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.
“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).
“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.
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.
“What?” Jayne shouted back.
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).
“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.”
“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).
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.
Solin ran down the street.
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.”