Thursday, June 30, 2005

Editing, Day 13--Character Motivation


And we’re back.

I’m going to plunge right in with adding more CM reactions to our action scene. I’m starting in where we left off yesterday. One important note: I’m adding actions according to how I understand the characters. Which can’t be completely, because I haven’t read the rest of the book. I’m going on simply what I have to go on. As I've said before, my rewrite isn't the way to write the scene. It is merely an example of how I would put the techniques we've been discussing to work.

The blow blackened the room, fuzzed its edges. Dizziness coiled through Christy.


Vince threw her to the floor. "Piece of trash."

She drew a shaky breath, struggled to raise her head. “Vince, stop. Please.”

In the first paragraph, we already have an internal reaction line—regarding the dizziness. And we certainly need one, ’cause the reader needs to feel the results of that blow to the temple along with our character. What do you think—should we place another internal reaction before she draws the shaky breath? We have some time here, because she’s on the floor, struggling with dizziness. I’m thinking about all the times Christy must have heard stuff like this from Vince in the past—cut-downs, telling her she’s nothing. I want to see her emotional pain that reacts to such words as much as she reacts physically to blows. Because we all know that emotional abuse can sometimes be as difficult to handle as physical abuse.

Something else. By placing an internal reaction here, we are helping to set up the change that’s going to come in Christy when she decides to fight. That change will seem greater in comparison if we see her wallowing in the mental abuse at this point. But how to write a CM that’s the right length and isn’t telling? Answer-- we have to keep close to her thoughts, rather than drawing back into narrative. Something like:

Vince threw her to the floor. “Piece of trash.”

The words knifed. How many times had she heard them, had they caused her to grovel at his feet? Much as she was now.

She drew a shaky breath, struggled to raise her head. “Vince, stop. Please.”


I think that's better. Not only is she reacting to hearing the harsh words again, but also the last line--Much as she was now--adds an element of self-loathing. Circumstances have caused her to grovel once again--literally this time--and she hates that. I also think these added thoughts make the following sentence pop. Shaky stands out more to me now, as well as struggled. And her plea.

Going on.


“Too late, Christy.” He dragged her to her feet, shoved her against the stall door. The metal latch bit into her back. She moaned. “No more chances for you.”

He backhanded her face. Pain shot through her nose. Christy crumpled to her knees, hands flying to the wound. Blood dripped on her fingers.

I want more of a physical reaction to the pain. Something Christy does after she feels. In order to insert such a beat here and not make it too close to a beat in the previous sentence, I’m going to delete She moaned from the first paragraph.

“Too late, Christy.” He dragged her to her feet, shoved her against the stall door. The metal latch bit into her back. “No more chances for you.”

He backhanded her face. Pain shot through her nose. Christy cried out. She crumpled to her knees, hands flying to the wound. Blood dripped on her fingers.

Overall, I think this is better. And the first paragraph’s rhythm actually works better without that moaned beat. Things are happening too fast there for a moan.

“Look at you.” His tone sneered. “So ugly. What did I ever see in you?”

She cradled her nose, straining for air. Hating him. How could she ever have loved this man?

Okay, change moment is a’comin’ soon. We need to set it up more here. We’ve got some time to do that as she’s cradling her nose. A few seconds’ break in the action.

“Look at you.” His tone sneered. “So ugly. What did I ever see in you?”

She cradled her nose, straining for air. Hating herself. Hating him. How could she ever have loved this man?

I think that’s enough. Those two words hating herself speak volumes, and they pick up on that earlier beat we added about groveling at Vince's feet. These two words tell us that on one level Christy believes she’s ugly, because he’s said so often enough. And on another level she hates herself for not fighting back, because she knows what he says isn’t true. If we keep going with this thought, adding any more words than just these two, we’ll quickly resort to telling.

Vince pulled a wad of rope out of his jacket pocket.

Christy spied the rope—and knew. He was going to kill her.

Now Vince has her down, literally and figuratively. They’re alone. He’s on his feet; she’s injured and on the ground. She’s not going anywhere. What do you suppose a man like this is going to do now? I think he will slow his actions way down. I think he will play with her. Draw the moments out to make her suffer. In fact, I think we won’t even need Christy to tell us she realizes he’s going to kill her—because he’s going to let us know. This threat will be much stronger coming from his actions, and perfectly in keeping with who he is. Now, he won’t need to say the words I’m going to kill you, because he won’t need to. That would come off as stilted dialogue. He’s going to subtext this dialogue—that is, let his actions speak louder than his words, with his real meaning running like an undercurrent beneath the words.


When we allow Vince to show his true colors like this, the threat will become a stronger set-up for the change we will see in Christy.

Vince eased a wad of rope out of his jacket pocket. Let it dangle between his fingers, his eyes turning into slits. With an almost bored sniff, he planted his feet wide apart and began pulling the rope, inch by roughened inch, through his fist. Chin raised, he looked down upon Christy, smug, satisfied, distaste at her weakness curling one corner of his mouth.

“I have some special plans for you, girl.”


Notice the changed sentence rhythm to connote the more languid movement. The sentences become longer, some are complex sentences. We see some “ing” verbs. Notice also the subtexted dialogue. Special plans hardly mean fun in the sun. His meaning is clear because of what he's doing, not because of what he's saying. (Subtexting is a whole subject we have not tackled yet on this blog. We will at some point.)

With this kind of action on Vince’s part, the following sentences--Christy spied the rope—and knew. He was going to kill her.—become unnecessary. I don't think that line ever worked well anyway, because it was a telling sentence. We have now replaced it with action that helps us visualize the scene. And for me, his actions have so set up the threatening sentence we've added that I can hear it. I don't need to be told that his voice is low and hard and cold and sneering. I imagine all that because of the set-up.

She had to save herself. Do something. Her eyes darted, looking for a weapon. Straw bale. Horse comb. Saddle soap bottle.

Shovel.

It leaned against the wall by the door. Could she crawl fast enough?

Okay, first paragraph in this section is when the change in Christy will begin. She must decide to save herself. She has no choice now; it’s literally do or die. But what we currently have--She had to save herself. Do something--doesn't work for me. First, we've set up the rest of the scene enough now that the reader will expect for this change to take more time. Second, as far as action goes, we have time for more, because Vince is doing his play with the rope thing. We can afford a few sentences that will allow us to feel the passage of a few seconds.

So, BGs--how might you rewrite this part? Do I have any brave takers out there willing to post a try?


--------------------
Read Part 15

12 comments:

Tina said...

OK. I'll gather my courage and bite. The following is far from perfect, but I think it's going the right direction. (I say with all the confidence of a writer. *groan*) Be kind.

Goosebumps raised on her flesh, making her painfully aware of her skin. She imagined the feel of the rope on her neck…

No more!

Her eyes widened at the voice in her head. The forceful thought couldn’t have been hers. But it gave her strength, a fragment of courage to cling to.

Vince gave the rope a last pull, then tightened the slack with a jerk.

Christy’s eyes darted, searching. Straw bale. Horse comb. Saddle soap bottle.

Shovel.

It leaned against the wall by the door. Did she dare?

Cara Putman said...

Here's my attempt:

Christy recoiled at his words. They seared her heart. Robbed her of her last shred of hope. This was it. She had to DO something. Or die.

Vince stepped nearer. Another step and he would be on top of her. She would be out of options.

Helpless on the floor, she squared her jaw. She wanted to live. To breathe. Silent resolve filled her.

Keeping one eye on Vince, she searched for a weapon. Anything that would slow Vince down.

Straw bale. Horse comb. Saddle soap bottle. Sawhorse. None worked.

Shovel.

That was it!

It leaned against the wall by the door. Only six feet away, it looked like 50. Could she crawl fast enough?

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Tina and Cara, rah-rah for your efforts! You are both moving in the direction we should go. You're including physical reaction as well as thought. And both of you threw another action in from Vince that turns the screw even tighter. Good for you both!

~ Brandilyn

Becky said...

Christy's heartbeat thundered in her ears, nearly drowning his sardonic laugh. A drop of blood splashed on her jeans. Special. She'd never survive special.

Her gaze darted past Vince. Straw bale. Currycomb. Saddle soap.

Shovel.

Long handled, metal bladed, propped by the door. Could she ... ? Dare she ... ?

Becky said...

Fun exercise. Thanks again, Brandilyn. What a gem each of your lessons is.

Linda said...

Good job, all. I'm not up to working on the scene, but I do have a question about a line in the paragraph where Vince plays with the rope. . . "distaste at her weakness curling one corner of his mouth." Is this a POV shift? I'm sure Christy can infer that, but from her POV can she know it?

Trying to get a good handle on this POV stuff. ;o)

I echo Becky, Brandilyn. Thanks for the time and effort you put into this blog. We'd be hard put to get such helpful and detailed instruction if we were paying for it at a conference. Blessings to you.

D. Gudger said...

Her eyes focused on the end of the rope as it swung back . . . and . . .forth. Back . . .and . . .forth, drawing nearer, nearer. . .

Christy squeezed her eyes shut giving her head a shake to break the hypnotic effect of the swinging rope. Think! (think is italic, can't figure out how to do it here) Her mind screamed while her eyes scanned the barn, its contents a blur.

"You ain't gonna give me more trouble," Vince whispered, leaning toward her as her blood pooled in her hand.

SNAP! Vince pulled the rope taught less than a foot from her face. "Look at me," he growled.

Christy's eyes darted around the barn, avoiding his menacing squinty-eyed stare. Hay bale. Horse comb. Saddle soap.

Shovel.

Christy gathered her legs underneath her body, lowering her hands from her face.

Vince lunged toward her. The rope raised in an arch above her head. Christy's body exploded into action, rolling toward the shovel. Vince stumbled.

For a moment.

There's my attempt. This is hard, but good.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm going to play too. This is fun. Mine's pretty short. Linda R.

The rope swinging from his hand and the sound of his voice bored into Christy’s mind like an electric drill. No. He won’t. She felt the tightening of her muscles. Saw the shovel leaning against the wall.

Dineen A. Miller said...

Okay, I'll give it whirl:

“I have some special plans for you, girl.”

She watched Vince twist the rope around one thick fist. Just like her life— twisted, controlled, trapped.

And about to end.

Her eyes darted. Straw bale. Horse comb. Saddle soap bottle.

Shovel.

It leaned against the wall by the door. Christy clenched her fists, then slid her feet underneath her. Do or die. Do or die. Do or die!

Stuart said...

I can't resist!.....

Her eyes darted around the room, lighting on a straw bale, a horse comb, then a saddle soap bottle. The chemicals burned the errant orbs and they shot back into her head. Christy blinked her vision clear and saw the weapon she needed.

A shovel.

---

Ack! sorry about that ;) On a more serious note. Here's my try at a snippet. I kind of pretended that Vince's line had been used earlier between the two as a "lover's promise". Anyway here it is.

--

“I have some special plans for you, girl.”

Those words.

Once spoken with such tenderness, back before Vince’s true nature came forth. Now they twisted like a knife in her gut. Christy looked at her hands, slicked with blood. No more!

Her gaze flicked around the barn. Straw bale. Horse comb. Saddle soap bottle.

Shovel.

Vince’s coarse laughter rang in her ears as she struggled to stand. His mirth turned to curses as she lunged past.

Her fists closed around wood and she swung with all her strength.

Thud!

Camy Tang said...

I wanna play too, this is fun:

“I have some special plans for you, girl.”

She watched the rope, mesmerized. She couldn't stop following its snaking twist in his hands. And suddenly it snapped in her head: He would kill her this time. She was going to die.

She was going to die.

No. Nonononono.

Her eyes darted, left and right. Straw bale. Horse comb. Saddle soap bottle.

Shovel. Against the wall by the door.

Her hands clenched. She almost felt the grainy wood against her palm. Almost heard the thud of metal against skull.

Lynette Sowell said...

Wow! How different these are. :)
Here's mine:

She had to save herself. Do something. She had spent too many months doing nothing. But now--

Her eyes darted, looking for a weapon. Straw bale. Horse comb. Saddle soap bottle.

Shovel.

It leaned against the wall by the door. Could she crawl fast enough? She had escaped before. Surely she could move a few more feet.