From Middles to Storms: Scrubbing My Prose in 30 Days, Report Two

I’m loving my June challenge to edit better! Editing for me is liking peeling onion layers: stinky and lots of tears. I just finished planting four dozen walla walla onions, so I’ve been thinking about onions way too much.

Challenge Six: medias res

Yeah, I had to look up medias res  too. It means start in the middle of the action. I’ve switched this week’s work to another editing project. I began Lillian in the Doorway, a 1920s romance set in California, in the middle of breakfast and in the middle of a conversation.

“Getting husbands is easy,” Lillian said. “I could find men for you in a snap.” Across the breakfast table eyebrows arched on the faces of her three friends.

Challenge Seven: dialogue with no tags
Admiral copy 2Although Lillian in the Doorway is sequel to my mystery novella The Admiral of Signal Hillit is a historical romance.  Lots of dialog and action, I’m trying a deeper point of view with this draft. In this section, Sadie is doing a little matchmaking with her friend Lillian and the local pharmacist Jens Schreiber. It’s in Lillian’s POV and stripped of dialog tags.

“Perhaps we should review the instructions, Lil. Gilda wouldn’t like interrupting Mr. Schreiber’s dinner.” With a bounce of her sleek hair, she set the note before the pharmacist.

Lillian gaped at Sadie. Gilda had no compunction about interruptions. Not that Gilda was actually sick …

“It is but a simple elixir. Taken like any cordial, yes?” Lillian liked his steady words and the accent that rounded his voice. It also affected her breathing strangely which she immediately slowed.

“You have a neat hand, sir.” Sadie ignored what he’d said and squinted at the paper. “But I cannot read this word nor that one nor that one.”

Lillian leaned over the counter so close to Mr. Schreiber that her throat constricted. While she’d rather study the strong cut of his jaw and his eyes soft with humor, she focused instead on his penmanship.

“What do you mean, Sadie? I can read this clearly.”

“Of course, you can, Lil. Because you are a trained transcriber.” Sadie emphasized the last two words with a sidelong look at the pharmacist.

Challenge Eight: without adverbs

While I edited Chapter Four of Lillian in the Doorway, I slashed adverbs with abandon. I rarely overuse them, but this challenge helped me find a few. I removed “immediately” before “dismissed” in this paragraph. A good edit? You tell me.

Jens stood at the doorway of his small office behind the counter of his drugstore. He had a few more prescriptions to fill before closing the shop, but he found himself interested in this young woman. Entranced was the word that occurred to him, but he dismissed the thought. Interest in terms of finding reliable administrative help at his pharmacy was acceptable. Interest in Miss Pratt’s business acumen was also acceptable. Entranced was entirely out-of-the question for an employer and recent widower.

Challenge Nine: a storm using senses other than sight

In a paranormal novelette called A Death in Ravenscar, I wrote the following:

They rode thermals, but the storm made a jumbled mess of the currents. It roared and pummeled them at every turn. The air crackled with electricity and smelled of salt and seaweed. In another gust in the bruising gales, their claws grabbed a flailing, prickling red willow branch.

Challenge Ten: about eating an apple

This is on page 216 of a young adult work in progress:

“Ouch. Stop it, Cairo.” Irritably, Rafe elbowed the horse away from him. At their stops, he’d eat half an apple and give his horse the other half. Cairo did not wait patiently. Sometimes he banged his head against Rafe’s shoulder, sometimes he tried to bite the apple from Rafe’s hand. Sometimes, like now, he bumped Rafe hard enough to send the boy sprawling. The horse chased down the partly-eaten apple and inhaled it before Rafe could stand. Cairo even stole the whole apple once.

Challenge Eleven: about your favorite reading spot

Who likes to read in the kitchen? Here was a fun place to read a map in Sardinia and that I included in my YA novel:

As rustic as the outside, the kitchen looked almost medieval except for a stove, a fridge, and a cleaner near the door. The stone sink had a pump handle for drawing water, the floors were all flagstone and straw, and the table looked like it’d been carved whole from a tree, bark left intact. The map was spread on the tabletop, bowls of fruit and nuts pushed aside to give it space.

Challenge Twelve: reactions of two friends meeting after a long absence

Chapter Twelve of Lillian in the Doorway ends with an encounter with a man Lillian met two years earlier in The Admiral of Signal Hill. I had fun with the surprise at the end of this chapter and the hook that starts Chapter Thirteen.

“You!” She poked the man with an indignant finger.

He straightened. Although his hat still shadowed most of his face, a shaft of afternoon light lit the scar that cratered the left side of his face from eye to jaw. His military bearing and the scar caused by a grenade blast marked him a doughboy.

“Pierce.” Her voice sounded shrill and accusing. “What are you doing here?”

That’s it for the second chunk of days in June. See you next Sunday!

Till then, happy reading.

About mlknowlden

In 2011, I left engineering to write full-time. Between the years 1992 and 2011, I’ve published 14 stories with Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine that have featured the hypochondriac detective Micky Cardex and two stories that did not. The 1998 story “No, Thank You, John” was nominated for a Shamus award. Many of these stories have been included in anthologies and translated in multiple languages. With Neal Shusterman, I’ve also published a science fiction story for the More Amazing Stories anthology (Tor) published in 1998 and co-authored with Neal Shusterman an X-Files Young Adult novel (DARK MATTER) for HarperCollins in 1999 under the name Easton Royce. For Simon & Schuster in July 2012, we published an e-novella UNSTRUNG in Neal's UNWIND world. I have graduate degrees in English and Electrical Engineering.
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4 Responses to From Middles to Storms: Scrubbing My Prose in 30 Days, Report Two

  1. jbadoud says:

    I’ll have to read this several times to get the full benefit of your editing tips. Well written!

    • mlknowlden says:

      I nabbed the Instagram thirty edit challenge and posted the whole thing on my FB page. I hope my examples show how one author can scrub her prose. It’s sure helping me! Thank you for your comment, Jean.

  2. Kaye Klem says:

    Great writing. You don’t need X said or how he/she said it expressed in adverbs or the use of adjectives to get your point across. Often what is said makes it clear who is saying it. All I need as a reader is who is talking, or thinking, and not constant attribution. And for brief periods, you can just have the dialog bounce the ball back and forth between the characters talking. Although I am reading Margaret Atwood’s THE BLIND ASSASSIN, and she doesn’t even let us know who is talking or in whose head we are for a long time in this prize winning novel. Clearly meant to mystify the reader about which of the two sisters in the novel is in an clandestine affair with a sketchy man neither of them seem to be able to resist. Sleight of hand, but she does finally confirm the reader’s suspicion about page 345 or so, which is a little more than halfway through the book. I continue to read to see what other switches she will have before the end.

    • mlknowlden says:

      Thank you for the comment, Kaye. That’s a good point. I’ll scrub again if it’s clear enough who is talking. We can take this trendy Deep POV too far, eh?

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