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Analyzing Our Writing

Syntax, Clarity, & Diction


1. Circle every to be verb (is, am, was, were, are, been, be, being). Seek
out active, powerful verb choices. Avoid passive tense, as a general rule. Try
to eliminate at least 50% of your to-be verbs.
2. List out in the margin the first word of every sentence. Do you see too
much repetition? Are you killing your own voice? Are your word-choices boring
(there, when, the, etc.)?
3. Draw an arrow from every pronoun to every antecedent. Is every
reference absolutely clear?
4. Look for trite, clich, or vague words like a lot, very, a bit, really, and
like. Cross them out and push yourself to find better alternatives.
5. Pick one paragraph and underline each sentence in alternating colors.
You are looking specifically at sentence length.
You want variation. This may also help with
isolating run-ons and fragments.
6. Brainstorm three new titles for your piece.
Which ones work?
7. Under system preferences on your mac, click on
speech. Then select text to speech. Check the
speak selected text box. Use that tool to then have your computer read
your writing aloud. Listen carefully for errors.
For Short Stories
8. Identify the big questions/ideas/thoughts/themes that you want you readers to
still wrestle with in your story. Write it/them in one or two clean
sentences at the end of the story.
9. POV At the top of the page, identify your POV, tense, and other key
narrative techniques youve chosen to employ. 1st or 3rd person? Past or
present? Stream of consciousness? Mostly dialogue? Frame story? Dream
sequence? In Media Res? Exposition? Foreshadowing? Flashback? Ellipsis? KEY
QUESTION is your reader able to follow your choices?
10. Identify the climactic sentence in your story. Underline it three times. On
the back of the page, try rewriting it two or three times in different ways. Pick
the best one.
For Essays
11. Highlight your thesis. Is it clear? Is it arguable? Does it have richness and
depth to it?
12. Count the number of paragraphs. Is it the right number? Does each
paragraph advance the thesis in a specific way?
13. In the right margin, bracket the lines of each paragraph that summarize,
restate, or review what happened. Then bracket the lines that advance your
thesis through analysis and argument. The second bracket should always be
bigger than the first bracket.
For Poetry
14. Copy and paste the doc to a new page. Delete all of the line breaks. Copy
and paste the poem into the doc two or three times as a lump-paragraph. Now
go back and insert line breaks in each version. Try different approaches.
Different stanza numbers. Different lines per stanza. Etc.
15. Try to delete at least one word from each line. Are the sentences better
or worse?

16.

Replace at least one word in the poem with an edgy word choice.
Some word that is dramatically different than anything else in the poem. Is the
poem better with the addition?