Friday, June 3, 2011

Word by word

I'm looking for examples of how you have changed or improved a scene with just a word or two. Reinforced a theme, made a real conclusion, redirected attention, hid a clue, something.

This comes up because a critiquer had set up a theme of "lady"-- that is, that in this time and place, there were strict rules of what constituted ladylike behavior. And I was thinking that maybe this theme could be subtly reinforced just by using the word "lady" in the last paragraph, so that "A good girl would never do that" might be revised to "a lady would never do that."

Wes, I remember in our class you were changing a line like "I never thought it would be this way" to "I never thought it would end this way," expressing more finality (he's about to die).

Any other examples of where you've changed a simple word or phrase and it made a big difference?



Sylvia said...

I have a somewhat odd one that is about a single word change.

My two main characters (thrown together because of circumstance - not romantically involved) end up in an argument in which he blames her for something that is not within her control.

"I can't help what I am," she said. Without waiting for an answer, she walked out of the room and out of his house.

My first reader referred to it as "when she walks out of his life" and I checked the mss to see what I'd said. Then I decided to change "house" to "life" in line with how he remembered it.

The next reader commented that she didn't actually walk out of his life, as she accepted his apology the next day. Which is true.

So I thought about the point: that she was risking walking out forever by walking out of the house. She's refusing to accept the blame, even though it means losing her only friend.
I decided that it's probably better if I let the reader make that jump rather than declaring it. I changed "life" back to "house" again and that's where it stands.

Not quite the same but it is a focus on a single word.

Edittorrent said...

Sylvia, that's a good change! It's interesting that your first impression proved to be the right one, that however dramatic the moment felt to her, it wasn't really "out of his life."

I'm wondering if POV would matter? That is, if this is in his POV, what would he call this "walk out"? If it's in hers (as she knows how mad she is)?


Anna Geletka said...

Setup: hero and heroine just beginning to fall in love. Problem: the hero is forbidden by the rules of his order to fall in love. Hero and heroine are having an argument about their situation.

Originally, here is how the dialog went (paraphrased for conciseness):

Hero: "This must be all for us."
Heroine: "But why? I don't understand."
Hero: "Because I love you!"

And then a beta reader suggested that this outburst was out of character for Hero. So it got changed to:

Hero: "This must be all for us."
Heroine: "But why? I don't understand."
Hero: "Because I can't love you!"

And it is a totally awesome change.

Unknown said...

I did several single word changes to a story I wrote that seemed to have made a bigger impact on my beta readers than I would have imagined.

The story was a first-person account by a physician. I didn't really know how to get into the mindset of a doctor, but I figured that doctors probably think in more clinical terms. So I did simple word substitutions throughout. For example, "contusion" instead of "bruise", "patella" instead of "kneecap". I also did this in a few less literal places, like "diagnose" instead of "figure out".

I thought it was rather blatant and probably amateurish, but all of my beta readers asked me how I managed to convince them that the narrator was indeed a doctor.