Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wednesday Makeover

TODAY'S MAKEOVER: Memories…Drifting off

THE SCENE:
(In which Karleen comes to spend the summer with her aunt and uncle, in the town where her brother drowned in the ocean seven years prior: an excerpt from a second chapter.)

Later that evening Karleen lay in the attic room, rather zombie-like under one of Aunt Judith's handmade quilts. What an emotionally draining day it had been! She fingered the quilt's edge in the semi-darkness while her thoughts bumbled around in her brain like lethargic, rusted bumper cars.

She recalled the parting scene when her parents had left for Italy. Dad had kissed her on the cheek, smelling like his aftershave. Mom had hugged her and pleaded with her to be nice to Aunt Judith. They had had watery eyes, herself as well as Mom and Dad. She remembered the taxi taking her parents away to the airport. A churning pit where her stomach should be. Uncle Ryan's sunny greeting smile on his bearded face when he climbed from his truck. His old truck barely able to stay on the highway because he'd been distracted by that bag of chips. This house by the sea. Homemade fried chicken…sad lines around Aunt Judith's mouth, disapproving somehow in addition to sad. Then she'd played chess with Uncle Ryan.
Her thoughts grew fuzzy, and her images jumbled together. The black and white squares of the chessboard swam with wrinkled uncle knuckles and the smell of the sea. She couldn't escape the smell. It crept into the house, not just outside on the path that led to the sea. The ocean was too close, and it made a jolt of fear surge through her. She would drown this summer, she just knew it. Just like David had....

She fell asleep, and her dreams were filled with nightmare visions.

COMMENTS:
Later that evening Karleen lay in the attic room, rather zombie-like under one of Aunt Judith's handmade quilts. What an emotionally draining day it had been! She fingered the quilt's edge in the semi-darkness while her thoughts bumbled around in her brain like lethargic, rusted bumper cars.
Qualifiers like "rather" zombie-like can be omitted here. The exclamation mark is melodramatic and would read better without it. "Emotionally" is an adverb that could be slashed. The simile of the bumper cars would be stronger and more streamlined without one of the adjectives--probably lethargic, since if her thoughts are already "bumbling" a sense of lethargy is already implied.

She recalled the parting scene when her parents had left for Italy. Dad had kissed her on the cheek, smelling like his aftershave. Mom had hugged her and pleaded with her to be nice to Aunt Judith. They had had watery eyes, herself as well as Mom and Dad. She remembered the taxi taking her parents away to the airport. A churning pit where her stomach should be. Uncle Ryan's sunny greeting smile on his bearded face when he climbed from his truck. His old truck barely able to stay on the highway because he'd been distracted by that bag of chips. This house by the sea. Homemade fried chicken…sad lines around Aunt Judith's mouth, disapproving somehow in addition to sad. Then she'd played chess with Uncle Ryan.
The first sentence is telling an overview of what she's recalling and then the rest of the paragraph shows it (and really, the bumper car sentence is even a Telling kind of summary). Omit the telling--like the distant tone of "Aunt Judith pleaded with her to be nice"--reword the section to make it sound less like a summary. The "had had" is awkward; avoid that whenever you can. "Barely" would be good to omit, since it's another adverb/qualifier. Rewording the sentence about the truck would make it stronger. Omit "homemade" because the quilt was described as handmade; too similar, plus the adjective isn't really necessary for the reader to know.

Her thoughts grew fuzzy, and her images jumbled together. The black and white squares of the chessboard swam with wrinkled uncle knuckles and the smell of the sea. She couldn't escape the smell. It crept into the house, not just outside on the path that led to the sea. The ocean was too close, and it made a jolt of fear surge through her. She would drown this summer, she just knew it. Just like David....
She fell asleep, and her dreams were filled with nightmare visions.
SHOW Karleen's thoughts growing fuzzy--don't tell the reader they are. Be creative, make the sentences and words jumble together as though the reader is in Karleen's head, instead of describing the process more distantly. "She fell asleep" could also be livened up, and the weak "was" verb could be omitted ("her dreams were filled"). Don't be afraid to use sentence fragments. The word "just" is repeated twice--insanely close together. Slash!

MAKEOVER:
Later that evening Karleen lay with the enthusiasm of a zombie in the attic room under one of Aunt Judith's handmade quilts. What a freaking weary day. She fingered the quilt's edge in the semi-darkness while her thoughts bumbled around in her brain like rusted bumper cars.
The parting scene before her parents had left for Italy floated past her mind's eye. Dad, kissing her cheek, smelling of aftershave. Mom hugging her with the reminder to please please be nice to Aunt Judith. Watery eyes, all three pair. Suitcases. The taxi whisking her parents away to the airport. A churning pit where her stomach should be. Uncle Ryan's greeting smile that broke through his beard like a cheery sun through a mass of blond clouds. Meandering, floundering truck on the highway thanks to those blasted chips of his. Fried chicken…this house by the sea…sad lines around Aunt Judith's mouth, disapproving somehow? The chessboard. The black and white squares of it wavered and swam with wrinkled uncle knuckles and the smell of the sea. She couldn't escape the smell…inside the house for Pete's sake, it must be embedded in the carpet somehow, sand and grit and the whole house flowing like a landslide down the path to the ocean until her chestnut hair splayed out in a whirlpool of sucking heaving saltwater help help help--

David.

She tipped, and fell slow-sleepy-motion into her first nightmare of the summer.

1 comment:

  1. I love your editing style. The finished product is a tight, effective style of writing. If only I could see the words as clearly as you do. Great job!
    M.J.

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