Friday, June 24, 2005
Editing, Day 9--Sentence Rhythm/Tight Writing
Today I take the plunge and edit our entire AS for sentence rhythm and tight writing.
I’m going to run our last version of the scene (6/17, edited for action/reaction sequence) here again just to make it easier for you to compare the old and new. Then I’ll run my edited version. Two things to keep in mind. (1) Remember, this is my voice—not the way to write the scene. You should take what you’ve learned so far and edit the scene the way you’d like to see it. (2) The scene isn’t finalized yet. We have one more technique to cover—character motivation. Some of that technique crept into my editing here, no doubt. It’s hard for me to separate them. But as we look at character motivation next week, I’ll probably make some adjustments.
Okay. To refresh your memory, here’s our version from last week:
In an instant, he spun her whole body around, and her shoulder pummeled into Spirit. The horse panicked and jumped away, ripping the reins out of her hand.
Vince’s fist crunched into her cheekbone. Her head jerked sideways, pain exploding through her face. Christy stumbled.
Spirit bolted out the door.
Vince grabbed a fistful of her jacket and stuck his face in hers. His stale cigar breath assaulted her. “It’s time you learned something, Darling. I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
She squeezed her eyes shut. If she resisted, he’d make it worse. “Vince, please, don’t.”
“You pitiful excuse for a woman.” He hit her again, a swift bash on her left temple. The blow blackened the room, fuzzed its edges. She fought against the dizziness.
Vince threw her to the floor. “Worthless piece of trash.”
She pled with her eyes. “If you just leave me alone . . . I . . . I promise I’ll never tell a soul what you did. Just let me go. Why won’t you let me go?”
He dragged her up by the jacket again and shoved her against the stall door. The metal latch bit into her back. She groaned.
“Oh, it’s too late, Christy. I’ve given you more than enough chances.”
“Please. . .”
He backhanded her across the face. Pain shot through her nose. She crumpled to her knees, hands flying to the wound. Warm blood dripped into her fingers.
“I don’t know what I ever saw in you. You’re certainly nothing to look at.”
She peered up at the caricature of his once handsome face. How could she ever have loved this man?
Vince pulled a wad of rope out of his jacket pocket. “Not even worth the air you breath.”
That’s when the truth seized her. He’d played with her. Now he would kill her, and every ounce of survival instinct she had kicked in. She searched for a weapon. Bale of straw. Horse comb. Bottle of saddle soap. Shovel. She locked onto that. It leaned against the wall by the door. Could she crawl fast enough?
Vince kicked her in the thigh. “Get up.”
Christy struggled to rise in a slow, defeated way, but the second she gathered her feet underneath herself, she lunged for the door, and the shovel. Grasping the handle with both hands, she willed her eyes to focus on Vince, and swung it at his head.
The back of the shovel smacked Vince with a revolting thud. He gasped and staggered sideways, momentarily stunned. The rope slipped from his hands. Christy froze, shocked she’d actually wounded him. What was she doing? She had to get of here! Move!
Christy ran out of the barn, blood dripping and her head spinning. Into the yard, past the pickups. The house! Get to the house! Lock the door. Maybe she could grab a gun before Vince could break in.
And then she spotted the most beautiful creature in the entire world, Spirit, a snowy apparition posed in the middle of the yard, waiting for her. For a split second she wavered. Should she race for the house or gamble on mounting the gelding in her woozy state?
Vince forced her choice. He burst from the barn doorway, his eyes ablaze. She could not reach the house.
Adrenaline propelled her to Spirit, and she frantically gathered the reins, struggling to get her foot in the stirrup.She threw a look backward. Vince streaked toward her.Clutching Spirit’s mane, she summoned all her strength, and launched herself upon his back.
Here’s the edited version, using compression and SR. I’ll have a few comments at the end.
He grabbed Christy’s arm, whipped her around. Her shoulder rammed into Spirit. The horse jerked up his head and jumped away. The reins ripped from her hand.
Vince’s fist crunched into her cheekbone. Her head bounced sideways, pain exploding through her face. Christy stumbled.
Spirit bolted out the door.
Vince grabbed Christy’s jacket and yanked her close. Rancid cigar breath poured over her. “Guess what. I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” He punched her hard in the temple.
The blow blackened the world, 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.”
“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. She crumpled to her knees, hands flying to the wound. Blood dripped on her fingers.
“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 have loved this man?
Vince pulled a wad of rope out of his jacket pocket.
Christy spied the rope—and knew. He was going to kill her.
She had to save herself. Do something. Her eyes darted, looking for a weapon. Straw bale. Horse comb. Saddle soap bottle.
It leaned against the wall by the door. Could she crawl fast enough?
Vince kicked her in the thigh. “Get up.”
Christy rose slowly, feigning defeat, then lunged for the shovel. Grabbed its handle with both hands—and swung with all her might.
Thud. The back side smacked Vince in the head. He gasped, staggered sideways, momentarily stunned. The rope slipped from his hands. Christy threw the shovel aside. Move!
She scuttled from the barn, blood dripping and head spinning. Into the yard, past the pickups. Get to the house, lock the door! She’d find a gun, be ready for Vince—
The horse stood in the yard. Waiting for her. Christy wavered. Could she mount him in her dizziness?
Vince burst from the barn doorway, his eyes ablaze. Coming for her.
She would never make the house.
Adrenaline propelled her to Spirit. Frantically, she gathered the reins. Struggled for footing in the stirrup. She missed it, stumbled back. Tried again.
She threw a look over her shoulder. Vince streaked toward her, fifteen feet away. Ten.
With a cry, Christy sought the stirrup. Found it. She clutched Spirit’s mane like a lifeline, summoned her strength—and launched herself upon his back.
(1) The scene has less words, yet has greater impact. In deleting some actions and dialogue, we have a tighter scene, and now the action can really pop. This is the irony of effective SR and compression—less really does become more.
(2) In a few places I used paragraph changes to break up an action/reaction sequence. This adds choppiness and the feeling of swift-moving action. The main one to point out is the one-word paragraph, Spirit. The previous version had this looong sentence to show Christy noticing the horse. That lengthy sentence really slowed the action. At that moment, in Christy’s head is the do-or-die focus on reaching the house. Then, suddenly, she sees the horse—and a new idea springs into her mind. This should be shown with split-second timing. The dash, showing her thought cut in mid-stream, followed by the one-word paragraph Spirit gave me the effect I wanted.
(3) In other places I added in beats to increase tension. Main example is when Christy is struggling to put her foot in the stirrup. I wanted to show her struggling—while Vince is getting closer.
Okay, edit me all you want for SR and compression. Just remember we're not completely done with the scene yet. It's a good thing to edit me, because the whole point of this is to discover how these techniques work in your own voice.
On to greater heights with character motivation next week.
Read Part 11