Help me! > BookMarc by Peter Abresch

Writing/Rewriting -- Part 4

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Bob Mueller:
 Date:         Friday, April 09, 1999 05:16 PM


BookMarc #22
Writing/rewriting part 4

In BookMarc #21 we said no one has a right to bore their reader. We can work this into a rule. If you bore your readers, you'll lose them. And there's a like rule we've alluded to before. If you confuse them, you'll bore them.

I read a book recently, GONE WILD by JAMES W. HALL, in which the ending didn't work for me. At the climatic moment, with a killer holding a gun, someone reaches down with a lighter and sets the killer's crotch on fire. Not likely. But I have the feeling that rather then it being so outlandish, the author just didn't write it clear enough to be seen. On the other hand, to use a cliche, if you go into lengthy explanation of a critical action or story detail, you lose some spontaneity and risk your readers nodding off. They may finished the book, but will they come back to journey with you again?

So what's the difference between spending so many words that we bore the reader, or so little that we confuse them? I'm still struggling with that. And when it comes to action, we also have to worry about pace. An act of violence, whether it's waves crashing onto a boat or someone throwing a punch, has to evoke a sense of speed and intensity, scooping up the reader and carrying them along in the moment.

So how do we do it?

How do I do it is through a lot of hard grunt work. I spend more time rewriting critical action scenes than anything else.

The first thing we do is to visualize the action and get it absolutely clear in our own minds. A vague idea will not work, folks. Walk through it if you have to. Following this, get it all down, everything, bloated into boredom, to make sure there's no disputing what we have on paper. Then we eliminate every thing that will not muddy the picture. Now we look for action verbs and words to replace ho-homers, then look for single words that will replace two or more, and, finally, try rearranging sentences for impact and immediacy. Example:

A shaft of winter sun was momentarily reflected off...
The winter sun glinted off...

Glint saved us four words, and rearranging the sentence moved us from passive to active, giving more impact. By rear ranging sentences we can also eliminate words and provide a flow of one paragraph into another. Example & correction:

Jim collected olive oil in a foam cup, a large onion, and, in a separate cup, a quarter of a teaspoon of saffron--short little yellow stems about the thickness of fine blond hair--and finally, in a third cup, three teaspoons of salt.
"Be careful with that saffron," the chef said, "it costs eighty dollars an ounce."

Jim gathered up a large onion, and, in separate foam cups, olive oil, three teaspoons of salt, and the short yellow stems, resembling fine blond hair, of saffron.
"Be careful with that," the chef said, "it costs eighty dollars an ounce."

We saved seventeen words by reordering how we collected the ingredients, and by working saffron into the last word of the sentence it flows into what the chef says without actually reusing saffron. I just happen to have this example available from the first and last draft of KILLING THYME, the sequel to BLOODY BONSAI. Look for it in September '99. Please.

Although the above example is not what we think of as an action scene, we have speeded up the read simply by eliminating words. In BookMarc #23 we'll look at what we can do to pace to give an illusion of speed.

As always, all comments, suggestions, rebuttals, or additions gratefully accepted.

Copyright Peter E. Abresch BookMarc February 13, 1998

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