Posts Tagged With: throwback thursday

The Asshole’s Guide To Editing: #3

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Previous Guides: #1 and #2.

Last time: Solin tried to help the blacksmith, taught an adjunct class on how to use a dolly in excruciating detail, broke some shit, and then ran down the street.

I took a week off because the Walking Dead finale broke my shit, but I’m back.

EXCERPT

A block or two later, his heart calmed, and he was sure Jayne wasn’t following. (“Heart calmed” is a nothing phrase – we’re here to evoke emotion. Even a cliché like “his heart stopped pounding” is at least evocative and descriptive. I’d also reorder this sentence – “His heart calmed a block or two later when he was sure Jayne wasn’t following.” Get rid of a few unnecessary commas and bring the action out front.

However, what I’d really do is reorder the sentence as above, getting the subject and verb out front, AND I’d give it more active language with an amusing voice – it was supposed to be a funny scene, after all.

So, something like this: “His heart found its old familiar rhythm three blocks later when he was sure Jayne wasn’t chasing him with a rake.”)

Still, he’d done enough harm to the populace for today. Time to go see ‘ole long face. (The voice is a MESS here. Thinking something like “he’d done enough harm to the populace” is something a robot or a snarky college professor might say. But then in the next sentence it’s “time to go see ‘ole long face.” Folksy language. Voice is important, and this neophyte writer didn’t spare one moment to even think about it).

Solin’s destination was on the edge of town (passive language alert), and so it allowed him to observe Bowen’s Rest in its waking moments. He was not a fan of being up so early, (passive language alert) but between bad dreams and insomnia, it was a time he was unfortunately familiar with. (Not sure why Solin can’t think in contractions – “He was not a fan” “it was a time.” He’s 17-years-old, loosen the collar a little).

He welcomed it, grudgingly. It was a better alternative to the dreams, and the cold air filling his lungs seemed so vibrant and alive. Solin also liked the feeling that he was witnessing something that few people see (Except earlier you said the whole town wakes up early – the problem here is the writer is injecting his own thoughts into the character, whether they’re appropriate or not). Most wake up and the world is going on without them. So early in the morning, Solin felt strangely wise. As if all those who missed the sunrise were left out.

Maybe he did like being up early after all, and grumbled and complained for the sake of others. (This shit is infuriating. In the beginning of the chapter, he said he hated to wake up early. Then, just now, he liked it. Now, here, Solin offers a THIRD OPINION about his feelings about the morning. This is shameful, self-indulgent naval-gazing at its most embarrassing, and worst of all, it’s slapping the reader in the face and saying “I don’t care about your time.”) He shook his head. At that hour, with an angry blacksmith possibly on his heels, Solin wasn’t much for self-reflection. (ARE YOU SURE?! WANNA GO BACK AND READ THE LAST NINE PARAGRAPHS, YOU FUCK?!)

Ironic, considering where he was going and why. (There’s irony all over this sumbitch, but it’s not for that reason). He wondered if sourpuss would be awake. Of course he was awake. He was always awake. (So, everyone in town wakes up early again? Is this early-onset medieval fantasy Alzheimers?)

The cobbled street became dirt, and the buildings to either side blended into rolling farmland. (“…blended into rolling farmland” might be one of the few non-passive, non-forever-taking bits of economical writing in the whole book so far). To his left, on the east side of the road stood a field of golden corn. It looked ripe for the picking to Solin, but he admitted he wasn’t much for farming. That was another trade Solin had attempted, to little avail. He had apprenticed at that very farm. Farmer Yeven had watched him break two plows, a fence, and a mule before asking him politely to “try a different trade.” (This is actually pretty considerate of me to remind you again and again that Solin is a screw-up, because there is a very real chance you, the abused reader, fell asleep during an earlier passage and missed something.)

To his right, on the west side of the road, was grazing land, and a vast fleet of cows roamed across it (I think this sentence needs more commas). Solin was pretty sure a group of cows wasn’t called a fleet, but he didn’t really care either (and neither does the reader).

That land he knew quite well. It was his best friend’s, or his best friend’s father’s, though most in the town knew that Rion ett Morali, the son, pretty much ran the farm by himself. Rion tended the livestock, the small field of corn behind their house, and even dealt with the finances and sold the farms excess. He was well respected, for his hard work if not for the pity most felt for him about his father. (Way, way too overwritten. How about: “Everyone knew Rion ran the family farm, no matter whose name was on the deed” and delete the rest of this paragraph. Maybe the chapter. Potentially the book).

Solin vaulted the low wooden fence into the Morali farm, his boots crunching into the sparse grass (there’s some simultaneous action happening here – if his boots really must crunch, they should do it in their own sentence. This somehow implies his boots crunched the grass in mid-vault, which gravity doesn’t particularly care for). A cow just at the edge of the fence turned its head up toward him, (just “A cow at the edge of the fence turned its head,” no need for “up toward him.” We get that he’s spurring the action, cut the stage direction) and Solin patted the big animal on the forehead. Its large eyes blinked once, and it never stopped chewing. After a moment, it returned to its patch of grass. Solin shook his head and laughed, and wondered if he would have got the same reaction if he would have lit the cow on fire and jumped up and down screaming. Probably. (Some readers might get that this is a joke, but other readers would probably assume Solin is a weirdo or a psychopath. Maybe save animal mutilation jokes until we know the character a little better).

Far off to his right he could see a house, and barn with a silo beside it. (Unnecessary Comma should be the name of my band). Solin turned south, checked his belt, and took off running. (“Checked his belt?” Why include such needless detail? “Solin’s mind sent signals down his spine to his large muscle groups compelling them forward into what could be called a ‘run’ by modern scholars. This was much faster than a walk.”) It was a fine day for it, and the cool air flooding through his lungs brought a smile to his face. His legs pumped, his arms moved in tight lines beside his waist, and he threw his head back to feel the biting wind. (Oh, shit, I got ahead of myself. I really did describe what running is) Solin’s shaggy blond hair caught the wind, and he laughed again as he ran. A cow rose up before him and Solin leaped, catching the cows back with one hand and vaulting over it with all his momentum. He crashed into a roll on the other side, but came up running just as quickly. (He just jumped a cow. What is happening?)

He wondered if he could ever get Cow Jumping to take off as a sport. (Insert audience laughter)

/EXCERPT

Okay, so that was (pardon my Swiss-German) fucking brutal. We barely made it through 500 words of prose there, and literally nothing happened.

Things Solin thought about: 1) Morning time, 2) Working on a farm, 3) Lighting cows on fire

I’ll see you next week for – GOD WILLING – some actual narrative beats. Maybe. No promises.

Next: Read “The Asshole’s Guide to Editing” #4

 

 

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Categories: The Asshole's Guide to Editing, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Asshole’s Guide to Editing: #2

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Start at the beginning with the 1st Asshole’s Guide to Editing.

Last time: Solin woke up and left his house, which took 1,000 boring words.

EXCERPT

“Blacksmith!” Solin shouted. (Good thing Solin said this. I hadn’t mentioned this new character’s profession in at least one (1) seconds).

Jayne raised an eyebrow and leaned across his workbench, “Layabout!” (This is just a good opportunity to point at that “raising an eyebrow and leaning across a workbench” is not a dialogue tag. Turn that comma into a period).

Solin frowned.

“Don’t fret,” Jayne said, “Nothing personal. Sure could use a bit of help, though.”

(While we’re on dialogue attribution and formatting, apparently I didn’t know how to do it. This is an actual draft I sent to people, too, which is a real shame. “Don’t fret” is a sentence, so “Jayne said” ends with a period. The rest of his dialogue is a new sentence. The only reason to cram that comma in there is if the dialogue tag is breaking a sentence, as in, “We could go outside,” Mister Roboto said, “if we want to get eaten by giant space frogs.”)

Solin crossed the cold cobbles in a heartbeat. He stumbled in the predawn gloom (weird wording, like he’s tripping in a vat of physical gloom) and nearly cracked his head on Nathan Jayne’s anvil. The burly blacksmith (really?) caught him, righted him, and brushed imaginary dust off his shoulders.

“Thanks.”

Jayne waved it away and walked deeper into his shop. Horse shoes, hoes and rakes, and even a plow blade hung from the walls. Wooden beams crisscrossed just over his head, and Solin wondered how the place hadn’t caught fire yet. In the back, a black forge glowed with the first morning embers the big blacksmith must have stoked. The smell of metal oil and char filled the air.

(This would have been the first, ideal place to hint that Jayne is a blacksmith – Solin, our dull main character, is seeing something physical. Let the reader discover that, give them something to do other than roll their eyes. It’s not a big deal, obviously, but a book can be interactive if you let it be. Readers enjoy deducing things, give them a chance.)

“What do you need? I’ve never made anything before,” Solin said.

“Yeah,” Jayne laughed, “That’s still gonna be true tomorrow. Just help me haul these crates out to the front.”

He indicated two waist-high wooden crates, filled to the top and beyond with what had to be finished products. Tools and the like, work their owners would soon be picking up. (Oh lookie, this backbirth forgot what perspective the book is written in. You can see him/young-me almost going third-person omniscient here. How the hell does Solin know what’s in these crates or what they’re for?) Solin nodded, reached down, and pulled. Something popped in his shoulders, his back, and probably his head. Solin wondered if arms could grow back. The crate, undaunted, remained in place.

“Just warming up?” Jayne asked.

“Nope,” Solin said, “I think that weighs more than my house.”

“First lesson, blondie,” Jayne said, and grabbed a dolly from the wall. He leaned down, tilted the crate, and jammed the hand truck in the gap. The crate came down on top of it, and the wheels creaked. Jayne’s fingers, already dirty, Solin noticed, (unnecessary, obviously Solin is the one doing the noticing, it’s his perspective) wrapped around the handles on the top.

“Tools, right,” Solin said, “I’m getting it, I’m getting it. Put the weight on wheels, not on your spine.”

“Not totally hopeless,” Jayne grunted.

He tilted the dolly and backed out of the narrow passage. Solin pulled another hand truck off the wall and dropped its front metal plate just at the edge of the box. He mimed cracking his knuckles, set his hands on the lip of the crate, and tugged. Leaned back. Shook. Jumped up and down. The crate, bolted to the ground, he was sure, did not move. Didn’t even blink at the assault, actually, a fact Solin found even more frustrating. (This isn’t super-egregious, but it’s an opportunity to be better – don’t tell us Solin is frustrated, like you’re the ring-side announcer. If we’re seeing him trying his hardest to move this crate and its achieving bupkis, we can guess he’s frustrated. Or have him kick the thing. Don’t just vomit the feeling on the reader.)

“Jayne! Jayne I-“

A voice floated back to Solin, cutting him off, “Grab a lever. A pull bar. Right there. On the wall.”

Solin found the described instrument, a long black metal bar with a crook in it. (You can just say crowbar, Solin isn’t an alien). He hefted it, pretended to swing it at the blacksmith’s distant head, and bent down. The tip of the bar fit right under the box, and he shoved his weight down on the bar (delete “on the bar,” redundant and repetitive). A strip of wood at the bottom of the crate broke off and soared through the air.

“Hmm.”

“What?” Jayne shouted back.

“Nothing.”

Solin tried again, kicking the tip of the pry bar even further under the box. He crooked the bar, and with only a little creaking this time, the crate rose an inch off the ground. The problem, he realized, was lack of hands now. He stared at the hand truck, willing it to glide under the gap he’d manufactured. But he discovered it didn’t respond to pretend magical abilities. A foresight by its creator, he decided.

Solin hooked the dolly with his foot and pulled. It moved awkwardly, top-heavily, but he nudged it into place. He dropped the box onto the metal lip of the dolly. So far, not bad.

(Okay, let’s take a step back from the nitty gritty and look at the scene – why is this scene happening at all? Why are we infecting some poor reader’s mind with this? At best it’s flirting with being amusing, and SHOWING that Solin is a fuck-up rather than telling us. It’s a good idea in theory, but this scene is never-ending. There are like four paragraphs dedicated to the mechanics of using a dolly – this is self-indulgent fluff of the highest order. Just have him try to lift the crate, knock it over, done. We don’t need a resplendent ode to dolly-usage.)

Solin stood up and got the hand truck fully in place. Underestimating the power of wheels and leverage, Solin yanked back on the top of the dolly’s handle. Also, he didn’t hold the front of the crate in place. Solin turned a dolly into a catapult. The crate of tools bucked up, made half a rotation on one corner, and crashed to the floor on its side. (I’m so relieved you described the exact rotation and orientation or else I wouldn’t be able to understand how a crate could fall over. You’ve saved us all from confusion, thank you.) A hundred tools Solin didn’t recognize crested in a wave (“crested in a wave” is at least redundant, if not outright moronic, which it might be) and rattle-ring-jangled across the floor with surprising power. (Actually not a criticism, I think “rattle-ring-jangled” is kind of a perfect way to describe that noise. Kudos for doing at least one thing right.)

Nathan Jayne walked back into the shop, his face a brand new shade of red. Solin would have been amazed by the sight, that is, if he wasn’t too busy being horribly mortified. (Literally two sentences spent on describing a red face. Two.)

“I’m so sorry.”

“Nnn,” Jayne said. Or he might have said. It was the closest approximation of the grunt bubbling out of his lips. (Brevity, assface: “Nnn,” Jayne tried to say).

“I didn’t think…,” Solin said, the guilty dolly still gripped in one hand, “…that. Wow. Look at all those tools.” (The punctuation makes me want to die. Just use dashes to represent the choppy interrupt, or better yet, just use a comma and let the reader figure out the pacing).

“Get. Out.”

“Wait, I can help,” Solin said.

He crouched to pick up a hand saw. A rake was trapped under it, and when he pulled, it spun and cracked its wooden handle into Jayne’s shin. (The rake has a wooden handle? That IS odd, I’m glad you took time to describe that). The blacksmith howled and dropped to one knee to cradle his shin. Unfortunately, his knee landed on the claw-side of an old hammer. Jayne buckled and fell backwards, his back smacking hard into the stone floor. (“Fell backwards” onto “his back.” “Fell backwards” onto “his back.” “FELL BACKWARDS” onto “HIS BACK.” I’ll cut you).

He stared up at the ceiling for a long moment, his face surprisingly calm.

Solin watched him in horror, too afraid to talk.

“Solin,” Jayne whispered.

“I’m so sorry.”

“Solin.”

“Yes sir?”

“There is a back door, Solin. Take it, quickly. If you try to pass by me when you leave, I don’t think I could restrain myself.” (I get the joke, I guess, but this line of dialogue is long and not punchy and certainly doesn’t sound like its being spoken by someone who just fell down and hurt themselves pretty badly).

“Sir-“

“Back door!”

Solin spun on his heel and bolted for the aforementioned door. It slammed open (On its own, you passive-language using wanker?), and a hinge twisted and cracked (ON ITS OWN? What magical phantom is creating these effects?) and gave the door a maniacal tilt. (I guess Solin has super-strength now? Don’t worry, this doesn’t get touched on ever again. Also “and gave the door” is implying that the maniacal tilt was created in addition to the hinge twisting and cracking. There’s no easy fix without having it rewritten entirely, hopefully by a human with at least a thin slice of brains.) Solin looked back into the shop, his hand over his mouth. Jayne’s head still pointed skyward, but he had clearly heard the sound.

“I’m so-“

“Out!”

Solin ran down the street.

/EXCERPT

Overall this is an improvement from last week, where Solin’s most exciting moment was dropping a book on the ground and then picking it up again. The passage also gets a few points for effort, because this young author, still in his salad days, at least TRIED to “show not tell” us that Solin is a lovable screwup.

However, it becomes more obvious as the book progresses that the entire town knows how much of a human disaster area he is, so Jayne conveniently forgetting he’s a screw up so the readers can see he’s a screw up is lazy and contrived. Realistically, Solin should have OFFERED to help – thus establishing him as a good kid – and Jayne should have warned him away with horror in his eyes. That establishes the information WAY FASTER without any ham-handed dialogue or contrived long-ass scenes about proper dolly usage.

Anyway, come back next week for the continuing adventures of “Solin’s Barely Notable Morning Walk.” Maybe he’ll go to the bathroom at some point, or even, oh the excitement, think about stuff.

Next: Read “The Asshole’s Guide to Editing #3.”

Last Week’s “Asshole’s Guide to Editing.”

 

 

 

Categories: The Asshole's Guide to Editing, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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