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How Would you Reword This?
Kay P
Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 11:48 AM
Joined: 10/11/2012
Posts: 13

I finally finished my first chapter (Yay Me)!!!

I would have uploaded it if it wasn't for this meddling phrase right at the end which sticks out like the tag on the back of a shirt (pet peeve)

It's definitely a run-on.
"The cracking sounds of twigs breaking under feet rapidly running towards me combined with my deafening heartbeat left me immobile."

There is a bit of suspense in this line a whole lot of suspense where it came from. So rewording has to be just right and can't take away from that thrill of knowing you're being chased.

Suggestions please. I'm excited and want to post this up ASAP

*I purposefully said 'under feet rapidly running...' because the thing that is chasing her hasn't been revealed to the reader yet


Timothy Maguire
Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 4:12 PM
Joined: 8/13/2011
Posts: 272

Here's one you could try:

'The sound of my pursuer crashing through the undergrowth mixed with my frantically hammering heart to pin me in place.'

Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 11:20 AM
I think maybe you're trying to put too many thoughts into one sentence. It's something I'm horribly guilty of. Try breaking it into at least two parts and see what happens. Also, imho, smaller sentences tend to convey stress, a rush better than one long one.

Kay P
Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 4:36 PM
Joined: 10/11/2012
Posts: 13

@Timothy...great way in rewording but:
1.)sentence is still too long
2.) I know that isn't what pursuer is subjected to, but I take 'pursuer' as a human or animal, something that is known you know. In my case, the character has already met her chaser, except it is paranormal. The reader however, doesn't know what is chasing her but i gave hints throughout my chapter referring the creature as 'it, that,' or 'thing', also I revealed the sound that it makes. I don't reveal to the reader the knowledge that the character knows of the creature...that's in chapter 2.

@Mari...that's exactly my problem but nothing is still coming to me. I did try to chop up the sentence but it sounded corny. I'm going to have to rephrase everything.

Jay Greenstein
Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 11:54 PM

The cracking sounds of twigs breaking under feet rapidly running towards me combined with my deafening heartbeat left me immobile."

You’re trying to inform, so you include everything. And instead of being in the POV of the character who’s experiencing the action, your POV is external, the memory of the narrator, who is explaining the action rather then placing the reader in the head of the character on the scene. In other words you’re telling rather than showing. Changing the personal pronouns so as to have it appear that the one doing the telling is the character at some unknown later date changes that not at all.

Another thing to keep in mind: because the character is the narrator we know they survived. That does tend to reduce the tension in a scene like this.

But that aside, the external, narrator-centric approach tends to be dispassionate, and can sometimes read like a report.

In this case, you’re using literary devices in an attempt to “jazz up” the act of telling, but it slows the narrative with the unneeded verbiage.

“The cracking sounds”  is implied by twigs braking, right? So the first three words are unneeded. In fact, since the character isn’t reacting to the crackling twigs and concluding that someone is there, what matters is that the one approaching is running.

Can we run slow? Not and frighten someone. So “rapidly” is redundant.

Can we actually hear our own heartbeat so loud that it deafens us? No. It’s a literary device, But we want the reader to feel what the character does, not just know they’re frightened.

And in any case, isn’t that heartbeat the result of fear brought by the situation? If it is, the heartbeat contributes nothing toward being too frightened to move. It’s a symptom.

Suppose we change approach and place it in the character’s POV instead of the storyteller’s, and make the character an active participant in the scene:
- - - - - - - -
In the distance branches crackled under running feet, approaching rapidly.”

Shit! No time to run, and no place to run to. Shit, shit, shit. I could only crouch, hoping not to be noticed, my heart pounding, barely able to breathe.
- - - - - -
Your character and situation? No. Nor is it great prose. It’s a parallel, to illustrate another approach, one using protagonist’s, rather then the narrator’s POV.* We know what has the character’s attention and how they react and analyze the situation. We know why they’re not moving, and by presenting the idea of staying put as a choice, albeit one forced on them, they seem more active, and are at least trying to survive rather then giving in to terror and seeming weak.

Sorry for the lecture, but it’s not a matter of rewording the line, it’s that the problem traces back to POV, which is a much larger structural issue.

* Yes, I know that they’re nominally the same character, but they live at different times and places, and so cannot appear on stage together. And given your choice, wouldn’t you rather be with the character living the scene than one recalling it?

Kay P
Posted: Thursday, October 18, 2012 12:35 AM
Joined: 10/11/2012
Posts: 13

@Mr.Greenstein - OMG

In the distance branches crackled under running feet, approaching rapidly.
Shit! No time to run, and no place to run to. Shit, shit, shit. I could only crouch, hoping not to be noticed, my heart pounding, barely able to breathe.

Can I just say that I loved the way you write and explained it. Truthfully, I've read some of you're other comments where you talk about 'showing the story not telling it'. I am seriously trying my best to implement the strategy in my story but that is my biggest challenge so far.
*I've just come to the reality that editing might really be a pain in the ass

Jay Greenstein
Posted: Friday, October 19, 2012 12:28 AM

I am seriously trying my best to implement the strategy in my story but that is my biggest challenge so far.

It is a challenge, because it’s an entirely different approach to telling a story, one that’s necessitated by the strengths and weaknesses of the written word, as against verbal storytelling.

In our primary schooling no one ever mentions the fact that that the general skill we call writing is one most adults will need on the job and in life, and so is slanted to nonfiction and letter writing, which means it’s both author-centric writing and fact based.

But fiction aims to entertain not inform, so it’s emotion, not fact-based, a style and approach we have no training in, or even knowledge of. And the entertainment we seek is having our emotions stimulated. We don’t admire the plot of a ghost story, for example, we admire the way it runs chills down our back because it’s emotion, not fact-based.

 And finally, the style of writing we’ve always used is that of verbal storytelling. It’s author centric. We stand front and center and tell our story, or make our report as the only person on stage. So it’s natural to continue that, and continue to tell the story that way on the page.

But that’s an external point of view, no matter if it’s first, second, or third person. And since the reader cannot hear the storyteller’s golden voice when reading a transcription of them telling the story, delivery technique is lost. Since the reader can’t see expression, gesture, body language and all the rest of the emotion that body language provides, that’s lost, too.

My point is that since those things don’t work on the page, we need the tricks that have been developed to compensate, and place the reader in the character’s viewpoint—character-centric, in other words. And learning that is in some ways harder than was the author-centric method, because our habits, trained in over decades, work against us.

But it comes. It sometimes feels like it never will, but it does. And if you write with a little more skill every day, and you live long enough…

Try these two articles. They’re pretty helpful, and offer some algorithms that you can mechanically implement as a sort of writer’s training wheels, to help you to form those alternate writing habits and guide you to finding your own voice


There’s another aid I’ve recently taken to recommending, here: http://www.funbrain.com/comics/lostsideofsuburbia/index.html

It’s a charming little graphic novel, a kind of Dr. Seuss for adults, and you might enjoy it. But that aside, look at the first few pages, then go back to the beginning and read those pages again, this time looking only at the prose, as if the pictures weren’t there. Think about how much emotional impact it would have without the pictures. Look at the style and compare it to your own current approach and ask yourself if you’re writing a story or a graphic novel, without the pictures.

You might also want to poke around in the writing section of my blog, especially the article called, “The beginner’s Corner.” Lots of hints there, one or two of them actually useful.: http://jaygreenstein.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/the-beginners-corner/

Kay P
Posted: Saturday, October 20, 2012 7:17 PM
Joined: 10/11/2012
Posts: 13

Thanks a lot! I will read and revise.

Herb Mallette
Posted: Monday, October 22, 2012 8:41 AM
Joined: 6/28/2011
Posts: 188

*"It's definitely a run-on."

Actually, it's not a run-on sentence at all, it's just a sentence missing some commas. Grammatically, it would be perfectly fine as follows:

"The cracking sounds of twigs breaking under feet rapidly running towards me, combined with my deafening heartbeat, left me immobile."

As for my rewording:

Heavy feet in the underbrush, closer and closer, fast as my heartbeat -- too fast, too close! All hope and all will to move snapped just like those dried twigs and leaves.

Notice that I started with an incomplete sentence. Don't be afraid to write in incomplete sentences, especially when your narrator is terrified. A sentence is a complete thought, and people who are terrified don't think in complete thoughts. The more overwhelming your narrator's frame of mind, the more fragmented their language should be. You want to capture impressions in these situations, not fully formed descriptions that cover ever detail.

Posted: Monday, September 9, 2013 12:41 PM
Joined: 9/8/2013
Posts: 4

I agree with Herb. I think it simply needs a few commas, as he has already pointed out. Unlike, Herb, I would not reword it, I think your wording is very creative in capturing the intensity you hoped to portray. The only changes I would made, in addition to the commas Herb suggested, would be to change the word "sounds" to sound, and "towards" to toward.

--edited by only1Gin on 9/9/2013, 12:42 PM--

Posted: Saturday, November 23, 2013 2:15 PM
Combined with my deafening heartbeat, the cracking sound of twigs under feet running rapidly towards me left me immobilized.

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