Thursday, June 11, 2009

Megan's line edit

Gritting my teeth, I scanned the crowded parking lot with increasing frustration. My dark curls blew in the wind and slithered around my head like hissing snakes. Certain I resembled the mythical Medusa, I gave up on making a good first impression. Turning people into stone might be a useful power at some point in the future, but right now I needed to make new friends, not send them running in terror.

Okay, this is first person, so the character's character is going to dictate a lot about the diction and rhythm, so I'm not sure what to change. "Certain I resembled the mythical Medusa, I gave up on making a good first impression." That sentence doesn't sound real, so I'd probably say, go back to the character, go back to the voice of the character. Say that in HER words. For example:
I probably looked like Medusa. You know, the lady with snakes for hair? The one who turned people to stone? Anyway, in this wind, there was no use trying to make a good impression.

or flip the sentence elements there--
I knew I wouldn't be making a good impression, looking like Medusa.

But I don't know what the voice is, who the character is, so I'm not sure. I just think that Certain construction sounds off. It might be the first element is too long, and it might also be "mythical," which sounds written, not spoken. (And written might be what you're after-- I don't know. First person is sometimes "written"-- diary form, epistolary in some way.)

Hmm. I guess it seems like the whole paragraph serves that single allusion, so the first question is, does this person plausibly know about Medusa? Yes? Does she think her audience does? (She doesn't really define Medusa, so she probably assumes that her audience will understand.) So if that central allusion is 1) necessary, and 2) consistent with the character, I'd look to simplify.

The big issue for me, and one I'd probably query the author about, is what comes after that allusion.
1) She looks like Medusa.
2) She is giving up on making a good impression.
3) Turning people to stone (as Medusa can do) could be useful in the future.
4) But she has to make friends now.

See the problem? You have the two Medusa references separated and bracketing the "giving up on a good impression" one. So look at the sequence here. She gives up on making a good impression and thinks about turning people to stone. But she needs to make friends. See, to me, making a good impression is important to making friends, so her giving that up seems in contrast to the goal at the end of the paragraph. And the whole turning people to stone thing -- even if the reader gets the allusion-- seems like a distraction. How do we get from giving up on making a good impression to the hostility of turning people into stone to wanting to make friends?

I think this is more a sequencing issue than anything else. A paragraph is a bit like a scene sometimes, and here, because you end up stating a goal, its purpose is to move to the goal. If the Medusa reference doesn't move towards that goal (and I don't think it does), I'd suggest breaking the paragraph apart, and put Medusa in the first paragraph, and then in the second paragraph show her girding her loins (another classical allusion? ) and deciding that no matter what, she's going to make friends here, goddamnit.

Be in her, be in her body. You have the hair whipping around-- but if you're in her body, you might have her in the second paragraph trying to hold her hair down-- wouldn't her hand automatically reach up? And when you have her trying perhaps futilely to restore order-- that goes right into her determination to make friends (that is, the new paragraph).

First person takes longer than third person because you simply can't summarize much-- if it's important for her, you pretty much have to let her talk about it. The reader probably has to be in on the thought process that moves from impression/perception (parking lot, hair) to intention (make friends). So I'd suggest that you slow down and decide what your paragraphs are about (in revision, that is, not in drafting), and decide if you need to break them and flesh them out. So you might have:

Opening desire-- came to the parking lot hoping to make a good impression.
Obstacle-- wind, hair
Observation, realization-- looks like Medusa, (what? what comes of that? No one will like me, they'll think I'm going to turn them to stone?)

Next paragraph:
But.... goal of making friends.
Action-- what does she do right here to further that goal, maybe smoothing down her hair and turning with a smile to someone and mentioning the wind?

Now Medusa might be the sort of thing that old EB meant when he said, "Kill your darlings." It might be too cute, too clever, too distracting.

However, I tend to think that EB was unnecessarily punitive. I'd say, don't kill your darlings. Make them work. Figure out what they add to the narrative, what you want them to add, and then make that work with your overall purpose at that moment in the scene. I like darlings. I think they are darlings because the writer subconsciously or consciously thinks they add something. Well, figure that something out, and make sure it works.

KISS your darlings, alas, sounds sort of wimpy, but really, there's some reason you chose this darling... go with it. Make it work. Try two paragraphs. Slow down. Let the reader enjoy the voice and the unique perspective.


MeganRebekah said...

I submitted this specific paragraph because it just wasn't working for me. I knew what I was trying to convey in my head but spent so much time over working it that it twisted into something awkward and unreadable.

Thanks for pointing out exactly why it wasn't working.

I'm erasing the paragraph and letting the idea of it (and your suggestions) brew on my back burner tonight. Hopefully something fabulous will come of it by morning.

Thanks for the help! Ya'll are awesome!

green_knight said...

When I read this, I felt that the point was being hammered home - slithered like hissing snakes, mythical Medusa, turning people into stone.

I got it first time.

And I have never, ever, once in my life thought 'my xx hair' (which is hard to describe anyway) - this is a breaking out of viewpoint that jarred me out of the text.

Gritting my teeth, I scanned the crowded parking lot with increasing frustration. My hair slithered around my head like hissing snakes. Turning people into stone might be a useful power at some point in the future, but right now I needed to make new friends, not send them running in terror.

This would tie the paragraph together for me - she's frustrated, and then tells us why (because she resembles Medusa and is certain she'll turn people off.)

'slithered like hissing snakes' remains piling it on a bit, but I felt that it was fitting with the overall tone of the piece.

Adrian said...

I had a problem with "crowded parking lot". I'm from California, so a crowded parking lot to me means one with very few empty spaces. Later I got the impression you meant it was crowded with people, not cars.

You might want to tweak the wording to help the user picture the setting. "I scanned the crowd in the parking lot..." or "The parking lot was crowded with students. I scanned their faces ..."

MeganRebekah said...

Thanks for the feedback GreenKnight and Adrian.

I made some cuts and rearranged the whole scene to make more sense. In the end I took out the actual Medusa reference and just left in the snake-like hair. The reference was very subtle foreshadowing, but not important enough to keep in, as it detracted from the main point of the scene.

Thanks again for the input!!