Monday, October 25, 2010

*Cough* I Lost My Voice

By Rebecca Carlson

A few days ago I came storming out of the cove and flopped myself down on the couch next to my husband. "This paragraph is TERRIBLE!" I said. "Help me figure out what to do with this terrible paragraph."

We picked up our pace and came into the valley just as the sun reached the top of the sky. A black wall of smoke rose from the grasslands, maybe only a mile northeast of the settlement. At the base of the smoke a red streak of flame crawled through the grass. People both on horseback and on foot had spread out along the fire line. It didn’t look like they were fighting the fire, only keeping an eye on it.

"It's a news report. A list of details," my husband said.

"You're right!" I jumped up. Any random objective observer could have said that. It didn't sound like someone who actually cared about what was going on. The point-of-view character isn't a news reporter covering someone else's problems. He's involved! He's invested! He's just come over the mountain and seen that there's a brush fire near his home!

But he's a shy and quiet sort of person. I have to coax him out. "Come on, Nathan, buddy, talk to me. How do you feel about this? What do you think?" I murmured as I went back to my computer.

We picked up our pace and came into the valley just as the sun reached the top of the sky. I relaxed a little when I saw that the black wall of smoke rising from the grasslands wasn’t too close to the settlement. People both on horseback and on foot had spread out along the fire line, shadows in front of the heat shimmer where the red flames crawled through the grass. I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t fighting the fire. It looked like they were only keeping an eye on it.

Yeah, that's a little better. What do you think?


  1. The second attempt shows that the character is more invested in the event. He mentions himself and you gave him an emotion, so we know what to think about it. The first was just "this happened" and I as a reader didn't know what to think about it. Was watching the fire a good thing? A bad thing? Do I want the fire to burn, should it be burning? That wasn't conveyed. But since you added "I relaxed a little" I know what to think of the situation. Or at least have a better idea of it. You also add the detail of the shimmer you get when you look at a fire. That's also a nice touch.

  2. Nice! And you've accomplished the objective of getting me involved. Now I'm curious to know why they aren't fighting the fire?

  3. Yes! I love it when a paragraph succumbs to our writerly powers. :)

  4. Yes, in that second paragraph there's a hint of tension and mystery. Just a little touch, but it makes a difference.

  5. Yes, the second is better. It gives you more of a sense of the pov character's reaction. I love fire--as long as it is contained and safe. It is beautiful, but it is also deadly, mesmerizing, and alive. Once, several decades ago, the mountain across the street from my house caught on fire. The flames ate half the sky and the ash coated my head and shoulders like giant snow flakes. The emotion from that night still makes my heart race even now. I can almost smell the smoke sitting here in my smoke-less house. How does you character feel about this fire? Does his heart race? Does the back of his throat burn from the fumes? What does he hear? Are the colors seared into his mind? Fire leaves a mark--even if it doesn't burn you. Fire makes you feel things and the feelings are usually as hot as the flames. :)

  6. Oh, and I love that you reminded me to not be a news reporter in my story. I think my character was practicing for the five o'clock news. Saved by Rebecca. :)

  7. I admire how you can take yourself out of it and see it with fresh eyes. I get so desensitized from reading it and writing it and editing it. I know that's what friends and family are for--to help us when we need them.

    It sounds so much better--putting in the Nathan factor into your paragraph.

    Thanks for the wonderful post! :)

  8. Your comment brought back memories, Leisha. There was a fire on the mountain near my home in Logan, Utah a little over ten years ago. I got to use some of those memories in my book.

    Elizabeth, I've learned how valuable it is to put a manuscript away for a while and then come back to it. Six months ago I thought there wasn't a thing I'd fix, but now I've got the energy and vision to take the manuscript to a new level.


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