Tuesday, June 9, 2009

First attempt at editing

I'll get through as many of these as I can-- it's not posting well. Excuse the html probs.

Redleg--
Woo hoo? First comment? Here's the first paragraph of my current magnum opus:

With his back against the brick wall, Jack Pasternak couldn’t help but contemplate the discordant row of bayonets and gun barrels pointed at him. The cord binding his wrists together was a little loose, but even if he did pull a Harry Houdini out of his magic hat, he couldn’t see himself getting more than five or six paces before being gunned down like a rabid dog. All in all his options seemed to be to die momentarily or to die instantly. Neither was particularly attractive.


Okay, we're not doing openings here, so I'm just going to edit as I would any paragraph. But it's even more important in the opening paragraph to edit tightly and make the sentences as clear as possible.

So...
With his back against the brick wall, Jack Pasternak couldn’t help but contemplate the discordant row of bayonets and gun barrels pointed at him.
"Discordant" is a bit precious in a forceful sentence. Also "couldn't help but contemplate" seems sort of feminine and tentative-- but you know your voice best. It's just those two elements seem sort of... well, precious, not vital and muscular like the rest of the paragraph. And the "With" isn't needed, so I'd trim it just for the sake of trimming:
His back against the brick wall, Jack Pasternak contemplated the row of bayonets and gun barrels pointed at him.

The cord binding his wrists together was a little loose, but even if he did pull a Harry Houdini out of his magic hat, he couldn’t see himself getting more than five or six paces before being gunned down like a rabid dog.
Don't need Houdini AND magic, and the "couldn't see", again, is a kind of precious construction. This is an action scene, and should sound like it-- no extra words so the reader can feel the urgency.

The cord binding his wrists was a little loose, but even if he did pull a Harry Houdini, he wouldn’t get more than five paces before being gunned down like a rabid dog.


All in all his options seemed to be to die momentarily or to die instantly. Neither was particularly attractive.

"Seemed to be" is almost always editing to "were"-- "seemed" sends the message that this isn't true. So:
His options were die momentarily or to die instantly. Neither was particularly attractive.

I'm not sure about that "particularly attractive"-- again, it feels feminine to me. Not sure what to replace it with. But feel the toughness and desperation of the situation. Now if this is sort of a dark comedy, so you want a humor undertone, you're right to go with longer lines, even in an action scene. Also of course the character's personality should come through the lines, and he might not be hard-bitten and taut here. So my trimming might make this sound wrong. (If I were editing your whole book, of course, I'd have more of a sense of the narrative voice and would find it easier to edit towards that.)

But this is a good tense opening! I think it will draw the reader in.

--Alicia

8 comments:

beth said...

I really like the tone of this one--good voice.

Tightening up the style, and shortening some of those sentences, would probably make the voice shine even more. Great recommendations, Alicia!

Tena Russ said...

Hmmm. Was this supposed to be a first paragraph of a work in progress? Mine is not. I thought it was just a paragraph or two that might use some editing.

Jeanne Ryan said...

Something about the word contemplated doesn't sit right with me. It's passive and implies time to think leisurely about something. There's no emotion to it.

Also, I'm not sure what POV you are using, but if you are going deep third, I don't feel like I'm in this person's head. Having him "contemplate" takes away some of the tension. Same thing with "his options."

If this is a dark comedy, then contemplated is perfect. It reminds me of the guys in Life of Brian singing on the crosses at the end. I'm in a dire situation and going to die so time to sing, or in your case think.

Redleg said...

Thanks so much, Alicia. It may sound...precious...but I appreciate you taking the time to pore over a total stranger's work to educate folks. It helps.

rachel.capps said...

Wow! I thought it was a great opening to start with ... your line edit has really polished it!

Edittorrent said...

No, Tena, it's not supposed to be a first paragraph. Some people just posted their first paragraphs, which makes me hope it's not all they have. :)

Please do NOT post a first paragraph. Those are special, and I haven't the mental energy to deal with them today.

A

Bliss244 said...

Something threw me.

if the hero is facing 'bayonets' I automatically assume 'historical' whereas the mention of Houdini pulls me forward to the 20th century.

Evangeline said...

This is so helpful!!

And on the Houdini/bayonet bit, the magician was in action from the 1890s until his death, and bayonets were used until WWI.