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I'd like to see a series of example paragraphs, showing before/after a rewrite, to give me specific examples of how writing can be improved.

Is there anywhere that shows such things? I once read the biography of James Herriot, where they showed part of the first story he ever wrote, and you could see how poor it was compared to the final version eventually achieved.

I found this very intruging, and wondered if I could learn from more examples like that. So many changes cannot be explained easily, or defined by rules, and an example is needed to illustrate how things can be improved.

I spotted an example on this website just a moment ago too - the original example paragraph was slightly reworded in one of the answers: nameless-main-character

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7 Answers 7

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Two books for you to read:

On Writing by Stephen King. Contains an early draft of 1408 along with King's margin notes from when he revised it. I really liked seeing that someone as prolific as King has to re-write as much as he does.

Which Lie Did I Tell? by William Goldman. Contains a full screenplay and coverage on that screenplay by industry people. Great look at how others will see your work.

And a website:

John August maintains a robust library of his work. You can find original spec scripts and compare them to their final shooting counterparts.

http://johnaugust.com/library

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Funnily enough, someone lent me 'On Writing' just after you suggested it, and DAMN its good!!! Thanks! –  Magnus Smith Mar 16 '11 at 21:38
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Several blogs demonstrate before/after (or at least detailed line-edits on early drafts).

  • Evil Editor often does it for query letters.
  • Edittorrent covers all sorts of topics, and the archives have lots of before/after examples.
  • Miss Snark no longer blogs, but her archives have many good examples.

One of my favorite writing books, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, shows before/after examples.

I find before/after examples most useful on small examples, sentences, paragraphs, maybe a page or two. Beyond that, it's too hard to see the correlation.

do this on a regular basis.

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Orson Scott Card gives a great example of 4 drafts for the opening of Ender's Shadow, explaining as he goes why each draft isn't what he wants. Sounds like exactly what you're looking for - you can read it here.

Another excellent resource is Janet Reid's Query Shark. It's a huge trove of critiqued revisions - not of fiction, but of queries to an agent, describing the book. That might not be exactly what you're looking for, but she gives advice and individual critiques on revising sales pitches - which include a fair share of flavor text - for hundreds of queries. If it's revision you'd like to learn, that would be an excellent place to start.

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Thanks, Enders Shadow was interesting, watching it evolve... –  Magnus Smith Mar 16 '11 at 21:57
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This isn't exactly what you're looking for, but Brandon Sanderson's novel Warbreaker was written publicly online. You can look at the older drafts and compare them with the current, published version. It's obviously more than just the writing that changes, though. It's a good read, IMHO.

http://www.brandonsanderson.com/book/Warbreaker/page/20/WARBREAKER-The-Free-Fantasy-Book-Download

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This is a hard question to answer. I know in my stories many times the only before drafts that were left in existence were the printed out reviewed ones, that were soon trashed. any kind of files kept on the computers were over written with each additional rewrite, so I don't expect there will be many such documents floating out there.

Probably the best source of this kind of exampes would be books describing and expanding on what was trying to be done in that excerpt. the 2 best I have read are:

Description by Monica Wood --- this book it about trying to craft a stories through teaching you how describe. many times in this book will start out with bad examples then take you through the step to apply a descriptive style to create a new example.

Make a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld --- this book teaches you to craft a scene to fit the over all story feel as well as make this scene's objectives.

The only last place I can think that will help is by finding sites that have writing by others, many times an out side observer will be able to find problems in others writing the writer will never see. This can also include participating in peer review groups. A couple of good sites I know of:

writing.com --- site for writers to gather and talk about writing.

deviantart --- site for any artist to post there work and get reviews of it.

Though there are not many, and they are hard to find. There are sites for writing out there, just take some time and Imagination to find them.

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If you go through the twelve slush books which Christopher Tolkien assembled from his father's writings (collectively called The History of Middle-Earth), you can see practically line-for-line how JRRTolkien created, edited, and shaped the LOTR trilogy.

There are multiple drafts, stories which hopscotch from version A to C and back to B ending up in version D which was typeset as E but then finished by his secretary as C-Prime plus F... At any rate, I can hardly think of a larger example of vivisected prose.

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"The second paragraph", oh my! –  Mussri Dec 18 '12 at 10:10
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If you've ever thought LOTR was dense and difficult (and it is), once you read through a few of the rough versions, going back to the official text is like reading nursery rhymes. Tolkien went through a lot of edits to his printed works over his lifetime, not the least of which was changing "Riddles in the Dark" in The Hobbit to bring it in line with the later trilogy. –  Lauren Ipsum Dec 18 '12 at 12:28
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Here are some examples listed on my blog. I chose them because I have not seen them talked about very much. These are not entire paragraph edits, but rather examples of clips and phrases that make your writing awkward.

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Welcome to Writers. We're looking for answers that are complete here, as opposed to relying on external links that might not always be there. (Of course links for further material are fine; we encourage citing sources!) Could you edit this answer to include some of the examples that answer this question? Thanks. –  Monica Cellio Sep 4 '13 at 13:04
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