Saturday, July 11, 2009

Leona line edit


She heard Daniel-Jirel’s repeated no’s as he looked at Jenna’s face. She could also feel the guilt rolling off of him in waves. He rolled her partially over, holding his breath as he turned her to check for more wounds.
The body was cold; telling him there was no chance to save the baby that rounded Jenna’s body. He held back his despair by looking around to see if he could find clues as to who had done such a despicable thing. He was afraid he knew but hoped he was wrong. He was fairly certain the damage to her face had been done by an optical resonator crystal laser.

Am I right to assume that the optical whatsit means this is set in the future? Heck, what do I know-- maybe that already exists. But it makes me think this is the near-future.
She heard Daniel-Jirel’s repeated no’s as he looked at Jenna’s face.

I don't know who "she" is-- presumably you identify that in the paragraph immediately above. You're right to use the pronoun. You don't want a name is this line when there are two others.

repeated no’s
This is one of those quandaries I'd write around. See, an apostrophe-s usually means a possessive, which this is not. An S with no apostrophe of course usually means a plural, which this is (more than one no). There really isn't an easy way to pluralize words like "no" or dates like the 60s, though we're going much more for the simple S these days (see, the Royal Society for the Preservation of Apostrophes is having an effect :). Trouble is, it makes "nos" almost unrecognizable as "the plural of no", and adding -es (as we sometimes but not always do after an O ending) results in "noes," which looks like a misspelling of "nose".

So rather than try to figure out what would be 1) correct, and 2) easy understandable, I'd re-cast the sentence. :) You know, also, if it's something he's saying and she's hearing, I'd prefer it in dialogue anyway. It's more visually interesting that way, and adds the sharpness of authenticity where a narrative summary wouldn't. So try something like--
She heard him whisper, "No, no, no," as he looked at Jenna’s face.

She could also feel the guilt rolling off of him in waves.
"off of him" can be trimmed to "off him" and then you don't give the reader that momentary "huh?" of the two similar words next to each other.

You have "also feel" like she's been feeling before, but in the sentence before, she was hearing. So She could feel is just fine.

Whoever "she" is-- she's not giving a very interesting perspective, and I wonder why you decided to put this paragraph in her viewpoint, especially when the NEXT paragraph is in his viewpoint. What's interesting about her POV? She's kind of just narrating what's happening, and there's no reason that can't be done in his POV (so there's no shift).

Maybe she's an empath, and she can literally feel the guilt coming off him? But notice that first, you don't need to be an empath to pick up another person's guilt, and second, she has no reaction. If the guilt is rolling off him, if it's strong emotion, wouldn't she react? Maybe step back, or put her hands up to ward off the feeling?

That's the real problem-- "She" isn't really here at all. She's just a narrator, a camera recording what's going on. Where's her emotion? What does this all mean to her? Does she have some connection to these two people? Does she care what's happened? Daniel feels guilt-- what does she feel? Triumph? Horror? Jealousy?

Now you might not want to get into her emotions, but if you're going to use her just as a narrator, make her a better narrator. What's it feel like to be there? Can you subtly insert some setting detail? You might have done this in the paragraph before, but if she is narrating, she notices what as this is happening? Do Daniel's words echo in the still night? Or do they get lost in the cacophony of the traffic in the nearby street? Does he fall on his knees on the wet pavement next to the body, or squat down in the mud, or move carefully across the marble floor to her side? Does "she" see all this in the glow of the streetlamp or the glare of the sun?

You don't need all the senses engaged here, just the ones that "feel" most to her. She's the POV character, our eyes and ears on the scene, so what can she tell us that puts us right there? This might take more words, of course.

He rolled her partially over, holding his breath as he turned her to check for more wounds.

Who is "her"? Two women in the scene. He rolled Jenna? He rolled "the body"? (That will signal, of course, that Jenna is dead- no longer Jenna, but "the body", and you might not want to signal that yet.)

This line isn't in her perspective, or rather, it could be just as easily in his, in the next paragraph. Think about why you put this paragraph in "her" POV. What effect did you mean to create for the reader? If "she" can't give us a more interesting perspective, I'd say put the whole passage in Daniel's POV. He has what "she" doesn't-- a stake in the event, an emotional reaction, a specific task to perform (checking the body).

I truly don't mean that single POV is the only way to go. However, it should probably be the default because it's easier for the writer and the reader. Use another POV when it can provide something important, a new approach, an interesting perspective, a glimpse of character through her perception. You can do that here in the first paragraph-- she's got to care, if not about Jenna than about Daniel, right? So be in her. What emotion is she feeling as Daniel falls to his knees on the wet pavement (or the marble floor or whatever)? You don't have to explain it all, but KNOW it. Know what she's feeling, what her emotional filter is, and let that infuse the word choice and sentence design.

Let's say, for example, that she was the one who murdered Jenna. Well, that's interesting. So she sees Daniel drop to his knees (or whatever) and what does she feel? If she loves Daniel, if Jenna was a rival, she might initially feel triumphant that her rival is dead, and then, when she feels Daniel's pain, she might feel a sort of uncomprehending anger, and realize that even if Jenna is dead, the jealousy is not.

Or maybe she's Jenna's sister. Or maybe she's Daniel's mother. What's her role here? What's her emotion? Even if she's a sociopath, she'd feel something, even if it's the absence of feeling.
She felt nothing but mild interest as Daniel turned the body over. How intriguing, those waves of guilt coming off him. She wondered what it felt like, to feel guilt.
Just an example-- her lack of emotion is an emotional response.

The body was cold; telling him there was no chance to save the baby that rounded Jenna’s body.
Now we're in his POV, and we know that because you have a mind-term (telling him-- that is, we know we're in his mind).

Here’s a website with all sorts of information about punctuation.
The semicolon should be a comma. Semicolons separate two independent clauses (can be a complete sentence on its own), and what you have here is one independent clause:
The body was cold
and a participial phrase, albeit a long one:
telling him there was no chance to save the baby that rounded Jenna’s body.

Notice that the clause there is a lot shorter than the modifying participle, and that the participle modifies not a noun (body?) but the whole clause-- what told him? The coldness of the body. So you might think of simplifying the clause into a noun so the participle can become the predicate. I'm not saying that's a good idea-- I tend to like short clauses with long modifiers, just because I'm difficult, and I sometimes like that rhythm. But just try it out. Remember: One of the glories of the English language is its near-infinite variety of sentence constructions. So experiment. Here's how it would look:
The body's chill told him there was no chance to save the baby that rounded Jenna’s body.
The benefit there is that the most important information isn't buried so much.

Also think about action here. Does he reach out and touch her still belly? What would his hand do? What would his body do? What would he do?
One interesting trick is to show emotion through body action, especially nearly involuntary body action. Strong emotion shows itself in body action. The emotion that leads a man to touch a woman's dead body is a different emotion than the emotion that would make him back away. The reader will know the emotion by "seeing" the action.

He held back his despair by looking around to see if he could find clues as to who had done such a despicable thing. He was afraid he knew but hoped he was wrong.

See, you're using words instead of action to show the emotion. Try using action. The words are fine too, but if you can SHOW in action, you might not have to TELL in words. Keep in mind that you're in his head, and he's not necessarily going to think those words. Maybe he will. Just try and act it out in your own body; act the emotion, and then narrate what the emotion would make him do. You actually already have that-- his despair is shown by him looking around. Now here's how it might be in a sort of deep POV, which I don't think you are doing, but here's an example:

Clues. There had to be some clues. He looked around the body-- anywhere but at the body-- for the clue that would tell him who had done this. He already knew. But maybe he was wrong. He hoped he was wrong.

Now watch the shiniest words. "Despicable" holds the unfortunate echo of Daffy Duck's lisp, so it's probably the wrong word no matter what. But I just deleted a "terrible" from something I wrote -- "It was a terrible thing to say." What's wrong with that? (Okay, it's a cliche, and "thing" is seldom a good option. Besides those.) Words like "terrible" and "despicable" draw too much attention to themselves, when the attention should be on -- on what was said, on what was done. A murder is a despicable act-- we don't need to be told that. If what my guy just said was terrible, the reader probably noticed without having to be told. You don't want the reader to be irritated: "Yeah, yeah, I noticed."

He was fairly certain the damage to her face had been done by an optical resonator crystal laser.

Come on, come on. We're not babies. We can stand it. Show us her face. What lets him think it's been done by a whatever?

Also watch your wiggle-words. "Fairly certain" implies a calibration of certainty that we can't interpret. It's precision without meaning. How about "He thought" or "The damage looked like it had been done with..."

"Fairly" calls way too much attention to itself, and it's not even a shiny word.

And remember that he's got a body and it can move. What can he do to her face to tell him what did the damage?
With a gentle finger, he touched the scorch mark under her lower lip. That sort of damage could have been done with...

He steeled himself and spread his hand over her forehead. The gel there used to be her skin.


So try writing this more in the body of the POV character. Try showing emotion in the action. If that doesn't work, you can always go back to the words. But try it and see if you can FEEL it more, and show it more.


Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

I often need to edit in the "damage" and edit out the "thing" that I've avoided describing. Thanks for the reminder!

Riley Murphy said...

I agree with Alicia, about the ‘no’ issue. It needs to be clearer. The phrase 'rolling off him' and 'rolled her partially' jumped out at me as being repetitive. And, is there a reason that he ‘partially’ rolled her over? Wouldn’t it be easier to examine her when she was laying flat and not on her side? With the line: holding his breath - there's a great opportunity to convey dread - either in action or words.:) Don't miss out on the opportunity!
In the second paragraph you have ‘the body was cold’ and ‘that rounded Jenna’s body’ (this seems repetitive again). And, am I the only one here that thinks that once you describe Jenna as an impersonal ‘body’ - she isn’t really Jenna anymore, so you can’t simply go back and call her Jenna again. I would probably qualify the term ‘body’ by saying: ‘her body’, so that the reader is still connected to her intimately - so, we get how horrible this is that a pregnant woman has been killed. The best of luck with this, Leona! It seems like an interesting premise.:)

Leona said...

Thank you! I can't process this all at once, but there is a reason I sent you this passage :)

This is from a sci-fi book, and the main character, Savannah, is watching these events through a psychic mind meld.

She is looking for evidence of betrayal he may have committed, and instead is witnessing one he experienced. I'm having trouble writing what she is seeing and keeping it interesting.

I want to do it more in action but was having trouble so I sent it to you. I am going to copy this and look at it side by side with my scene and see how I can spruce it up.

BTW, Jenna was the woman Daniel- Jirel intended to marry until he found out his father had paid her father for the privilege of having her as a mistress. I like the her body suggestion also :)

I want strong feelings here. I want the duality of trying to distance yourself from something too horrific for your mind to comprehend and being so close you can't breathe through the pain.

This passage has potential to be very strong and that is what I'm looking for. Thank you AGAIN!!

Jami Gold said...


I completely understand the difficulty in trying to get into the emotion of a scene when the POV character is doing the psychic thing. In the sequel to my WIP (yes, I've cheated and already started working on it), my POV character experiences a terrorist attack when her consciousness is in a victim's body. I had to do a lot of: If she'd actually been present in the room, she would have... She mentally cringed as... etc.

So, maybe some sentences like:

Before she could even comprehend what she was seeing, Daniel-Jirel's repeated whispers of "No" caught her attention.
She wished she could block the images of...from her mind. She didn't want to experience the guilt Daniel-Jirel felt as...

Hope that helps!
Jami G.

Jami Gold said...


If she's seeing this through his eyes, you could also do some description like:

His trembling hand reached out in front of him as he...

In other words, really get into the scene.

Jami G.

Leona said...

Thank you Jamie... I love your ideas and I can't wait for the chance to make changes! I have to wait for my unofficial editor (my husband) to get back with changes.

It's easier for me if I leave my WIP alone up to point that he has it. I'm going to pester him like crazy now :)

I've been working on another project, and this one, going forward, and slapping my hands whenever I try to go back. When I redo those lines I will post them!

Leona said...

PS Murphy, I've noticed my verbage has become redundant (see previous post) and I'm not sure why that has happened. My husband is catchin a much larger portion on recent WIPs than previous ones. Thanks for the heads up :)