The Basics: Grammar & Syntax
How Would you Reword This?
• 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?
• 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 http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/scene.php http://www.be-a-better-writer.com/scenes-and-sequels.html 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/
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--