I decided to test out this theory. Rather than taking something poorly written and editing it into perfection, I shall take a snippet of a perfect, already published work and reword it as if it’s a first draft.
So without further ado… I bring you the reconstruction of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, using Common First Draft Mistakes.
“There are all kinds of courage,” said Dumbledore, smiling. “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. I therefore award ten points to Mr. Neville Longbottom.”
Someone standing outside the Great Hall might have thought some sort of explosion had taken place, so loud was the noise that erupted from the Gryffindor table. Harry, Ron, and Hermione stood up to yell and cheer as Neville, white with shock, disappeared under a pile of people hugging him. He had never won so much as a point for Gryffindor before. Harry, still cheering, nudges Ron in the ribs and pointed at Malfoy, who couldn’t have looked more stunned and horrified if he’d just had the Body-Bind curse put on him. (306)
“Courage comes in many different forms,” said Dumbledore with a smile. “While we must use a lot of courage to face our enemies, we use just as much to face our friends. So I am giving ten points to Mr. Neville Longbottom.”
Suddenly the Great Hall exploded with sound as the whole of Gryffindor started cheering loudly. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were standing, yelling, and cheering. Neville was shocked, his face chalk white. Lots of people hugged him until he could not be seen beneath the mass. He had never won any points for Gryffindor, not even one. Harry nudged Ron and pointed his finger at Malfoy. Malfoy wore a stunned expression, eyes wide with horror, as if he’d been hit with the Body-Bind curse.
So if the latter passage were the first draft, the following changes would be made to tidy it up.
- ‘Courage’ should not be used twice in the first paragraph. Replace one with a synonym, such as ‘bravery.’
- The phrase ‘with a smile’ implies that Dumbledore stops smiling after he says that part. Use ‘smiling’ instead to clarify that he keeps smiling.
- This is wise old Dumbledore speaking. His language needs to be more eloquent and precise, especially the ‘so’ part. Use ‘therefore’ instead as it is more formal and suits Dumbledore’s character and educational background better.
- ‘Suddenly’ is one of those bad adverbs that should be avoided as much as possible. It is often overused and does not contribute anything to the scene.
- ‘Loudly’ is another adverb that is unnecessary. Use better verbs to convey the loudness.
- ‘Sound’ is too vague. Besides, saying something ‘exploded with sound’ is telling, rather than showing. Make the reader hear the sound.
- ‘Chalk white’ is a cliché. Better to cut that out or simplify it to ‘white face.’ Also should note what emotion Neville is feeling. Simply telling us that his face is white does not reveal enough. Is he embarrassed? Scared? Shocked? Clarify his emotion.
- ‘Lots of’ is another bad phrase that does not mean much. There are better ways to word this sentence that bring the reader into the action more. Once again this tells when it should show.
- Specifying that Harry pointed ‘his finger’ is not necessary. If it was his wand, then that would be another story because we would expect him to cast a spell. But since it is just his finger, it need not be said. Harry pointed. We get the point.
- Nothing wrong with saying ‘eyes wide with horror,’ but it is a little wordy and borders on cliché. Might want to clean this up and reduce the number of commas in this sentence.
And this concludes Lesson 1 in Popular Fiction Reconstructed with Common First Draft Mistakes.