Looking for alternatives

Lily Norton| Student, Fairfield University

Always look for alternatives - I always do this when I am writing and when I’m editing. First, of course, I read the whole story to understand the idea of it. It is never a good idea to edit as you go along because many times you’ll have changed the meaning of the story, mixing up the chronologies or giving priority to information that is not as important as other information. Then, I mark any sentences that seem strangely worded, or that I have to read twice to fully understand. (I often do the breath test - i.e., can you say the lead in one breath?) Then, I will have a thesaurus nearby, and look up the words in the confusing sentences. Many times, I can get inspired to write the sentence in a better way when I look for a different word to use.

For example, look at this lead from a top story on the nytimes Web site:

A huge blast from a suicide car bomb at the gates of the Indian Embassy on Monday killed 41 people in the deadliest suicide car bombing since the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 ousted the Taliban.

To me, this lead is long (37 words) and somewhat repetitive, saying the phrase “suicide car bombing” twice.

After looking up the word “blast” in the thesaurus, I found the word detonation and was inspired to change the phrasing of the sentence.

Forty-one people were killed at the gates of the Indian Embassy on Monday after the detonation of the deadliest suicide car bomb since the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 ousted the Taliban.

This also puts focus on the deaths of the people, while eliminating the problem of repetition and reducing the word count to 33. It also performs as well as the first lead because it doesn’t further shroud the historical importance of the event.

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