Handing a manuscript to a reviewer is the hardest thing about writing. Nothing incites the same sort of nausea and anxiety as watching someone else’s eyes gliding back and forth across your words and observing every minute expression for any tinge of pleasure or disgust.
However, the second hardest thing comes when your dear friend hands back the manuscript with note-filled margins suggesting improvements and then you have the task of implementing those improvements.
Fortunately for me, as I mentioned before, the plot passed the test. Much to my chagrin, the prose didn’t.
Today, I start on page 59 of 126 for extensive prose-tightening day 4. And I’m going to do something I literally never do. I’m going to show you some of my ugly prose… immediately followed by how I tightened it. (It’s such a painful thing for a melancholy to do despite my phlegmatic bits. Pardon my cringes…)
Before prose-tightening:When I finally awoke again, I found myself in a warm bed surrounded by soft whispers. Certain I that had been captured, I attempted to calmly decide what I should do. If Jacobi were indeed the enemy, perhaps he would show me some mercy. After all, I thought that he was my friend.
Before I could decide my next move, though, those around me must have noticed I was awake. There was no use pondering with eyes closed. It was time to see what I must deal with.
To my surprise, the warm bed was in a small cottage bedroom. The man hovering over me was a doctor—judging from the instruments and vials sitting on a nearby table. His wife smiled comfortingly at me as she took my hand.
Not the absolute worse prose to ever desecrate a page, but let’s be honest. Where’s the energy? The anxiety? The narrator thinks she’s captured, for goodness sake, and the words don’t convey the anxiety or urgency.
So, contemplating the need to actually relay urgency to the reader, I decided to deviate from the narrator’s normally wordy style and utilize short sentences to create a better sense of the emotions you would actually feel if you thought you were captured and expected to meet your doom. I also decided to slow down and spend more time in the moment instead of breezing over it.
Take 2:When I finally awoke, my head throbbed, and my body ached. The heaviness that accompanies hours of deep sleep left me disoriented. For a moment, I had forgotten the events prior to laying in that warm bed, sore but comfortable.
Then my memories returned like remnants of a nightmare. I had fallen. I had been riding through the darkness, and I had fallen. Jacobi’s men were chasing me. I was in danger. I had to return home.
Panic gripped me. Surely I had been captured and rested under the watchful eye of Jacobi’s men. Perhaps they would kill me. I knew too much. I had to escape.
I braced myself. Then I opened my eyes. To my surprise, instead of finding myself surrounded by dungeon walls and piercing eyes, I was in a cottage bedroom. A man eased me back into the pillows, and his wife hurried to my side and took my hand. He felt my forehead and examined my eyes as he assured me that I was safe.
His skilled fingers scrutinized my shoulders and arms for injuries as he and his wife began a torrent of questions. Was my back sore? Where were my parents? Did it hurt when he pressed my ribs? Who was I?
Perfect? No. Better? I think so. If nothing else, I feel like I’m being more true to her distress and doing more justice to the moment. And, when it comes to crafting the right prose, it seems that much of it comes down to what the narrator is feeling at the moment. What is important to her? What is she noticing? What is she feeling?
What do you think? How do you approach prose-tightening?