Friday, April 8, 2011

Your Setting Example #11

This excerpt was provided by Annette Genova, and is taken from an historical novel sent in ancient Sparta.

Moments later, damp earth, softened from a mid-day drizzle, squished through her toes as she trudged towards the shouts of the helots in the fields. The last weeks had taught her to move carefully, scanning for ruts and rocks to avoid. Even an innocent pebble could turn treacherous. But it felt so good to be out in the open land, sunlight pouring on her head and arms, bees buzzing in the anemone, the scent of pine tickling her nostrils. She closed her eyes and raised her face to the sun, just for one wonderful careless moment. Her foot slipped in a puddle, and the knee gave way, despite her tight bandage. Only a desperate lunge with her stick stopped her falling. She pulled herself upright with a groan and gingerly tried to bear weight. It hurt. She’d never make it to the fields.

What we have here is a good integration of description into action. When we talk about incorporating description so that it doesn't stop the action, this is more or less what we're talking about. The merging of action and description begins with the very first sentence. Damp earth (subject of the sentence). Then there's a brief pause to describe the damp earth, then we get the main verb "squished." That verb wouldn't resonate quite as much if we didn't know that the earth was damp, right? Notice, too, that the descriptive detail is provided right at the moment it becomes relevant to the action. Sometimes we want to describe in advance, and sometimes, as here, we can do it in the context of the action.

But I wouldn't be me if I didn't tackle that highlighted sentence in the middle. It's pretty complex, and I'm not satisfied that it's as good as it can be. Let's break it down.

But it felt so good to be out in the open land
(1) sunlight pouring on her head and arms, 
(2) bees buzzing in the anemone, 
(3) the scent of pine tickling her nostrils.

Actually, you know what we're going to do here? I'm going to throw it back to all of you. Let's just analyze this sentence and see what we can make of it. Those numbered parts 1, 2, and 3 -- do you identify them as phrases or clauses? Do they modify felt or land? Is the sentence elliptical, and if so, what are the missing words? As always, I'll ask you to be kind in your comments. We don't like bloodbaths around here, but we do like reasoned analysis and thoughtful comments. :)



epic said...

I'll rewrite it (drunk, so bear with me) before going all literary and edit-y.

"But it felt so good being out in the open air, sunlight pouring on her face, bees buzzing around her ankles, the scent of pine tickling her nose."

I like how she writes the rest of the passage. On to the editing: There's four parts to that sentence -- "out in the open land" is the first, and it's not parallel construction w/ the rest of the series, so it felt off to me.

I tried not to have Itchy Pencil and rewrite the hell out of it. Edited sentence sticks with body parts throughout - connect sun to her face, bees buzzing to her ankles, the smell of pine to her nose.

"Nostrils" is a horrible word and should be BANNED BY LAW.

Annette Genova, I raise my glass of Chimay in your direction. Go go go.

Theresa the Stevens, thank you for putting this on the series of tubes. It's interesting. I something for you by the emails that is short and interesting and maybe even EDUCATIONAL.

Edittorrent said...

"Nostrils" is ugly, yes!

epic said...

Alicia, I have never talked to you, but I adore Theresa the Stevens, and if you agree with me that "nostrils" should be banned forever and ever, and ripped out of the Oxford English Dictionary and burned in a massive bonfire along with every CD that Justin Bieber ever produced, then you should take your rightful place as Minister of Words and Smiter of Stupid Things that Must Be Smited after the zombie apocalypse gets started.

Edittorrent said...

Epic, The very first substantive post I ever posted on this blog had to do with scents and noses.

Ah, nostalgia. Here we are, 3+ years later, still nitpicking the noses. (Euw.)

I think Alicia would make a great Smiter. But can I be a Smiter, too, or do I get a different job?

None of this solves that sentence structure, but it sure is fun.


epic said...

Theresa the Stevens, you should be the High Priestess of Stomping Things While Wearing Stylish Boots.

I wonder, grammatically, if that long series of sunning and buzzing and smelling all modifies "air" and if that's what technically throws it off. On the other hand, that's too English professor of me, and seeing how I'm not a professor of English, or even an associate professor of American, I'll go back to the writing of speeches.

Michael G-G said...

First, I have to say that I enjoyed this example of setting and felt I was in the hands of a skilled writer.

I am editing neophyte, but the words that gave me pause were "open land" and "nostrils."

I presume "open land" is sort of a shorthand for her being out in the open, away from city life. As for the tickling nostrils, I am half-expecting a sneeze and a mention of allergies.

Here's my stab at the sentence:

"But it felt so good to be out in the open, away from the city, with sunlight pouring on her head and arms, and the bees buzzing in the anemone. She closed her eyes, raised her face to the sun, and breathed in the scent of pine for one wonderful careless moment.

(At the breathing of pine, she could be in for some memory of her childhood; I find that smells often trigger in me "sense memories." Then, splat! The desperate lunge... pain.)

I am learning a lot from your blog--both good writing (kudos to you, Annette Genova) and good editing. Thank you.

Edittorrent said...

Michael G-G, you have good instincts. The two edits I've been toying with involved either adding prepositions or splitting the phrases off into separate sentences.

And you're right about something else. There's some good writing here. I'm not picking on this sentence because it's bad. It could probably stand as written, but I have an urge to improve it.

T, Stomping Priestess

Annette said...

No worries about picking on me. You all are so insightful. I'm having a lot of fun reading this, and of course I'm finding it super helpful.

And I'm laughing about the nostrils. I'm a physician, so I do tend to throw in a fair amount of medical stuff in my stories, and I never paused for a second about the word 'nostrils'. I raise a glass back to you, epic. Thanks so much for pointing out that it does bother people. (Well, at least normal people. My husband's a doc as well, and you should hear our dinner conversations, LOL.) I also went back and read the post on scents and will use that advice in the future.

Michael G-G -- I absolutely love your rewrite. Do you mind if I use a very close version in my revision?

Thanks, everyone, and especially to Theresa and Alicia for being so generous with your time and knowledge.


epic said...


Is something chasing your heroine? Then it would be much, much more fun. If she's loitering in a field full of sunshine and honeybees, then trips without a zombie or rabid bear or serial killer in sight, then it's not as epic, and that would make me sadder than sad.

Also, my spies report that The Spork -- Nicholas Sparks, who does not write romance, but "love stories" that belong on the literature shelf next to Hemingway -- is now on Twitter, which the FSM foretold is a sign of the coming apocalypse.

John H said...

1)I wish I could write like that
2)Its a little alarming perhaps that I thought it was perfect and couldn't be improved. Even after reading the comments, I went back to the original and thought 'meh still looks good to me' So what does that hold for my own revising?

Michael G-G said...

Annette--glad you liked my tweak. Fire away on your revision.

(I really like your writing, and the story sounds highly intriguing. I'll read it for sure!)