Sunday, February 17, 2013

Question from comments re: sequential action

Arial asks:
I've got one for ya! Setup for the sentence: The heroine is in the saddle, sitting in front of the hero. He has just reached into his saddlebags for a bottle and... 
His arms coming around her, he uncorked a small bottle, took a swig and replaced the cork
I'm told that he can't have his arms come around her AND uncork the bottle AND take a swig AND replace the cork all at the same time. I'm told that the way the sentence is written above, that's what I'm describing. Obviously, my original intent was to have these actions happening sequentially, but I loathe writing, "After his arms came around her, he uncorked a small bottle, then took a swig before replacing the cork." BLAH! It's wordy and sloppy. Help! Thanks! Arial 
 Hey, commenters! How would you revise the sentence?

I have to ask Arial a question. Where is the bottle? In the saddlebags? Where are they in relation to the heroine?

Now let's have some suggested revisions!

Actually, this gives me the opportunity to mention a new guideline, but I haven't really formulated it yet. I'm just thinking that the complexity of the action sequence (and the time it takes) might dictate whether it's more than one sentence. I see too often that action is rendered too quickly, so the experience of the sequence is lessened. All the action pieces are made minor, and of equal importance.
So in the above, if this is a romance, it's a lot more important that his arms go around her than that he uncorks the bottle, but putting this all in one sentence makes it seem like they're of equal importance.

(Also it's hard to tell whose POV this is-- either way, though, the arms going around her should be FELT -- perception, emotion, not just movement, should be narrated here, I think.)

So I guess I'm saying, first, I wouldn't do it all in one sentence. And then, I would go into the POV of the POV character and narrate a bit of how it feels, what it means.
Okay, suggestions! What would you all do? Arial, what do  you think would help? Which of the suggestions would you think would work best?


Wes said...

The sentence is OK to me. The sequential action is implied, actually stated, in the order of the actions. Of course his arms would be around her, because he'd need two hands, and it's a lot easier to hold the reins and the bottle in front of her than behind her. His lack of emotion might be appropriate if he's' not that into her. Some cowboys aren't. But they do say please, ma'am, and thank you.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I'd suggest: In order to uncork the small bottle, he had to put his arms around her.

You can insert the emotion here -- is it delicious? Strange? What? How do his arms feel around her?

Back to the sentence: In order to uncork the small bottle, he had to put his arms around her. After it was open, he took a swig and replaced the cork.

And now, I'm left with a question: what sort of brute doesn't offer her a drink?

chihuahuazero said...

The main problem is that it's unclear if he's doing all the actions while his arms are coming around her, or while his arms are around her.

But I think Arial says in her question that she meant for all four actions to happen one after another. If so, the intent is, "He has his arms come around her, AND THEN he uncorks the bottle, AND THEN he takes a swig, AND THEN he replace the cork all at the same time".

If so, the fix is either:

"Arms around her, he uncorked a small bottle, took a swig and replaced the cork."


"His arms around her, he uncorked a small bottle, took a swig and replaced the cork."

Also, the word "then" could also be inserted before "uncorked".

I'm not a grammar expert, but those are my two cents.

Anonymous said...

"His arms around her, he uncorked a small bottle, took a swig and replaced the cork."

From his POV, this could indicate either polite reluctance or indifference:

"His arms NECESSARILY around her, he uncorked a small bottle OF WHATEVER, took a swig and replaced the cork."

For this, you'd have to establish earlier that the bottle is kept somewhere in front of her.

From her POV, it might be

Without warning, his arms came around her from both sides, strong and warm and thrilling. But -- luckily before she could react! -- he merely took a small bottle from the saddlebag in front of her, uncorked it, took a swig, and re-corked the bottle -- without even offering her any of whatever it was!


Iola said...

Where did he get the bottle?

How can he take a swig if his arms are around her? Does he have more than two arms?

And I agree about the motivation question. Why is it important that he has put his arms around her? Is she asleep? Is it a romantic gesture? Does he like her, but she doesn't know and it's and excuse to be near her? Is she his prisoner?

The answers to those questions will affect the way this should be written.

Keziah Hill said...

His arms surrounded her, pulling her close against the solid warmth of his body. She stiffened when in a smooth, practiced movement, he held her tight with one arm, allowing the other to reach back to the saddle bag and retrieve a bottle of whiskey.

“Want some?” he asked as he managed to both hold onto her and uncork the bottle.

She shook her head.

He sniggered. “Thought not.”

He took a swig then replaced the cork. “Lighten up, lady. It’s gonna be a long ride.”

That’s what she was afraid of.

Well, it's early morning here and this is a good writing exercise.

Marie said...

Sensory input!!

As I was reading I kept thinking how does said heroine feel when the hero touches her, if in her POV of course. Or if in his, how does it make him feel...

So I totally agree with Alicia. The hero touching the heroine is more important than him drinking water, ergo perfect spot for sensory detail.


Natalie said...

I'd go for way more here, not even try to keep it in one sentence.

For the arms going around her: what part of her do his arms brush against? Does she stiffen or lean in? He'll have to lean down to get into the saddle bags, how far? Does she lean the opposite way to avoid him? How does the POV character feel about this? Does she think this is going to lead to something else and then he grabs the bottle and she's disappointed?

For the bottle business: How does she feel about him drinking? Is she missish and doesn't approve? Is she irritated that he doesn't share?

The author could have a little fun with this and let us inside the action, rather than just reporting on the sequence of body movements, so I'd call for more detail and any interiority.

Edittorrent said...

Iola, that was my thought too-- if his arms are around her, he can't take a swig, can he? :)
Maybe have the reaching (arms around) in one sentence, with requisite sensation and emotion, then the withdrawing of bottle and arms, then the taking of the swig, and the arms going round again (third sentence) in order for him to replace the bottle?

Keziah, I like your version, esp that last inner comment from her! That really shows how POV choice can enhance the action.


Edittorrent said...

Natalie, yes-- way more than one sentence. I think we need to consider what Theresa calls "relative dramatic weight", and if this is important, we should give it some time. In a romance, especially early, the inadvertent touches are dramatically important. So ten sentences might work better than one!