Friday, July 15, 2005

Inner Rhythm/Sentence Rhythm, Day 2

Wow, thanks to those of you who took such time to write edits of yesterday’s scene. This blog has quite a number of readers (says my trusty counter), and even though most are silent, they all tend to read the comments page (says trusty counter, again). When you comment and take part in editing, you’re helping a lot of people better understand the techniques we’re talking about. It’s very helpful to see the concepts employed in different writer voices.

I’m going to give my own version of a quick edit of the two paragraphs from yesterday. As a reminder, here is the original version:

Ralph stood at the edge of the pond, watching them with a grim smile. Taking his eyes from their struggles for a moment, he looked east, towards town. But for the skeletal forms of the cottonwoods by the main road against the grey, February sky, the horizon was empty. Not unusual; since his wife’s death the farm rarely saw visitors. He had counted on today being no different when he lured them out on the ice.

He fished his cigarettes out of his coat pocket. Tapping the pack against his left palm, he pulled out a smoke, put it between his lips, and returned the pack to his pocket. His hand returned with a book of matches. He tore one free and struck a flame, but before he could get it to his cigarette, the match was extinguished by a gust of wind. The breeze carried on it the terrified screams of the two figures in the frigid, black water of the pond.

Note: One thing I noticed, and clarified with this scene’s author through e-mail—the two victims are purposely not named, nor are their genders or ages given.

My approach to this scene would be to put the action right up front, using the short sentence rhythm we’ve discussed for action scenes, then move into the longer sentence rhythm to show the POV character’s uncaring, unaffected inner rhythm. Something like this:

Screams of the dying slashed his ears.

Their voices sputtered from the frigid water, pleading for his help. Desperate hands flailed, clutched air, slid off ice.

Already they weakened. Soon their limbs would freeze into uselessness.

Both heads slipped under.

Momentary silence.

He smiled.

Shivering, he glanced east, toward town. But for the skeletal forms of cottonwoods against grey February sky, the horizon stretched empty. Not unusual; since his wife’s death the farm rarely saw visitors. He had counted on that today when he lured his victims out onto the pond’s thin ice.

The heads bobbed up. Gasps, chokes, a shriek of hopelessness. Water splashed and churned.

From the pocket of his coat, he fished his cigarettes. Tapping the pack against his left palm, he pulled out a smoke, eased it between his lips, and returned the pack to his pocket. His hand reappeared with a book of matches. He tore one free and struck a flame, but a sudden gust of wind snatched it away. He cursed and lit another match, cupping it with both hands, protecting its frail life against the cruel forces of nature.

A half cry from the black water, ragged and worn, tumbled through the air.

He nursed the flame toward his cigarette, watched his smoke glow into life. Shook the match, extinguishing its fire, and tossed it away. He took a long, satisfying drag on the cigarette, its biting heat coiling through his lungs. Ah. One of life’s best simple pleasures.

A faint gurgle. One head went under a second time.

And on from there.

Besides using the different forms of sentence rhythm, I thought it would be an interesting dichotomy to see this guy nurse a flame in the wind while he coldheartedly watches two people die. Also I think the sentence rhythm of the victims’ actions should draw out as they try to fight with fading energy. Hence the sentence starting with “A half cry” is longer.

I think you all get the idea of this addendum to our sentence rhythm concept. Just remember that your sentence rhythm should match the “beat” that carries the scene—and this beat might be the outer action, or it may be the inner rhythm of your POV character. Or, in this instance, it’s a little of both.

If you have further questions about this concept, please don’t hesitate to ask them.

Happy weekend, BGs. Next week we shall tackle . . .


Wayne said...

Thanks for taking the time on your blog to answer by question! You really helped clarify things for me. Time to go rewrite my prologue until it sparkles like a diamond. :)

C.J. Darlington said...

And thank you, Wayne, for letting Brandilyn use your prologue. It can be tough seeing your work discussed and dissected (trust me!), but the end result is worth it.

Leave it to Brandilyn to keep us hanging without even knowing what we're hanging for! As she would say, "Sheesh!" :-)

Domino said...

Thanks to Wayne for letting us learn from his prologue. Thanks to Brandilyn for making her point so clearly.

I liked seeing how a panicky person is shown in short sentences, but a calm person is shown in longer, more complex sentences. AND a calm person watching a panicky person, if unaffected emotionally, is shown with longer sentences.

Brandilyn, you are so awesome. But what I really wanted to say was...

Domino said...

Hehe! Sorry, I just had to try out the old 'keep them wanting more' cliffhanging technique.

But what I really wanted to say was...

I'll be back.

C.J. Darlington said...

By jove, she's got it!

Lynette Sowell said...

Thanks for sharing this Brandilyn and Wayne. I just played catchup after returning from vacation. (no e-mail access--gasp)

D. Gudger said...

I really like how you alternated between the shorter, more action oriented sentences and the longer languids. It really exposed the contrasts of the scene in its entirety.