So, I tried out a new thing. Take this segment from The Eye of Argon:

The weather beaten trail wound ahead into the dust racked climes of the baren land which dominates large portions of the Norgolian empire. Age worn hoof prints smothered by the sifting sands of time shone dully against the dust splattered crust of earth. The tireless sun cast its parching rays of incandescense from overhead, half way through its daily revolution. Small rodents scampered about, occupying themselves in the daily accomplishments of their dismal lives. Dust sprayed over three heaving mounts in blinding clouds, while they bore the burdonsome cargoes of their struggling overseers. "Prepare to embrace your creators in the stygian haunts of hell, barbarian", gasped the first soldier. "Only after you have kissed the fleeting stead of death, wretch!" returned Grignr. A sweeping blade of flashing steel riveted from the massive barbarians hide enameled shield as his rippling right arm thrust forth, sending a steel shod blade to the hilt into the soldiers vital organs. The disemboweled mercenary crumpled from his saddle and sank to the clouded sward, sprinkling the parched dust with crimson droplets of escaping life fluid. The enthused barbarian swilveled about, his shock of fiery red hair tossing robustly in the humid air currents as he faced the attack of the defeated soldier's fellow in arms.

This is already a good passage; let's make it even better:

The weather beaten trail wound ahead into the barren land which dominated most of the Norgolian empire. Old hoof prints smothered by the winds shone dully against the dust-covered earth. The sun sat high, casting its parching rays down below to the dismay of the small rodents that scampered about.

Blinding clouds of dust sprayed over three horses, heaving under the weight of their riders.

"Prepare to embrace your creators in the stygian haunts of hell, barbarian", shouted the first soldier as he caught up to the barbarian, sword raised.

"Only after you have kissed the fleeting stead of death, wretch!" returned Grignr. A flash of light swept across the rivets of his hide-enameled shield, as the barbarian's rippling right arm thrust forth, sending the steel sword through the chainmail, hilt-deep into the soldier's belly. The soldier's eyes widened. Grignr tightened his grip and yanked the sword out, slashing his opponent's side open.

The disemboweled soldier crumpled from his saddle and fell on the clouded sward, sprinkling the dust with crimson droplets of blood. A smile stretched across Grignr's face.

The barbarian spun around, his fiery red hair tossing in the air currents as he raised his sword to block the other's.

Note: I don't know enough bout horseback sword fighting (especially when both opponents are riding), nor do I know what equipment the soldiers have. Also, sorry for the chainmail bit, I know it's bs.

The basic idea is that I find issues and fix them, making me both a critic and a writer. I can't say it's hot garbage, I have to methodically break down the reason why it's garbage, like failing to establish the position of the combatants in space and the redundant redundancy.

That takes care of the critic, but then you have to "fix", which invariably involves writing and writing new ideas. This new ideas usually morph the story in a way that's unique to most writers, developing their style.


While it is fun, I'm not sure. Could this practice be detrimental to developing my own style? I have to add and/or change stuff, but still...

Also, while you might not be able to wrap your head around it, but there are instances of books that, for one reason or another, weren't properly edited. These range from the self-published "works" of Onision, to fan stories and borderline fan stories (The Eye of Argon, at least the version I used, was originally published in a sci-fi magazine back in 1970).

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    Can I say this objectively…? How do you know it's 'better'? Yours is easier to read because paragraphs, but the original has some passages I think are more…, eh, flavorful… My opinion is that studying classics and breaking them down is going to inform your writing, but 'fixing' them and announcing they are 'better' is not objective at all. Are your choices better for the tone/story? Or did you just modernize it with some punchier words? You didn't fix any of the issues with the scene or the POV. I still don't know what's going on or who to care about…. Don't edit, WRITE. – wetcircuit Mar 18 at 23:47
  • @wetcircuit You do realize: 1. I put "fixing" into quotation marks for a reason. 2. Death of the author 3. When I said the excerpt was good an let's make it better, I was being sarcastic. Sorry you failed to catch on that, next time I write it out with big bold letters – Mephistopheles Mar 19 at 8:01
  • You misunderstand. I kept your quotes (which are not sarcasm). You still don't say what makes it better. I can see keeping the thick fantasy word-style as an effect and fixing the story. I can see turning the language into a hip-hop opera, or inferring it's a mock epic D&D session (Rape of the Lock). These are style. I don't think you are going far enough. Your question is will it be "detrimental to developing my own style" – No, but it's doing nothing towards developing a style either. Style is more than just wordflow (which you've improved), but you've removed style from the original. – wetcircuit Mar 19 at 10:35
  • You can state a specific goal in bold letters, and then we can say whether it achieves the goal. Instead you say you've fixed the text and made it better. That's not objective, so everyone has a different opinion of what's "better" and everyone would fix it in a different way. You don't say what's wrong with the original so it's just your opinion that it's 'fixed" now. My opinion is the story is not really "fixed" and I said why. I'm asking you to state clearer goals What does 'better' mean?, I'm not insulting your edits, which seem pretty minor. Go further. – wetcircuit Mar 19 at 10:41
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    I mean there's no improving that horrid text. – JRE Mar 20 at 21:41

To be fair, I'd recommend that you solely work on your writing before you start to critique others, especially if these others are already published. If they've published, they were likely already professionally edited. Your works have not. Perfect your own writing by reading aloud your work, and by giving it some rest. By this, I mean allowing at least a month or two weeks before reading through it. You have to read your work objectively.

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Personally I'd say that exposing yourself to other material (like you're saying you're doing) is always good because you learn new things from it which you can incorporate into your own work. Reading many different types of work and styles surely can help you determine which things you like and which things you don't, which can push you on your way to tuning up your style. Editing like this sharpens your eye for mistakes when you get used to it so you'll be better at that.

But I've heard from several different places that the best way to become a better writer is just to write. You need to throw your thoughts onto the page to be sifted through. See what works and what doesn't, and play with it and keep writing until you can lock something in for yourself. Because nobody can know your writing better than you (https://copyblogger.com/bad-writing-habits/ just go to #7, it's kind of related).

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To answer your question “could this practice be detrimental to developing my own style?”

I would say no, as what your doing is rewriting it in your own style. But developing your own style would probably be better served by rewriting it from scratch. So its all in your own style, rather than just editing it so only parts of it are. Or by just writing your own original scenes.

I would also say that editing the work of others can certainly improve your ability to edit your own work as its much easier to see mistakes in the work of others than in work that you have written yourself. And recognising them when others make them, makes it much easier to see when you’ve done the same thing. This is true even if the “mistakes” are only subjective.

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This is similar to an older exercise of learning how to be a writer. It involved transcribing selected passages exactly. The point of the exercise was to kind of force you to think why did they use this word in that sentence.

You’re method extends that technique. It might be helpful in finding your own voice — as in how would I say that phrase, notion, idea, scene in words that more match a manner in which I express myself.

Unless you are using a very poorly written text as your source (a harlequin romance) or using one that is dated or in a style that is no longer in fashion, then you are unlikely to improve the work.

There are people that want to be writers that use this technique. I met one such fellow, he rewrote all of the dialog of “The Last Jedi” to improve it. I am fairly certain many others do things like this too. And, then there are writers that only write fan-fiction for their favorite TV or Book series. Personally, I’m sure of the attraction, but I’m in no position to judge whether they’ll ever develop themselves as good writers. And, I’ve no desire to judge them, if it makes them happy, so be it. And, the same applies to you, if you enjoy it, then go wild.

The only other word of caution, I’d add is that I think the best developing writers I meet are always the most honest and open and humble of people. I think that it what it takes to learn to be a great writer — when you are part of that great mass of humanity not seemingly born with talent and have to work at it.

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Could it be detrimental to your style? Maybe. It's complicated.

On the one hand, this kind of line-editing will help you to craft your own voice, especially if you understand from the outset that this is what you've set out to do. Instead of asking yourself, "How should this be said?" I would encourage you to ask yourself, "How would I say this?" Granted, some lines are so jarring that they utterly fail to depict whatever the author was going for (e.g. "a lithe, opaque nose.")

On the other hand, one of the biggest hang-ups I have with the wisdom of self-identified critics is how frequently their guidelines are contradicted by the works of best-selling authors. This can be especially bad if the critic regards these guidelines as incontrovertible truth.

It's not just critics who fall into this trap, either; sometimes bestselling authors will present bad advice, and people will go on parroting it. When I pore over the number adverbs in The Stand, for example, I can't take seriously Stephen King's advice that I should treat adverbs like dandelions and uproot them before they multiply. The motive for this advice is solid: there are many times when a stronger verb will depict your thoughts far better than any adverb. But his advice is way over the top, and because he's Stephen King, people mindlessly parrot it and critique other works on this basis.

It's so bad now that people have begun insisting aspiring authors avoid adjectives as often as possible. Hell, I was just watching a video about how to "Show, Don't Tell" from Skillshare that cautioned me not to use adjectives, then provided an example of a "corrected" paragraph that stands out because of the clever use of adjectives. It's that incoherent. But judging from the corrections you made, you seem to have a good head on your shoulders.

So all that said, to the extent that rewriting another person's prose as you would write it serves your pursuit of your own voice, it can be very useful. But everything you read will influence your voice, and given enough time and distance you may find yourself revising previous revisions, surprised at how much you seek to change. And this is why I insisted that the answer is complicated.

The real risk here, as I see it, is that you develop an impulse to line-edit when you should be reviewing your work, and so end up writing a chapter, then getting drawn into line-editing it out of habit until you find yourself revising and retouching your work every time you sit down. If you get lost in this process, your style will be in a constant state of flux, and your ability to grow as a storyteller will suffer in tandem with every subtle shift in your voice. It's not a fun problem to have.

So I'd say go for it, but be very cautious, don't do it at the expense of your reading, and keep an eye out for a growing tendency to edit your work when you're supposed to be forging ahead. Oftentimes my desire to review a few pages of text before I start writing again has become a lengthy and unnecessary editing session. If you don't have that same problem and don't find yourself developing the habits that will lead you there because of this process, you should be fine.

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