In 2011, Peter Leavell was one of five finalists for the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest with his manuscript, Songs of Captivity.Over the next nine months or so, as I watched him navigate the waters of publication (his novel won the contest and was renamed Gideon’s Call by Worthy Publishing), Peter has become a good friend. He told his story to the world with an article in ACFW Journal, the member magazine of the American Christian Fiction Writers, and subsequently gave his testimony at the organization’s conference last weekend in Dallas TX.
He has let me use his Journal article for In The Edit, and I’m happy to introduce you to Peter today.
Read his original, unedited article.
When Peter sent me this article, I knew few of the details he shared. When I read it, my jaw dropped—but that’s not unusual when I read personal stories of how God shows up in our lives.
After picking my jaw up off the desk, I read the article again. That’s when I first started seeing things I could do with it that would increase its impact. For this article, the three main areas I’ll focus on are:
- Clarity and consistency
- Extra words
See my edit in Track Changes mode.
Be clear, be consistent
You don’t have to get too far into this article to find some clarity and consistency issues. Look at the first sentence.
- I stood between two towering infernos.
First of all, get past the idea of Jerry B. Jenkins and Byron Williamson standing there on fire. I’ll admit, I giggled. Since I read all of the way through the piece before beginning to edit, I knew that later Peter refers to the two men as giants. So, for clarity and consistency, I extinguished the infernos.
Clarity is not just about word choice, however. It also pertains to focus. Reading Peter’s article it was clear to me he was communicating his writing journey as it connected to his spiritual journey. While the information in the sixth graf about how driven he is was interesting, I thought the bit about running 15 miles for fun and writing 10,000 words a day (seriously? C’mon, seriously?) detracted from the overall point he was trying to make—which was how he learned to rely on God.
Trim the fat
Back to the top of the article. In the second graf, Peter plays up nicely the image he’s already given us of being placed between two literary giants.
- “Standing tiptoe to see over the top of the check, I smiled.”
But then he describes for us what we can see in the photo. When he does that either the photo or the description becomes redundant.
I chose to cut the description. As a result, I was able to move the reader more quickly to the “money line” of this introduction.
- “Three months earlier, I thought I was going to die.”
- “Even writing an email was difficult.” He already said he couldn’t write.
- “…even to my wife and children.” We already know he had little to say.
- “…leaving me alone in the house. If they’ve gone off without him, then he must be alone.
Each of these cuts clipped unnecessary information and improved the pace of the story.
Make me cry
In personal stories like these, the purpose of the piece is to make God known. To give God glory. But a secondary purpose is to break down walls in others’ lives so they can more fully experience God.
One great tool for that is emotion. Sometimes this means adding something, sometimes it means cutting. Let’s look at some examples.
- Before:“Diabetes was a possibility, as was cancer. I started my will, a sad thought at age 35.”
- After:“Diabetes was a possibility, as was cancer. I started my will—at age 35.”
We all know death at an early age is sad—heck, death is always sad from a human perspective. But by telling us it was sad, Peter short-circuited the emotion by not allowing our brains to jump to the connection.
- Before:“My memory is blurry, but I remember my son and daughter going off to soccer and ballet without me, leaving me alone in the house. Their lives had to go on, even if mine couldn’t.
- After: “My memory is blurry, but I remember my son and daughter going off to soccer and ballet without me. Their lives had to go on, even if mine couldn’t.”
Not only was the cut material unnecessary, but it also killed the emotion of the graf’s closing line.
See the article as it appeared in ACFW Journal.
Peter, thanks for your friendship and for letting me use your article on my blog.
Would you like to see your writing In The Edit? Send me a short sample. If I use it, you’ll be eligible for a discount on my freelance editing services.
Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line
Loved this: “In personal stories like these, the purpose of the piece is to make God known. To give God glory. But a secondary purpose is to break down walls in others’ lives so they can more fully experience God.” Thanks for the reminder!
KGG: I’m glad you picked up on that, because that is what makes Peter’s piece so powerful.
I love what you did. I did wonder why you took out the running 15 miles and writing 10,000 words a day bit, but then you explained it. The man lied. Which only proves editors must be detectives as well. Seriously, if you left that in but took out his telling us his MO, would that not be an example of show vs. tell? Just a thought. Anyway, awesome work–both of you! And sure glad you’re still with us, Peter.
Bald-faced lie. I’m sure of it. It’s just his swagger.
I didn’t say I wrote 10k words that were any good!
Take that grill off when you smile … you’re blinding me.