every time you set pen to paper. They are nevertheless your proper goal. To strive toward it may indeed be exhausting; that is the price of exhaustive literary expression, by which I mean ex-pressing-squeezing out every last drop of meaning from your mind and putting it in words right. No conscientious writer should complain of the trouble. Writing is a social act; whoever claims his neighbor's attention by writing is duty-bound to take trouble-and in any case, what is life for, unless to do at least one thing right?

 
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