Posted in Craft of writing, fiction, Writing, Writing exercises

Revision: Ways to Improve my Writing

REVISION 

Editing a paragraph from my book-in-progress illustrates the kind of work entailed in revision. This is the “line edit” kind of editorial work that I do on an ongoing process with my writing partners and for myself.

MY NOVEL. “Her steps were tentative. Fiona wasn’t sure she could avoid the captain’s anger at her again, if he showed up. The anticipation of viewing the sky with Jacob who always looked out for her was a new emotional territory. She followed him.”

What’s wrong with it? It is overwritten and yet now completely clear. Often editors consider this purple prose. Furthermore, it does not articulate my meaning as well as I want. Not a good thing. So, how can I correct it?

Change #1 Passive to Active Voice

Passive voice can usually be found in a sentence by looking for “to be” verbs, like “had been” and “would get to be,” or “was” and “were.”

I use the passive voice in two sentences. When I edit the sentence, I use an action verb and it reads more vividly and sounds more natural.

EXAMPLE #1

  • Her steps were tentative.
  • She stepped toward Jacob tentatively.

EXAMPLE #2

  • Fiona wasn’t sure she could avoid the captain’s anger.
  • Fiona wanted to avoid the captain’s anger.

Change #2 Replacing nomalizations to actions

We nominalize a word by taking an action and making a noun for it. When we do that, we make a static “thing” of something (anger and anticipation), instead of a living, breathing “action” (getting angry and anticipate). These two examples show up in my paragraph. I’ll show you how I changed them to make the sentence more vibrant.

EXAMPLE #1

  • She wasn’t sure she could avoid the captain’s anger if he showed up.
  • She wasn’t sure she could avoid him getting angry at her again if he showed up.

EXAMPLE #2

  • The anticipation of viewing the sky with a man who always looked out for her was a new emotional territory.
  • Fiona anticipated new emotional territory if she viewed the sky with the man who always looked out for her.
  • Fiona did not know what to anticipate if she viewed the sky with the man who always looked out for her.

Change #3 Increase clarity and the way it read naturally  

EXAMPLE #1

“…if he showed up on deck.” This phrase indicates his actions, not my main character. The focus should stay on her. So I edit it to read, “…if he saw her again.”

EXAMPLE #2

  • Fiona did not know what to anticipate if she viewed the sky with the man who always looked out for her.
  • She also did not know how she should act standing next to Jacob watching the night sky. (It took four tries to improve this sentence to see what I more clearly wanted to say. And it had nothing to do with anticipating.)

EXAMPLES #3

  • She followed him.
  • She decided to follow him to the bow anyway.

EDIT FOR IMPROVEMENT

I can make revisions in many ways. You would likely make them differently than I have. But you can see the process and how we improve our writing incrementally over time.

First draft: “Her steps were tentative. She wasn’t sure she could avoid the captain’s anger at her again, if he showed up. The anticipation of viewing the sky with a man who always looked out for her was new emotional territory. She followed him.”

Improved draft: “Fiona stepped forward toward Jacob. She wanted to avoid Captain Best getting angry because if he saw her again there could be trouble. She also did not know how she should act standing next to Jacob watching the night sky. She decided to follow him to the bow anyway.”

 

 

Posted in Craft of writing, fiction, Travel Writing, Writing

Conduct Research for Scenes in Your Fiction

via How to Research a Location You Haven’t Actually Been To

This blog post above by fellow writer, Helena Fairfax, has been wonderfully helpful to me in writing my novel set in India and on a ship in the Pacific and Indian oceans.  As an example, I wrote a scene in the book of slaughtering a sea turtle for eating aboard ship after watching a YouTube by today’s Aboriginal Australians.

Read the scene below from my book in-progress, Salwar Kameez. I’ve added a few notes to the reader to be able to grasp who the characters are in the scene, because it is out of context for you.

SCENE from BOOK on Butchering a Sea Turtle 

Next morning the cook, Paddy approached the aquatic turtles in the livestock watering tanks where he housed them for the voyage. Fiona joined the others to see how the butchering would go. She stood behind the crew circling the tank Paddy had selected.

He smiled at Fiona (the main character, who’s a horsewoman and only female aboard ship) and said, “Sure you want to watch this?”

“Sure.”

“It’s pretty bloody.”

“So is birthing a colt.”

In his sing-song Irish lilt, he said, “Dyin’ ain’t as romantic as birthin’.”

“I’ve watched hogs slaughtered. I want to see how you do it with a turtle.”

Paddy winked at her and said,“Okay. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Fiona assumed his smile indicated he expected her to fold in the midst of the slaughter.

She was ready.

Frederick, Paddy’s steward and the ship’s stockman, asked, “How ya gonna do this?”

Paddy said, “With your help.”

“Me?”

“Yep, you. Come here; pull the monster’s front foot over the edge of the tank. Get it to the point so I can take a swing at his neck. It can’t draw back in its shell if a foot is outside the body.”

Paddy wielded an ax; whopped it once, twice, then three times until the head drooped from the body. But he had to whack him multiple times to cut through the cartilage that surrounded the neck. Then he manhandled the neck, the size of a newborn calf, by wrenching it round and round, twisting it to sever the neck bones. A final wallop broke the last vestiges of the neck to separate the head from the body.

That done, Paddy nodded for others to join him in lifting the body out of the tank. Several sailors stepped forward to drag it out and onto the deck. Scully, the slacker, stood back arms crossed without offering help, looking queasy.

Paddy narrated the process as the curious crew looked on, as he reached into the turtle cavity and started pulling entrails. “Some parts, we won’t eat. I have to pull the lungs, intestines, and gallbladder.”

With his arm inside the turtle up to his elbow, he seemed to know which organ he was reaching for. Turtle legs flailed at Paddy as the nerves continued to work, though he had severed the brain from the sea creature’s body. The large intestines slopped onto the deck, blood pooling.

Fiona had cooked entrails of a chicken, but these intestines here were as big around as a man’s leg. The odor escaping from the orifice was fishy smelling, unlike a chicken. However, blood holds a distinctive smell all its own. Though Fiona expected the mess made on the floor, the length of the bowels surprised her.

As Paddy reached the attached and continuous reel of guts, the small intestines narrowed into a smaller roll, the size of a man’s bicep. The tube became smaller to that of a man’s wrist by the end.

Shipmaster Best pointed to two of the crewmembers and then overboard. The two men sloshed the coiled heap into the ocean, leaving a trail of blood.

She heard retching behind her and turned to find the no-good Scully giving up his breakfast overboard. His pallid face registered embarrassment, as laughter broke out among the crew. He moved down the railing and away from the action without leaving the deck.

Paddy reached into the opening with his knife and slashed skin around another organ. He held it up in his hand, showed it to the group, and said, “This is the gallbladder. I take it out of the cavity to make the cut.”

He reached in again and pulled out a beating heart.

He said, “The heart will beat for a while like its nerves keep working. I’ll cook it and I’ll eat it,” he said with a flourish and arrogance. “That’s my call as butcher and cook.”

“It’s mine–I’ll eat it!” Jeff, the young upstart, bluffed.

Paddy taunted, “No, I get it. You don’t want it—can’t eat. Not man enough.”

“I’ll eat it right now, beating and blood red,” offered another weathered sailor, Wesley.

Each man weighed in on eating the throbbing heart. A fight for the sake of their manhood erupted. The slight-bodied Frederick backed out of the fray and joined Jacob, the peacemaker to watch the tangle of fists.

Captain Best stepped into a mass of arms and legs flailing about. He picked up Wesley by the seat of his pants and tossed him to the side. He landed on his tailbone, stunned. Then Best struck Lars in the kidney to hold him at bay. As Leo lunged from the floor to defend his brother Lars, Best set his fist square upon his jaw. The shipmaster’s job was to outsmart and/or outfight the men aboard ship. Best picked them off one by one.

For once Scully, the troublemaker, did not start this ruckus.

After the commotion calmed down, Paddy returned to his task. He inserted a mean looking eighteen-inch knife into the turtle’s underbelly. He cut through an inch-thick, tough shell until he could cut no farther, then took a mallet and tapped it around. He instructed Frederick, his student now, to lift the belly shell as he continued to cut. It required muscle and time.

After that, Paddy proceeded skillfully to cut the meat from the skin, butchered big chunks of it, and placed them on a large plank to cook later, saving the shell in which to stew the meat. The procedure took the better part of the morning. Paddy and Frederick perspired through their clothes, wiped sweat from their foreheads, and rinsed their bloody hands repeatedly in the turtle’s tank. The three smaller turtles would meet their fate another day.

The men came and went between their chores all morning. Fiona tended the horses with Jacob and Scully, as usual. She and Jacob returned to the butchering scene every little while; Scully moped from a distance after the nausea today.

Scully mumbled to Fiona, “Don’t think I’ll want turtle tonight.”

Fiona, on the other hand, relished the idea of sea turtle for supper.

Paddy cooked the turtle slowly in a huge kettle, shell and all, all day long. He created a broth in the caldron of onions and dried mushrooms. The evening meal was a new experience.

Fiona said, “M-m-m. An odd combination of flavors. It tastes a lot like beef,” she chuckled as she added, “but with a fishy taste.”

Jeff said before he had taken his first bite. “That makes no sense!”

Wesley weighed in, “But she’s right.”

Jacob, Fiona’s sole ally, added, “Of course it tastes like fish, it comes from salt water.”

 

Posted in fiction, Travel, Travel Writing

My Writing Hiatus in a Hyperbaric Chamber

 

 

 

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My fortieth and last visit in a pressurized hyperbaric oxygen chamber

I am right handed, so how can I steady a cantaloupe without the middle finger of my left hand while cutting it up? How can I keep it from slipping and then spilling juice and contents? How can I hold the fruit firm enough not to cut myself? Very carefully.

How can I type the E, D, and C letters on the computer without that middle finger? Slowly and with lots of mistakes.

I have been in a hyperbaric chamber every weekday for the last two months in an attempt to save a finger. Success is slow but promising.

A fungal infection with several complicating factors went rogue and the tissue on the tip of my finger died. (Think frostbite. I’ll spare you those photos.)

0919170944
The reflection of the lights overhead shows that I’m in a clear glass chamber. I can read or watch television during the 90-minute treatment.

Today I type with nine digits instead of ten–but am becoming habituated. The injury stalled the work on my novel for more than two months, but I’m back writing again. And back blogging about travel, writing, and more about my novel in the months to come.

I have missed you, my followers, and look forward to more time with you. Stay tuned.

Posted in Craft of writing, fiction, Writing

Does my novel pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

I just learned about the Bechdel test (or Bechdel-Wallace test, as Bechdel prefers to call it to credit her friend, Ms. Wallace) from Andrea Lundgren’s recent blog post. This test requires in fiction or movies that 1) two women be present and named 2) talk to one another 3) about something other than a man.

I do find it intriguing to ask this question as I write my first novel about a young American unconventional horsewoman in the early 1900s. I have created as a part of the plot that Fiona, the main character, travel to India. There she interacts on various topics with her host in Calcutta, Amita, who becomes both friend and mentor to her.

Topics they discuss vary about Christianity, Quakerism, and Hinduism to questions about the social mores expressed in public Indian erotic art. The two women broaden their dialogues to include the value of education for women to the psychological foundations of women to chart their own adventures.

I am pleased to know my novel passes with flying colors. Fiona and Amita are “stars” in this regard.

What about your fiction? Does it pass the test, too?

I bet it does. And good for you if it does!