Thursday, June 29, 2006

Follow the Bouncing Paragraph

Poking around in my old files yesterday made me think of a post on editing, and how one task--the introduction and description of a character--can change from version to version. Come along as I Follow the Paragraph (okay, sometimes paragraphs) introducing Thomas, the love interest at the beginning of the story...

From TMT January 15, 2003 (as far back as I have here). The mss was then called TRUST.
(oh, should say that all excerpts, as ghastly as some of them are, are copyright Susan Adrian, 2006, All Rights Reserved)

--I studied him, trying to be objective. He was a big man, long of leg and tall in stature, with a wide chest. I thought he looked a bit like a fox, with dark red hair curling back from a high forehead, and a red beard surrounding a soft mouth. His nose was long and narrow, but any sharpness this brought to his face was tempered by deep brown eyes with thick eyelashes. Those eyes locked on mine again now, and he nodded almost imperceptibly.--

Ack. This sounds awfully cliched now, especially the sharpness "tempered by deep brown eyes". Yuck. It also wasn't quite what I wanted, anyway...the wide chest was wrong. And looking at it now, that's a boring paragraph, with just description and no action other than studying and eyes locking {gag}.

From TMT November 2003, so 10 months later:

--"Katherine!" Thomas looked up and smiled, his teeth white through the russet beard. I fumbled with the ties of my cloak, my cold, numb fingers slipping against the knot. Finally it broke free and I pulled off the cloak, hung the dripping mess on a peg, and tripped my way over to Thomas. He folded his arm around my shoulder. "God's blood, but you're wet!" he exclaimed, pulling back.

"I know! It is truly the flood, I think." I ran a hand through my damp, tangled hair, looking at him. Even in the weak gray light from the window his hair and beard were a fire of red, his dark eyes gleaming. "Next we shall look out the window and see a line of animals, two by two."--

I took it out! This is now the only description I have in the whole scene. Now all we know is that he has white teeth and a red beard and hair. Hmmm. Action is better, though I now have an overtly self-aware line (running a hand through my damp, tangled hair) that's out of place. I think I need to put more description back.

From TMT February 2004 (3 months later):

--"Katherine!" He smiled, his teeth white through the russet beard. I always thought he looked a bit like a fox, with his long, narrow nose, dark red hair curling back from a high forehead, and short red beard. I fumbled with the ties of my cloak, my cold, numb fingers slipping against the knot. Finally it broke free and I pulled off the cloak, hung the dripping mess on a peg by the door, and tripped my way to Thomas. He draped an arm over my shoulder. "God's blood, but you're wet!" he exclaimed, pulling back and brushing a bit at his sleeve.

"I know! It is truly the flood, I think." I ran a hand through my damp, tangled hair, just looking at him. Even in the weak gray light from the window his hair and beard were a fire of red, his dark eyes gleaming. "Next we shall look out the window and see a line of animals, two by two."--

Interesting. I added the fox part back in--this actually becomes a recurring metaphor in the book. I've added in the "brushing a bit at his sleeve" to begin to show his fussiness about his appearance. Kept all that last paragraph, though.

By July 2004 I'd taken out the self-aware line (made it "I ran a hand over my damp skirt", which is better) but left the rest the same.

Fast-forward to October 2005:

--"Katherine!" He smiled, his teeth white through the russet beard. I always thought he looked a bit like a fox, with a long, narrow nose, dark red hair curling back from a high forehead, and short red beard. I fumbled with the ties of my cloak, my cold, numb fingers slipping against the knot. Finally it broke free and I hung the dripping mess on a peg by the door, tripping my way to Thomas. He draped an arm over my shoulder.

"God's blood, but you're wet!" He pulled back and brushed at his sleeve.

"Aye, it is truly the flood, I think. Next we shall look out the window and see a line of animals, two by two." I tugged on the veil and ran a hand over my damp skirt, just looking at him. Even in the weak light from the window his hair and beard were a fire of red, his dark eyes gleaming.--

Tired of it yet? Welcome to editing. I wonder how many times I've read this paragraph. Anyway, here I broke out his speech and movement, took out the "bit" from him brushing his sleeve, and changed Katherine's "I know" to "Aye", which she consistently uses. Oh, and finally went back and researched head coverings, and added a veil.

One more. Here's the "final" version. I finally realized it would be better to move that fox line to the part where she's looking at him. You'll see some of the dialogue has changed too, and the actions are a bit different.

--Thomas stood alone by the window, leaning over a table covered with sheets of parchment. He set down his quill and smiled, his teeth white through the russet beard.

"Katherine, my pet!"

I fumbled with the ties of my cloak, my cold, numb fingers slipping against the knot until it broke free. I hung the dripping mess on a peg by the door, and tripped my way to Thomas. He draped an arm over my shoulder.

"God's blood, but you're wet!" He pulled back, nose crinkling, and brushed at his sleeve.

"Aye, it is truly the flood," I answered, with a smile. "I expect if you look out the window you shall see a line of animals, two by two."

I tugged the veil into place and ran a hand over my damp skirt, just looking at him. Even in the weak light from the window his hair and beard were a fire of red, his dark eyes gleaming. I always thought he looked like a fox, with his long, narrow nose, dark red hair curling back from a high forehead, and clipped red beard.--



That's just one description. Multiply that times...oh, 75,000 (there are 95,000 words) and you'll understand, if you didn't already, exactly why it takes so long to write a book.

Medieval Word of the Day: pythonissa:
Often treated as proper name of the witch of Endor. (yeah, baby. I've got to get the witch of Endor in Book 2.)

4 comments:

Sara Walker Howe said...

Hi Susan,

I like seeing your process. And I love Diana's suggestion of action in every paragraph. I missed that discussion over at the forum, but picked up here on your blog. Thanks! I too am learning this fattening technique, while struggling with retaining the original sparkle. I don't want to edit my story dead.

I wonder if you'll take one tiny suggestion? I don't care for the "just looking at him" bit. It's sticking out like a tag on the back of a shirt. It becomes evident she's looking at him in the next sentence, and you've got "looked" later in the paragraph. Other than that, I love how you've broken up the description and layered it through action. It's much better than the info dumps I'm reading in published works these days.

Good luck with your submissions, BTW!

Susan Adrian said...

Sara:

Of course I listen to suggestions! Listen and reflect, remember? {g} I'll take a look at it.

I'm glad you liked that post...after I posted it I thought, hmmm, that was LONG.

Precie said...

Susan:

I followed your sig link from the forum. I love watching the evolution of this passage. It's fascinating to see other writers at work! Thanks so much for posting this!

--Precie

Susan Adrian said...

Thanks for commenting, Precie! I'm never quite sure when I post something if it will be useful and interesting, or fodder for the void. {g} I'm glad this one caught your eye!

Susan