Wednesday, December 8, 2010

WRITING TIPS: Pruning Your Prose with Jane Sutton

I’d like to make a plug for revision.  Not only does revision enhance the characters you create, but it fights the writer’s biggest enemy: the blank page.  Staring at the blank page (or computer screen), a writer’s inner conversation goes something like, “I don’t know what to write, I don’t know how to start, whatever I write will be stupid or has been done before, in fact done much better than I could write it if I ever get started…” etc., which may morph into “I need to steam clean the living room carpet.”

But knowing you’ll be revising—rewording, adding, tweaking, reordering, and deleting—frees you to start.  Remind yourself that not every word needs to be perfect. In fact, it shouldn’t be.  If you spend too much time on a draft, you will develop a crush on it and be reluctant to change even one comma.

When you read over your draft (aloud!), look for ways to show characters’ personalities and emotions more clearly.  Could you add or rewrite dialogue, thoughts, actions, or descriptions to make characters more vivid?  Could you add another character’s reactions to make the main character’s traits stand out? See if verbs, in particular, can be more evocative (“walk” might be “strut” or “sidle”; “said” could be “roared” or “whispered”; “eat” can be “gobble” or “picked at.”). Even in the limited-word format of a picture book, carefully inserted adverbs or adjectives (not too many, though) can help convey character.

As you revise, look for spots where you can add sensual language…No, I don’t mean that kind of sensual.  I mean, use your senses to help your reader see, hear, etc. what you’re describing and to make your piece more interesting to read.

Oh, and remember to prune. Cut anything that will confuse or bore your reader. If there’s a passage you know is extraneous but can’t shake your crush on, save it for some other project it might be perfect for.

--Jane Sutton


Jane's latest book, DON'T CALL ME SIDNEY (Dial 2010, illustrated by Renata Gallio) is a picture book about an earnest, big-hearted pig named Sidney, who writes a birthday poem for his friend and decides he has "a way with words." His quest to be a poet is stymied when he realizes that his own name lacks a suitable rhyme. When he changes his name to the more rhymeable Joe, humorous consequences ensue, and he eventually comes up with a crowd-pleasing compromise.  School Library Journal called the book an “…amusing story about a poetic pig's search for his true identity…”  Booklist commented, “After reading or hearing this, young readers may enjoy trying to come up with rhymes for their own and their friends' names.”

To learn more about Jane, visit:


  1. Oh, great post! And DON'T CALL ME SYDNEY sounds adorable!

  2. This is a really cute book. And Jane Sutton is my neighbor and friend. She has some good advice here. Just love "picked at" instead of "ate."

  3. It's a comfort to know that writers as talented and successful as Jane feel the same way I do when facing that blank page! Thanks for sharing. And DON'T CALL ME SIDNEY looks terrific!

  4. Great tips! I'm going to go look at my WIP with that in mind. Thanks!

  5. Thanks for your comments, everyone. I thought it was wonderful, too! And I must admit that I am in love with the cover of DON'T CALL ME SIDNEY! I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of my own and get to know these farm friends better! Thanks again, Jane, for sharing with us. Lynne Marie

  6. I'm not a huge fan of talking animal books, though I still read them. But THIS one, with it's writing theme, is right up my alley. I love The Plot Chickens, too! Such great advice on this post. Just WRITE!!! No self-editing...

  7. Thanks, everyone, for responding so graciously to what my grandma might have called my "poils" of wisdom, and for Lynne for allowing me to share them! Happy writing to all!

  8. It was such a pleasure to have you here Jane! You are welcome to come back, anytime. The best of luck to you! Lynne Marie