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William Lashner's PI-Writing Blog

Pick One

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

One of the things I always do in a line by line rewrite is try to find those sentences where I added on more than one action or metaphor to create a certain effect. Usually, I find that the addition actually weakens the sentence. Using a number of metaphors in a single sentence might be a bit of tick on my part, like throwing things against the wall and hoping one sticks, but I need to get rid of all the ones that fall on the floor.

Here's a sentence from CRAPSTOWN, where our hero, on the run, is trying to reach a place where he'd be safe before he was spotted in the coming dawn: Scrbacek stepped closer to the brick walls of the buildings he passed, hunched himself deeper within the turned-up collar of his raincoat, scurried forward,as if in a race with the sun.

Not a terrible sentence, but there are two images here -- the stepping closer to the brick walls and the hunching in the raincoat -- where only one is required. Neither are wrong, but they sort of work against each other. Why do you hunch in your raincoat if you're using the wall to hide your presence? I needed to pick one. It didn't matter as much which, because whichever I picked would be all the richer for being alone. I chose the hunched in the collar clause, because I liked the image of a man hiding in his clothing, so it now reads: Scrbacek hunched himself deeper within the turned-up collar of his raincoat and scurried forward, as if in a race with the sun.

The sentence is a little stronger now, I think. It's a small thing, but small things add up. Sometimes you don't even realize you need to choose, and that's when the weaker clauses slip by.

Hunt repetitive images like a shark hunts for swimmers on an Australian beach, and then kill the weakest.


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