Monday, May 16, 2016

How Not to Write Good: Six Swings & A Miss

My frenemy John Oberon likes to poach a message board for his website so today I'm poaching one of his posts.

FROM MISSING TREES

Hi
I’m struggling a bit with my first paragraph, and having received some good advice, decided to post some options here. I’ve love to know which is preferred, and what makes the difference.
Thank you in advance!

Option 1 (original)
Lights off, Derek’s tyres crunched the gravel as he manoeuvred his van toward the twisted wooden railings. The moonlight barely touched the objects in its ambit; the struts on the swing seemed to randomly obscure. Now you see it, now you don’t. He imagined a scene from a black and white movie; a white van, spattered with muck, remnants of grit and salt from the slushy weather camouflaging its whiteness. A grubby man watching a young girl on the swing, waiting.

Option 2
Parked nose to twisted wooden railings, Derek killed the van’s engine and the lights. The moonlight’s ambit, confined by murky clouds, barely touched the objects in the park. He imagined a scene from a black and white movie. A van, it’s whiteness camouflaged by spattered muck and remnants of grit and salt from the slushy weather, concealed the diry man watching a young girl on the swing. Thinking. Waiting. Watching.

Option 3
Derek’s tyres crunched the gravel as he manoeuvred his van. He parked nose to twisted wooden railings and killed the lights. The moonlight’s ambit confined by murky clouds, concealing the objects in the park. The struts on the swing seemed to randomly obscure. Now you see it, now you don’t. He imagined a scene from a black and white movie; a white van, spattered with muck, remnants of grit and salt from the slushy weather camouflaging its whiteness and concealing the diry man as he watched a young girl on the swing.

Option 4
Derek imagined a scene from a black and white movie. A van, it’s whiteness camouflaged by spattered muck and remnants of grit and salt from the slushy weather, concealed the diry man watching a young girl on the swing. Tyres crunched the gravel as Derek manoeuvred his van until its nose touched the twisted wooden railings and then killed the lights. The moonlight’s ambit, confined by murky clouds, barely touched the objects in the park. The struts on the swing seemed to randomly obscure. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Option 5
Tyres crunched the gravel as Derek manoeuvred his van to the twisted wooden railings, and then killed the engine and the lights. The moonlight’s ambit, confined by murky clouds, barely touched the objects in the park. He imagined a scene from a black and white movie. A van, it’s whiteness camouflaged by spattered muck and remnants of grit and salt from the slushy weather, concealed the diry man watching a young girl on the swing. Thinking. Waiting. Watching.

Option 6
Derek’s tyres crunched the gravel as he manoeuvred his van. He parked nose to twisted wooden railings and killed the lights. The moonlight barely touched the objects in the park; the struts on the swing seemed to randomly obscure. Now you see it, now you don’t. He imagined a scene from a black and white movie; a white van, spattered with muck, remnants of grit and salt from the slushy weather camouflaging its whiteness and concealing the diry man as he watched the young girl on the swing.

RESPONSE

Well, I believe in saying what you want to say in as few words as possible, so here’s my go:
The gravel crunched as Derek parked his van by the twisted wood railings and killed the engine and lights. A moon couched in dark clouds bathed the park in an eerie glow, and he imagined a scene from an old film noir: a white van darkened by winter road spatter concealed a dirty man watching a young girl on the swing. Watching…thinking…waiting.

MISSING TREES

Don’t you trust hate it when someone writes your idea better than you did? LOL! Thank you John!! I’m still learning.

RESPONSE

Well, I didn’t mean to write it for you. I was just showing where you can prune and gain some efficiency in language. You could do something similar using your own words.

I read all of these and didn't really like any of them, including Oberon's.  The first thing is no matter which version I read it wasn't exactly clear to me whether Derek was the guy watching the young girl or if he was a guy watching the guy watching the girl.  Because really the way he thinks of the man as "grubby" or "dirty" isn't something the man would think of himself unless he has really shitty self-esteem.  It seems to put him outside himself, creating distance that makes it almost omniscient narration.

Assuming Derek is the peeper, what I think you want to do is focus on his watching the girl to show his obsession.  Get inside his head to let us know what he's seeing and thinking about as he's watching her.  Crunchy gravel, moonlight, and so forth isn't really important.  None of it helps to establish the character or the story.  I know that goes against Dwight Swain, but I think it'd make for a better opening for the reader.

Oberon might have noticed this himself if he weren't so focused on just pruning trees.  There's a time for pruning and a time for replanting.  This is the latter.

2 comments:

  1. What an odd selection of options. I'm not sure I like any of them, or for that matter find any of them intriguing enough to want to continue in finding out more. I think the overuse of adjectives bothers me.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Interesting approach on these. I'm not a writer so I have idea how to improve on any of these but I like your take.

    ReplyDelete

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