Monday, June 28, 2010

Paragraph Makeover

According to the revised focus for my blog, I will review writing tips by showing examples. See sidebar for submission specifics.

TODAY'S OPENING PARAGRAPH:

High above the crashing emerald waves of the wild, frothing sea, Rianna stood on the grassy bluff. Her thick ebony hair flailed in the wind like anxious whipping banners as her blue-green eyes scanned the waves for a glimpse of her father's huge merchant ship. She saw no tiny scrap of sail on the horizon, no sign of a wooden hull. The wind caught at her full skirt, wrapping like a protective cocoon around her little brother who stood beside her. He shivered, his dark eyes somber, his body small and thin but sturdy like the reeds that grew by the inland rivers.

COMMENTS:

Adjectives, similes, and redundancies are the three areas of concern, where this passage could be improved.

Adjectives: This passage is infested with adjectives! Slashing some of these will give a better effect; in cases like this, less is more. Every single noun should NOT have one to three adjectives describing it. The waves here are crashing and emerald, the sea is wild and frothing, the bluff is grassy, etc. At this point in the story, do we really need to know her eyes are blue-green? (Especially since her brother's eyes are described, too) Those details can be worked in more naturally, later--and please, not by having her look in a mirror or a reflection! Those are cliché methods and way overused in literature.

Similes (or figures of speech): There are also three similes very close to each other, 3 in one paragraph--banners, cocoon, reeds. Does everything remind the main character or narrator of something else? It's often better to choose one strong simile rather than a number of weaker ones, and not saturate your paragraphs with figures of speech. If you feel you can't omit one, turn one of the similes into a metaphor to break up the monotony (metaphors say a thing IS something else, similes say a thing is LIKE or AS something else, a comparison). Even changing one simile to say "as" while the other says "like" breaks things up a bit.

Redundancies: Saying the sea is crashing and wild is fairly redundant, and a "tiny scrap of sail" is definitely redundant in that a scrap IS something tiny, so the word tiny is not needed. Likewise, if the hair is already flailing, then the word whipping wouldn't be needed to describe banners. A cocoon is inherently protective, so the word protective could be eliminated. In choosing which adjectives or words to keep, check for words that mean the same thing and eliminate the duplicates. "The waves" are repeated in both sentences 1 and 2; trim one. "Inland" in the last sentence tells us nothing; is there such thing as a river that isn't inland?

Miscellaneous: Technically, the second to the last sentence actually says the WIND wrapped like a cocoon around her brother, not the skirt doing the wrapping (wind is the subject of the sentence, the thing doing the action). This must be fixed. A mere adding of "it" clears this up.

REWRITE:

High above the crashing emerald waves of the sea, Rianna stood on the grassy bluff. Her hair flailed in the wind like anxious banners as she scanned the horizon for a glimpse of her father's merchant ship. She saw no scrap of sail, no sign of a wooden hull. The wind caught at her skirt, wrapping it around her brother who stood beside her. He shivered, his dark eyes somber, his thin body as sturdy as the reeds that grew by the rivers.

Adjectives omitted: 14!
Words omitted: 103-83=20!
The result is a much cleaner, easier to read paragraph.
(I wrote both paragraphs, by the way, so I can be harsher about the critique. LOL)

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