Funny story. I used to be a newspaper reporter and my first job was at a weekly paper here in New Hampshire. To save on costs, we edited the paper ourselves each week. This was also back when columns sent in from columnists were scanned and then placed into the paper and then edited by us the morning the paper was printed.
One of our columnists was an English professor at a local college and one week he wrote a piece about revising writing with the intro, "Ernest Hemingway was a stickler for revision, even revising his manuscript for A Farewell to Arms multiple times in order to get it just right."
Of course, when the piece was scanned there was a typo, and that typo was missed by our inexperienced eyes, so the piece read, "Ernest Hemingway was a stickler for revision, even revising his manuscript for A Farewell to Anus multiple times..."
We needed to better with our revision.
Below are two excerpts from a novella I'm writing that takes place during and just after the Spanish Civil War. The first is the original opening to a chapter where a main character is introduced. I wanted to squeeze as much characterization as possible without overdoing it.
However, when I went back to revise the chapter, the intro felt flat and like I was telling the reader about the character instead of showing them who he is. The second excerpt is what I've revised the introduction into. The idea is to allow Eduardo to introduce himself as a character through the chapter rather than attempting to tell the reader in the first paragraph. I believe the revised excerpt is much better and does more to bring the reader into the story, chapter and character than the former.
I am showing this as a way to give a sense of not just the importance of revision, but the importance of being sure to always show and not tell and what that distinction is.
Eduardo never thought of himself as brave. He likes delivering mail and prefers crusty bread, spicy olive oil, cured ham, and his wife Natalia and baby son José Luis to los política or los pasiónes.
It’s early November, 1936, and nearly every wall is coated by colorful, patriotic posters of citizen-soldiers holding guns high, striding confidently forward. Beneath their feet is the slogan, ¡No pasarán! Radios blare speeches from the government and songs inciting people to fight. Before and after each speech, each song, the slogan ¡No pasarán! is spoken, chanted, cheered, or bellowed.
As people pass each other on streets, plazas, parks, cafes, whether they know one and another or not, they declare ¡No pasarán! The phrase has become a password, a means of recognizing those who are loyal to the government.
In the distance muffled sounds of machines—tanks, trucks, planes, cars—can be heard. On the streets, especially those leading to Casa de Campo and Carabanchal, trucks, a few tanks (mostly broken down relics from The Great War), cars, and men race west. Every so often, a single or two, maybe three planes passes overhead then turn back west.
Eduardo continues to deliver the mail.
Eduardo walks his route, head down, flipping through a handful of letters. The faint sweet, nutty, salty flavor of manchego and jamón lingers on his lips. He steps carefully around a woman and the three small children she is watching on the stoop of her apartment building. Inside the foyer, he slides each letter into its respective mailbox and then eases down the steps past the woman.
“Ola Señora Núñez,” he says.
She turns her thin, pretty face to his and a question forms behind furrowed eyebrows. “Ola Señor Robledo. Any news?”
He pauses on the sidewalk. Across the street a wall is covered by patriotic posters of a citizen soldier holding a gun high with ¡Viva La República and ¡No pasarán! printed in vibrant, colorful block letters. Music with lyrics inciting loyal Republicans to fight float down from a radio in an open window above. The muffled echoes of trucks and cars loaded with new recruits speed west to Casa de Campo and Carabanchal. Every so often a single or two or three planes pass overhead then turn back toward Madrid.
“I haven’t heard anything new.”