Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Bare Bones of the Matter


First of all, before today’s post, I want to say a big THANK YOU to all of the awesome bloggers who were kind enough to follow and comment on my ever-so-new blog! I feel like I’ve been welcomed into the ‘blogging aspiring writers’ community with open arms and I’ve found so many generous and funny people, and a myriad of interesting and informative blogs in the last week. Which leaves me wondering- Why the hell didn’t I start blogging sooner? Anyways, I’m up to 22 members! We could have a ‘cocktail party’ up down in heah! Woooh!
As for today’s post. Until that long awaited day when my fairy god agent decides to descend from their throne in the sky and upgrade me from creepy querier to creepy client, most of my posts will probably center around the revising and editing process, cause for me, it’s never-ending. I fear even if my book was published, I’d open it and say ‘Oh shit. I forgot to take out that extra ‘place annoying word from list here’.

As most of you already know,
Miss Snark's First Victim puts on a fabulous Secret Agent contest where you submit your first 250 words of a completed manuscript. Contestant’s entries are put up for free criticism by fellow writers before being chosen for a critique from a secret agent. ‘Oooh!’ I thought. Unfortunately I wasn’t smart enough to get through the veil of security guidelines. What can I say? I’m a newbie. It kept telling me my word count was too high. Before I had finished trying to submit, as an exhausted lump on the floor, I had managed to strip the opening sequence of my book down to its bare bones.

Low and behold- whenever a writer strips their manuscript down to its skeleton, it often reads better! We don’t like to believe this. Our choice in adjectives and adverbs and sentence structure is what gives us our style, right? RIGHT?? In many cases, yes. In most cases, it’s what covers up our style and what readers end up digging through to find the story. In this case, I’m going to let you guys be the judge.

Here is my original opening sequence:

Gretchen Grey stood on the stone steps of her childhood home. Her grip tightened into a white fist around the handle of her umbrella as she waited for her parents to arrive.
She felt like death incarnate, draped in black from head to toe. A wide brimmed hat sat upon her toffee colored locks. She tugged at the black wool traveling cloak that fell across her shoulders and hid the simple robe that lay beneath. The pattern of color was broken only by her smooth olive complexion, paler than usual on this occasion, and a pair of striking grey blue eyes. She might have been beautiful, with a small delicate nose and well defined mouth, but she was often told that something in her eyes made others uncomfortable.
At this particular moment, Gretchen’s eyes were staring blankly ahead, taking in the London townhouse where she had spent most of her thirteen years. It had been so well kept when she was younger; the handsome residence of a young American businessman and his English wife. The hired help had once hustled and bustled about, making sure the outside foliage was trimmed and that the season’s flowers were planted.
Gretchen looked now upon the thick green ivy that crawled up the dark brick and nearly covered over the panes of the downstairs windows. The large leaves cast shadow around the entrance, running on towards the outer corners, almost reaching the top floor panes. Looking at it from afar, it seemed her home rested in the palm of a giant murky green claw.
A lone woman appeared from within and opened her umbrella against the pelting rain. “Gretchen, child! There’s no reason to wait outside.”
Gretchen tore her haunted gaze away from the house. “You know that’s not true.” She answered softly.
Mira frowned and shot the girl a worried glance but nodded once.
‘My, how she’s aged,’ Gretchen thought grimly. Mira had been her nursemaid and nanny since birth. And ever since Gretchen had known her, the woman’s beauty and vitality had been one of the few constants in her life. But in the last year, it seemed as though her dear friend had aged beyond reason. Her once glorious red hair was now streaked with white and tied into a stiff knot at the back of her head. Her dark green eyes were now sunken and lined by fine wrinkles.
“They’re coming now,” Mira said and gave Gretchen’s shoulder a gentle pat. The sound of heavy steps and subdued voices came to them from the interior. And then her parents emerged.
Several men dressed in dark wool trousers and coats carried her mother’s casket out first. It was a dark mahogany, richly etched with gold. Gretchen imagined that her mother would have approved. She always loved fine things and had an eye for detail that many admired.
The group of men carrying the casket was followed out by a second group. Her father’s casket was almost identical to her mothers, though a bit longer. Her father had been a tall man, after all. Gretchen’s breath caught in her throat, and her hand flew up to clutch Mira’s as it rested on her shoulder.
‘This is all my fault.’


And here is the Bare Bones of the Matter:

Gretchen Grey stood on the stone steps of her childhood home. Her grip tightened into a white fist around the handle of her umbrella as she waited for her parents to arrive.
A woman appeared in the doorway and opened her umbrella against the pelting rain. "Gretchen child! There's no reason to wait outside."
"You know that's not true,” she answered softly. Her haunted eyes glanced up at the chambermaid.
Mira gave her shoulder a gentle pat. The sound of heavy steps and subdued voices drifted towards them from the interior of the London townhouse.
Several men dressed in dark trousers and coats carried her mother's casket out first. It was a rich mahogany, etched with gold. Gretchen imagined her mother would have approved. She always loved fine things and had an eye for detail that many admired.
The group of men carrying the casket were followed out by a second group. Her father's casket was almost identical to her mother's, though a bit longer. Her father had been a tall man, afterall. Gretchen's breath caught in her throat and her hand flew up to clutch Mira's as it rested on her shoulder.
‘This is all my fault.'


What I learned : By saving the clamoring details and description for later on in the story, I can make the opening to my book ‘hook’ a lot faster and get right into the action. I don’t have to give up anything, just rearrange and strategize.

What do you think?

15 comments:

Clara said...

I agree Katie, the bare bones are much more interesting. I like to say every writer writes a book for himself. One of the parts of editing is making that book a piece for readers, which usually means making things more excitting and cutting (A LOT!) of parts and prioritizing interesting, shocking, information.
I try to do it in my one too, so we are all on the same boat =) I´ve managed to cut 4 thousand words from my ms so far, and I´m only at the first arch. Hopefully I re wrote things in a more ffective way...Yuppie!

Cheers!

Creepy Query Girl said...

That's awesome Clara! You aren't going to believe me but me original manuscript was 130,000 words. The final stats show it down to 104,000 now. So that's progress. lol. I can't wait to read it!

Bish Denham said...

Yep. The second is much better.

MissV said...

Yup, the second is much better. I admit I was skimming through the details in the first one to find the dialogue or action. Don't you just love those 'aha' moments?

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

Yes, the second is so so so much better. I learnt that the bare bones is much better the hard way. After three years, three drafts, and one mentor later.

I have a request. Can you alter your colours? I find it SO glary and hard on my eyes with white text on black background. Would be so much more of a pleasure to read if you had a light backgound and dark text. By all means ignore my request, but I think most bloggers feel the same. Sorry!

JustineDell said...

I agree, the second one is better. It's amazing what you can do with words when you cut some out. I'm wordy by nature, but my beta has helped me see the error of my ways.

~JD

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great job on tightening your beginning. The second version is much better.

I've enter the Miss Snark's First Victim before(she's not Miss Snark--that was an agent). The advice can be really helpful, and sometimes not. But it's helps to see what grabs people, and why starting with backstory fails.

creepyquerygirl said...

Justine- what is a beta and how can I find one for me?:)

Thanks for the clarification Stina, i'll change the link.

AA- I'll see what I can do about colors!
Thanks so much for the comments guys. I'm sure I've still got plenty of 'Aha' moments yet to come:)

Talli Roland said...

Second version is so much better, I think. Uncluttered and easy to read - definitely better hook!

Have you changed your blog look? If yes, I like it - I hate black backgrounds! :)

Creepy Query Girl said...

Thanks TR- Yes, I changed the settings because AA remarked that the black background was hard onthe eyes too! Glad you like it:)

Zoe C. Courtman said...

Howdy! First, mad props for being brave enough to post your before and after. Second version is so much cleaner. I'm forever streamlining my own work - my first drafts are ALWAYS so tangled with adjectives that you need a machete just to find the main character. Now, I never lead with setting and I keep description to a bare minimum, like, seriously, a sentence or a carefully-worded phrase. Then I just ask myself, "Then what happened?" and focus ENTIRELY on advancing the story. Nice blog!

creepyquerygirl said...

Thanks Zoe! I admit, I have to cringe at the fact that it took me so long to get this right! But if my flubs can help other people than it's worth it. You've got a great technique there!

wendy said...

Wow! What a difference between the two excerpts. Great discovery there. :)

Stephanie said...

Quick learner!

SonshineMusic i.e. Rebecca T. said...

The second one was definitely better. I have to do this with an entire manuscript and I'm so not looking forward to it. well, that's the life of a writer, right? :)

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