August 21st, 2008, 02:06 PM
The rising sun casts stripes along the aggravated soil, the trampled earth resembling the pock-marked skin of our hero. His eyelids droop in the half-light. His head lolls on his neck. His shoulders slump. Knotted tendons bulge through dry skin and filthy bandages that ooze green ichor. His cracked hands clutch the pommel of his battered sword. Fresh blood drips from its tip and pools in the pocked earth. He grimaces. There is a long day ahead....
Hmmm. Not my taste, Fung.
And it is a matter of taste.
Apply too many classroom rules and you have a classroom piece.
August 21st, 2008, 02:34 PM
It's not really how I would write it either. But the exercise you proposed is one of editing, which is the application of the basic classroom rules.
In any case, the original examples are hard to read for the same reasons I mentioned. But the outcome need not represent what I did. I tried to work only with what was there.
I'm just happy there were no "heretofore"s or "thereunto"s in the examples.
So here's what my version in the tight-to-wide focus style might look like:
Blood pounds through his temples, filling his head with a raucous noise that nearly drowns out the screeching, clamorous drone of weeks of battle. Relentless days of suppressed ambient cacophony leaking its way into his every perception, staving off sleep and rest. The pulsing agony in his head now almost welcome for the peaceful, centering familiarity it brings. Almost.
Knotted cords of muscles and tendon pull at his bones, his whole body tensed and coiled with the lingering cold-induced stiffness of many nights of fitful slumber. The morning sun stretches its innumerable fingers across the torn battlefield, spotlighting horrors even as it calls the weary soldier to its welcoming warmth. He turns his face to the sun, letting it gently bathe him, allowing the sensation of comfort to penetrate the awful explosion of pain the light brings in his eyes.
There is no beauty without destruction, he thinks. The mantra of justification repeats in echo, no beauty without destruction, no beauty without destruction, no beauty without destruction...
Gripping his sword at the pommel, he unfurls his body and shakily stands. He teeters as the rush of nausea threatens to topple him. Another day, he thinks. Another day of relentless beauty.
August 21st, 2008, 02:58 PM
My editor would have a feast with that! By the time she'd finish, it would be a quarter of the length.
I did like the last four lines, though I'd cut some of the words there as well. If you can do it in fewer words, more power to you, is my mantra of justificaton.
August 21st, 2008, 03:17 PM
The question then is one of a journalistic approach.
When Hemmingway would write, he had a very particular approach which he learned through journalism. Write freely as it comes out. Then, the next day, go through what you wrote and remove at least half the word from every sentence. Re-write until it makes sense. The goal being to convey only the essential information in a definitive, authoritative tone, but without transmitting bias or interpretation.
So what I just wrote, after being Hemmingwayed, would become:
Blood pounds in his temples, filling his head with noise, staving off sleep and rest. The agony in his head is welcome.
Muscles and tendon pull at his bones. The morning sun warms him as he turns his face to the sun.
Gripping his sword, he stands. He teeters. Another day, he thinks.
All you have to do is pull out everything that doesn't directly pertain to plot. The rest is just flowery crap. But then you just end up writing like Hemmingway.
August 22nd, 2008, 12:44 AM
So what you're looking for is pure, unadulterated imagery? Rather than describing a film, describing a snap shot? And there shouldn't be too much detail, either, so what we're going for is an icon rather than a still life? So basically, we're conceptualising a painting and giving just enough detail, so a Master could make something of it without too much constriction?
Originally Posted by Gary Wassner
(I agree that my last one tended towards the tedious.)
August 22nd, 2008, 08:36 AM
Well Dawn, I would say that it's one way of approaching the issue, and it's certainly the harder way, IMHO. More is always easier, or almost always unless you're a student with a word count to comply with.
I've recently been working very hard at keeping the adjectives and adverbs to the barest minimum, and trying to offer a visual that the reader can see without me beating them over the head with descriptors.
Don't get me wrong, I love beautiful prose. But I admire an author like McCarthy whose bone chilling imagery is conveyed effortlessly and so without pomp.
But yes, what you said is what I'm juxtaposing here against the telling style. Try it on a short paragraph. You'll see what I mean regarding the required skill and the difficulty in an instant.
August 22nd, 2008, 09:52 AM
Just Another Philistine
Originally Posted by J.R.R. Tolkien
Originally Posted by James Tiptree, Jr.
These are writers of some repute. They are willing to take the time to paint a picture. I guess what I’m asking for is clarification of the argument. For example, you could leave “surf of leaves” out of UKL’s opening sentence but if you did you lose an image beautiful and descriptive and mood setting. Same is true for ‘eascaping from the clouds’ in J.R.R.T’s sentence. OTOH, Tiptree is minimal, especially when it come to verbs. But the writing is clear and you know exactly the environment her heroin is passing through as well as the photograph she views.
Originally Posted by Ursula K. LeGuin
So, what is it you modern-day editor is trying for?
August 22nd, 2008, 11:41 AM
As I said, HE, it's a matter of taste. Or maybe mood?
I adore Tolkien. But I also know that I skip over wads of prose when I read him, and not because I've read him before, but because some of it bores me to death! But I love his world! And I love his characters.
I find the excerpt you took from Tiptree to be the most evocative, (and yes, the most minimal) despite the lack of flowery prose and piled up adjectives.
Le Guin's I hate. My opinion.
I won't say it's the modern day editor who's pushing for anything in general. I will say 'my' editor is very specific about what she feels best generates excitement and best assists in telling my story. And trust me, we don't always agree! And I don't always do what she might suggest, though whenever she critiques a chapter I get something worthwhile out of it. What I've discovered though, which is more important to me, is that I now read my own manuscripts (and other authors) with a much more critical eye. But the criticism is also more focused and much more constructive for me.
August 23rd, 2008, 05:21 PM
Have you had the same editor since the beginning?
August 23rd, 2008, 07:45 PM
no!! Just for the last book and for the one I'm writing now. If she was my editor for the first three they would have been different books.