There always comes a point in rewriting when I think I’ve achieved the elusive quality of good readability, when there is nothing left in the work-in-progress to remind a reader that that is what they’re doing … reading. That’s when I head-up a draft with the fatal words, ‘Final Edit’.
And that’s also the point when a good critique will inevitably throw my plans into disarray. I’ve rewritten Monster Moored more than a few times now, attending to structure, story flow, characterization, sentence sequencing and a host of other detail, and was in the middle of what I thought would be that final rewrite.
Then I was tempted by the possibility of a critique or two after I rejoined the Online Writers Workshop (OWW) and discovered I still had some points in my quiver. I submitted Chapters 1, 2 and 3.
The excellent critique of them stopped me in my tracks. I’ve done no further rewriting. Not of Chapter 21: Tardi at the Depot, where he faces his father, nor of Chapters 1, 2 and 3 because I needed to think think think through the points raised in the review.
|Part of Page 1, Monster Moored, after editing|
Stilted writing flow’ and ‘choppy sentences’ resonated in me like a fire alarm bell. I’ve fought both these tendencies for many years. Sentences of varying length and fewer passive verbs are suggested as the cure. Testing Page One of Chapter One (500 words) on active versus passive verbs, I counted 33 active verbs, 14 passive verbs and was able to change 4 more passives to actives. On the above sample, purple ticks and minuses mark passive and active verbs. The purple notes mark the changes to be made.
One quarter passive verbs doesn’t seem like too many. There are things that can’t be said without them. Or at least, that I don’t know how to say in this story without them. The ‘choppy sentences’ problem led me, as a knee-jerk reaction, to count words-per-sentence. The results in pink, running alongside the paragraphs.
I decided that those statistics are important if readability is compromised. I think now this choppiness could be caused by too many phrases and clauses beset by commas – in long sentences – where I tried to pile on descriptions. It's another thing to watch out for.
Sensory detail is yet another aspect I thought I had already addressed. Maybe in my more recent projects? I shook my head in disbelief as I checked and scored exactly one instance of sensory detail on Page One. I have to believe that because I began writing Monster Moored years ago, it missed out somehow on my more recent learnings. Yes, I do certainly need to add in more sensory detail.
And then there’s the logic problem. An event that doesn’t follow from the events so far described. I obviously need to introduce the prevailing concept (in the culture of the time in the story) of 'Ripple Time' now rather than further down the timeline.