Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dave

Dave Shaw said...Been a while since I've commented here. Losing my parents last year took the wind from my sails for a while.

I'm so sorry about your parents, Dave. What a terrible year it must have been for you. Have you read Anne Sexton's poem, The Truth the Dead Know? She had the same experience-- both parents dying in a few months-- and I've always found that poem (about leaving the second funeral) so infused with grief and wisdom. No comfort, but maybe it'll speak to your experience. "I am tired of being brave."


Fujimoro's eyes were immediately drawn to the decorating focus in the small junior officer's quarters. The long wall opposite the one that the bed would extrude from pretended to be transparent, with a balcony beyond that had a second floor view over a broad beach lit by two small but bright moons. Large waves were crashing on the sand, and in the distance towering clouds loomed, occasionally lit by flashes of lightning.

That first line feels a bit too overmodified to me. What can you get rid of? Well, first, I'd suggest that "small junior officer's quarters" sounds like the officer was short. :) The next line has a "long wall", and I do know what you mean-- the 9 foot wall in the 7X9 room. But it's going to feel like a contradiction, small/long, and there's "large" right after that. And of course there's the problem of what "small" modifies, since it would make sense modifying either "officer" or "quarters". So because that's a problematic word for two reasons, I'd probably delete it. I don't know that you really need it.

"Decorating focus" was sort of-- this is apparently my word of the week-- precious. It makes it sound like this screen is just a decoration, like an old framed travel poster. But it sounds like the screen is really functional? Do we need to know at this point if the scene is real? I got thrown off by that "decorating" word and thought it was just sort of a high-tech wallpaper.

"One of the small storms coming in," Sally said. "We call them typhlets, a bit of slang that's almost respectable now. They'd be severe thunderstorms on Earth, I guess." She turned around and tried to smile at her senior. "Would you like anything? Please have a seat and I'll get it."

I'm a bit lost here. Is she referring to the scene on the screen? If so, maybe you can make that clear? She can gesture at the screen, or nod at it. That way we'd know that the storm she means is the one on the screen.

The "smile at her senior" was a bit awkward. Senior means an upper-level high school student to me, or someone who qualifies for senior discount at Denny's. :) If you mean Fujimoro, why not say "him"? I like the "tried to smile," because that's sliding in some conflict and emotion-- very subtle.


English. This mess has disturbed her even more than I thought. "Tea would be nice, and maybe some toast and marmalade, thanks." Fujimoro settled into a plain but well-crafted armchair before a small table set close to the 'window', adjacent to the tiny kitchenette by the door, and scanned the rest of the room. A small, stylish sofa with a low table in front of it crouched against the wall opposite the door, with a pet habitat in the corner between it and the hidden door to the head. A few art displays overlaid on a tasteful simulated wallpaper broke up the other walls. Simple but elegant decorating--just what I would expect from her. I had forgotten about the pet rats. I wonder if she still sleeps with them? But if I ask, she'll know I know things not in her DSI report.

That "English" can mean several things, so maybe you need a word or two more? Like She's speaking English. And if you have This mess must have disturbed her... it will be more clear that he's making that conclusion based on what you have in the immediately preceding sentence-- cause and effect, not just observation of fact.

I'm assuming this is her quarters?

Tea would be nice, and maybe some toast and marmalade, thanks." Fujimoro settled into a plain but well-crafted armchair before a small table set close to the 'window', adjacent to the tiny kitchenette by the door, and scanned the rest of the room.

Now she asked if he wants anything, and tea sounds plausible-- just a drink, as most of us would ask for. But then he asks for toast and marmelade, and that's kind of stretching it, asking for breakfast. I'm wondering if you might expand her question above to make it more likely that he'd ask for a meal, like "You must be hungry after that long trip. Can I get you something to eat?" That would be a clear invitation to ask for more than a drink.

Then he settles himself, but we lose Sally. It's a small room. He's certainly conscious of her. So can you register her movement here? like "As she bustled over to the tiny kitchenette...." That would keep her in the scene, but get her out of his direct vision so he can focus on the rest of the room.

A few art displays overlaid on a tasteful simulated wallpaper broke up the other walls.

This sounds writerly, like you've set yourself the task of describing the room. Boring. Sorry, but that's definitely the sort of line we skip when we're reading, and notice that it takes the focus off the important detail of the pet habitat. That's a good detail that tells us something about her, but the art displays-- nah. Don't dilute the precise and character-important exposition with something generic. If the art and the wallpaper aren't interesting enough to describe, they're not interesting enough to summarize. Get to what's important here-- what her room shows him about her.
Simple but elegant decorating--just what I would expect from her. I had forgotten about the pet rats. I wonder if she still sleeps with them? But if I ask, she'll know I know things not in her DSI report.

First line of that, again generic. Try cutting it and going right from the mention of the pet habitat to his line about the pet rats. THAT'S interesting. And it sets up your punchline, that is, we learn that he seems to know her sleeping habits, and yet apparently he has never met her before and that he's only supposed to know her from the report. This spun me off to all sorts of fun imaginings (I decided that she has amnesia and doesn't realize that they used to be lovers :). That's a great way to end a passage, by presenting a bit of a question-- even if you've actually given the answer earlier in the story.

One of the most helpful bits of advice I've gotten -- Diane told me this, Theresa-- is "Avoid the generic." This is even more essential when most of your writing is precise and vivid, because the generic lines will dilute the good stuff. When you find that you've written a generic line, go back and see if you can make it more interesting, more illustrative of character, more suspenseful, more something. :)
Alicia

7 comments:

rachel.capps said...

I definitely agree about the pet rats. Great line - 'I had forgotten about the pet rats'. I want to know more.

Leona said...

I only found this site yesterday and have been reading madly to catch up. It's fascinating and is helping me in my editing process.

The pet rat lines definitely infuse the story with interest and conflict. Who sleeps with rats, and how does he know about it? Wonderful.

Can anyone submit a few lines to you and if so, how does one go about it?

Edittorrent said...

Just post a few lines here-- from inside a scene, not the first paragraph, please. :) I'll see it. There are a lot of people ahead of you, so it might be awhile.
A

Dave Shaw said...

Thanks, Alicia, for the link to the poem. I'm sending it to my brother and sisters. I think all of us grew 'tired of being brave' last year.

On your edits, that's exactly the kind of thing I need to clarify my thoughts on how to edit this. Eliminate the generic and the 'precious' - thank you!

It's interesting how confusing a piece of a scene can be when taken out of context like this. Yes, this room is Lieutenant Junior Grade Sally Hendrix's quarters, which Lieutenant Commander Sandra Fujimoro has entered for the first time. Fujimoro has set herself up as a mentor of sorts to Sally, who is on her first tour of duty. Sally doesn't know it, but Fujimoro has been assigned to watch over and develop Sally by someone very powerful who wants to 'fashion her into a necessary tool', to paraphrase his thoughts. Sally would feel appalled and betrayed if she knew this about her new friend.

Sally and Fujimoro have spoken several times previously, but always in Japanese, Fujimoro's primary native language and a secondary native language for Sally. The point is that Sally's so shaken up that she's forgotten her manners, using her own primary language with a guest. Do you think that if you'd had this prior knowledge from the story that the line would work better, or do I still need to clarify Fujimoro's internal logic about it?

Sally's rats are emblematic of her. She's a slightly botched genetic experiment, and her pets are genetically altered specimens from the same lab that designed her. They make her feel less alone in the universe.

As for the breakfast thing, it's 4:30 in the morning, after a long night during which Sally killed 4 men who attacked her, and Fujimoro then helped free her from a legal system that saw her as a murderer rather than a victim who killed in self defense, hence the emotional upset. Sally's offer is really a cover for her own need to eat, as her extreme metabolism under stress has burned through most of her reserves. I'll definitely make it clearer that Sally's offering food as well as drink, though.

Thanks again, Alicia!

Dave Shaw said...

Oh, by the way - Sally is very small, 4 feet 10 1/2 inches and 92 pounds soaking wet, but you're right that that's not what I meant. LOL

Edittorrent said...

I did consider that Fujimoro might have been a woman, and there's nothing that clearly made her seem like a man-- it was just me being sexist, you know. Superior officer, must be a man.
Everything you say probably make sense when the whole scene is out there. Just put in whatever is necessary for the reader to get whatever you mean.
As for the language-- it's never easy to make clear they're conversing in a language different from the one the scene is in-- the best thing to do is just make it clear to the reader. Don't be too cryptic about it. If you want the reader to know that Sally is shifting to English because she's subconsciously anxious, say what you need to say to make that clear.

A

Dave Shaw said...

No worries about her gender - there are characters where gender is an arbitrary choice that could go either way, and she's one of them. She wouldn't be offended that you couldn't tell in a passage that didn't identify that attribute, either.

I really do appreciate it, Alicia!