Edit My Paragraph!

Have you rewritten the first paragraph of your story no less than fifty times? Does it still read like a thesaurus puked it out after having long swallowed your original intentions because, goddamn, first paragraphs have to hook the reader?


Are you struggling with how to convey “acrid pit of decaying flesh” without resorting to adverbs and adjectives?


Do you need better indicators of the deep and abiding love your protagonist feels other than heart rate and palm sweat?


Is it possible that you perhaps have a habit of sometimes using a few too many qualifiers and prepositions and otherwise possibly unnecessary words that can sometimes do things like bloat the text and make it take what seems like forever to get to whatever it is that you might have been trying to say?

Edit My Paragraph is here to help!

Join me in creative adventure as we explore the fine art of editing by taking short samples submitted by you, the readers, and breaking them down, sorting out the trouble spots, and making the prose sparkle! I will post a before and after of your paragraph along with detailed notes about what changes were made and why, and everyone will then be welcome to engage in further discussion.

If you have a paragraph or short passage in need of editing, post up to 300 words of prose in the comments below, together with a brief description of the editing goal and any relevant contextual information, and you may be chosen to have your paragraph edited in the next column!

Gayle Towell

Column by Gayle Towell

Gayle Towell’s stories have won the 2013 Women’s National Book Association writing contest, the 2014 Willamette Writers Kay Snow fiction award, and have been published in Menacing Hedge, Pif Magazine, and the Burnt Tongues anthology among other places. Her novella Blood Gravity was released through Blue Skirt Productions in September 2014. Gayle is the founding editor of Microfiction Monday Magazine and cofounder of Blue Skirt Productions, an artists’ collective. For more information, visit gayletowell.com.

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big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk April 15, 2014 - 1:26pm

Cool idea, will defo what im working on and have a look

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami June 18, 2014 - 12:53pm

This post is no longer relevant.:P

eirikodin's picture
eirikodin from Auburn, NY is reading Mediterranean Caper by Clive Cussler April 16, 2014 - 9:39am

A bouquet of hot oil fills the arid crankcase as I perform a typical shipboard job of pulling a large piston from the engine.  Stop the engine, crank the engine over to the proper flywheel degree, remove the head after stretching the bolts, unbolt the piston rod from the crosshead and pull it out with the overhead engine room crane.  This is all that needs to be done to pull a piston on a fifty eight thousand horsepower slow speed Sulzer.

Just looking to interest readers from the beginning, especially those who know nothing of large slow speeds.  I feel that there is not enough action right off the bat.  This is the beginning of a buildup to a deadly accident so any changes need to stay relevent to the job being performed.  There is a death within the first two pages so maybe this is ok to start the story with.



Gayle Towell's picture
Gayle Towell from North Plains, Oregon April 16, 2014 - 9:52am

Awesome, Dave. I look forward to it!

Sarah--it looks like the above paragraph went away. (For those who missed it, it was a joke post of word salad. Tasty though it was...)

Leif--first submission! Thanks for getting the party started.

Ethan Yarbrough's picture
Ethan Yarbrough from Bothell, WA April 16, 2014 - 1:57pm

At this hour the children are just finishing swimming lessons. They team and caper on the sidewalk in front of the snack stand. They buy ice cream bars and red vines and soda pop in cans. They mill around in groups and pairs; the boys push and run and jump and climb; the girls watch and whisper and strut and point. Then the mothers arrive in cars. They pull up against the curb. The children move toward the mothers, climb into cars and are driven away. Then the park is quiet again. Only the sun baking on the sidewalk and the distant rush of cars passing on the freeway. When the crowd is gone, one boy is left standing in the sunshine. He is small. Sarah guesses eight years old. Skinny legs poking out of Mario Brothers swim trunks, blue crocs on his feet. He turns a slow circle, scraping his backpack against the concrete. Sarah pulls her Odyssey from the curb, drives past the boy, up the hill and then does a U-turn in the middle of the street. She comes back toward the boy and pulls up along his side of the street lowering the passenger window and leaning forward to talk as her van rolls to a stop. "I'll give you a ride," she says.

Humpfree VanDurden's picture
Humpfree VanDurden from Phoenix is reading Stiff April 16, 2014 - 5:42pm

The renegade pimple that sprung up on my forehead this afternoon only served to confirm it, tonight was the night, the deadline was up and bells were ringing. Twenty-eight months of begging, pleading, and bargaining with the Biblical Boy Wonder and not a single sign. No tingling, no toe-wiggling, not even a hint of morning wood. Nothing. Not one goddamned sign. What made Lazarus so special? Or the lady who touched his flimsy robe? Didn't I deserve a little love? A simple sneeze in my general direction would surely fix something. Anything. It didn’t need to be a miracle, just a sign. WWJD? I'll tell you first hand what he'd do - zero, zip, nada, nothing. Selfish bastard.

As a novice I don't have specific goals in mind with this, just seems fun. Obviously I'm curious to see what y'all think and I can use and will appreciate any input - good or bad. Story is about a guy struggling to adapt to his new life as a wheelchair user (quadriplegic)...Thx

only2be's picture
only2be April 19, 2014 - 8:49pm

In its purest form, parenting is the humbling endeavor to live up to our own devotion. Modern parenting, on the other hand, is the absurd application of our massive neocortex to go beyond nature’s instincts and improve on the original design. In a way, we have to – we have no choice. We can’t very well send the three year olds out into the field to watch the chickens. We are so densely settled that we need to keep them with us, watch over them or pay someone to do it for us. We strap them down tight into car seats, and ask them not to touch things in grocery stores. We are obligated to teach them things like how to share, say please, get dressed (in clothes that are weather-appropriate, no less) and eat what they should even though they know the popsicles are in the freezer. This is obviously more than nature intended.

Gayle Towell's picture
Gayle Towell from North Plains, Oregon April 19, 2014 - 9:42pm

Good stuff! I'm looking forward to digging into these. 

Carrie Cunningham's picture
Carrie Cunningham April 26, 2014 - 7:41am

I breathed in the tempting smells of Savannah Sweets. Melted chocolate, vanilla, and nuts had beckoned me inside from the Celtic festival. Still holding my prized Nikon F-401 X camera, I scanned the store through its viewfinder wondering what would appeal to me today. Fudge? Key lime pretzels? My eyes lingered near the rack of pralines. Perfection. My mouth started to water right away. A guy in a dark gray Member's Only jacket and a chambray shirt had my focus. I adjusted the camera to get a closer look. There was something very appealing about him. I tilted the camera lower. His dark Calvin Klein jeans were tight enough to make me want to get a bit closer. His attention was on a display of pralines. I was free to observe him unseen. His gun-metal sneakers were from one of the latest campaigns from Nike for the Pegasus GX. Guys on campus had been talking about this shoe. I scanned back up the length of him. Apparently, he was weighing which would be tastier. I let my camera rest on the strap about my neck. My eyes never left his face as I moved nonchalantly through the crowded shop making a beeline for him. Deep brown bordering on black wavy hair curled enticingly about his very pale neck. It beckoned me closer. He was what I was in the mood for tonight. “Delicious.”


My goal is to have this paragraph come to life.  I want the reader to see this guy through her eyes. 


My protaganist is meeting one of two possible romantic leads.

Christopher Derrick's picture
Christopher Derrick May 20, 2014 - 7:44pm

It was a coup for Harris to set eyes upon his granddaughter’s killer coming out of the Exxon service station at the Morgantown exit off the I-95. Harris normally skipped that pricey by-the-freeway gas, but he needed to clean the splattered bird shit off on his window. The sighting rang the death knell to the endless nights of slurping sludge that masqueraded as coffee and nibbling on dried donuts while roving through Recession-blighted towns. Harris had been hunting this harbinger of despair going on four months now, and his ardent daily prayer now had been answered. However, as they reckon, when God wishes to punish you, he answers your prayers.

I want to bring readers into what is hopefully a controversial and twisted revenge story.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami June 18, 2014 - 12:52pm

So that's what Edit My Paragraph is. I guess I could find something.

My question is this, how short is a to short paragraph? (Some have these huge honker paragraphs, yet mine tend to be smallish.)

Gayle Towell's picture
Gayle Towell from North Plains, Oregon July 20, 2014 - 11:28am

Sorry for not seeing these most recent comments sooner. Christopher--I might be tackling that paragraph in the next edition. Sarah--There is no minimum word count, only a maximum. No more than 300 words.