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REVISION TO AN EARLIER EXCERPT

After all the honest feedback about my last post, I made revisions to my excerpt. I tried to Show rather than Tell and hopefully I succeeded. Please let me know.


Blackness was all Avidius could detect when he opened his eyes. A dark void staring back at him, without so much as a glimmer of light to eclipse it. He blinked multiple times, but the blackness remained. Where am I? His eyes wandered in all directions, but the darkness gave up no discernible shapes, silhouettes, or shadows. He could, however, hear tree branches rustling in the breeze, smell wet grass, and feel a mossy turf beneath his palms where he lay. I’m outside. He drew a deep breath, his iron girded chest filling with moist, crisp air. And I’m alive... but why can’t I see! There he remained for a moment, on his back, pondering. His mind vaulted from one thought to another, scrambling for any explanation other than the one he feared the most. Suddenly, a furious thrashing of his heartbeat boomed in his ears, jolting him up to a sitting position. He waved his hands before his face. Nothing. He rubbed his eyes vigorously then clenched them shut before opening them again. Nothing. Then, like having the wind knocked out of him, he waited in stunned silence, unable to breathe. I’m blind. It was a fate worse than death and one for which Avidius had often suffered recurring nightmares when he was very young.

Comments
    • Yes, I think it's more show-y and less tell-y. But I fear it's also more overwritten and over-complicated, in lots of little ways.

      Why not "detected" rather than "could detect"? Or simply "saw"? Similarly, later, why not "he heard tree branches..." rather than "He could hear..." (But: Are there any other kinds of branches than tree branches? Is it branches that rustle in the breeze, or is it leaves?)

      The idea that light could exclipse darkness is a reversal of the nature of an eclipse. It's a nice idea, but too puzzling to work for your metaphor here. Certainly not with the word "glimmer" in there.

      Avoid words ending in -ness wherever possible. If you have to use one, do not repeat it.

      I don't think the psychic distance is quite close enough to switch to "Where am I?" yet. It jars. You could try "Where am I, he thought." Or "Where was he?" (we will intuit it's what he's thinking).

      "I'm outside" does make sense of "Where am I?", but I still think you've gone to the first person too quickly. It draws attention to the device, and feels unnatural. (Google Emma Darwin's site for psychic distance, and the need to transition between levels gradually). When you get to it, "I'm blind" would have so much more impact if it's the first use of 1st person.

      Do you need to say a mossy turf, not just mossy turf? I find mossy turf odd, too. Surely it's either moss, or it's turf?

      You don't need "for a moment" and you don't want "pondering", which is too laid back (literally!) to marry with the energy of "his mind vaulted".

      Avoid "suddenly".

      I think we need a better reason for him sitting up than the "thrashing heartbeat booming in his ears", which is an overwritten phrase. 

      I find it a bit contrived that he had nightmares about being blind. It just fits too well. Makes me think that if he'd woken up in the sea, he'd have had nightmares about drowning. Better, I feel, for him to recall blind beggars - and this would help give us backstory and setting. It would give us something to visualise too. 

      Generally, Since he's blind, or it's dark, you need to make more of his other senses. You've made a start on texture, smell, sounds etc, and I like "moist crisp air". But you expend more words on different ways of seeing nothing, which doesn't draw the reader in.

      Don't be afraid to keep your prose simple and direct! I know how tempting it is to try for poetry, but you have to be careful that your soaring prose suits the genre, fits the authorial voice you want to achieve. And usually you have to finish the first draft before you know what that is. If this is your first draft, don't worry about any of the above, but get on with the story and come back to fixes later, and with more detachment.

      Good luck!

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      • Wow! Thanks for the comprehensive response. It seems no matter how many times I re-work this paragraph there is always something that needs work. 

        I agree about tagging a characters thoughts with 'he thought' and normally I do. However, I've been scolded that it's 'telling'. But I'm adding back as I never agreed with that.

        Psychic distance is a complex aspect of writing and I need more practice. I'll look into Emma Darwin.

        'Suddenly', I use sparingly. However, I do see famous authors using adverbs all the time. Robert Jordan as and example. Sometimes I feel I have no choice when trying to convey a sudden occurrence.

        I was unaware that "thrashing heartbeat booming in his ears" is over used. I'm finding it exceedingly difficult to come up with other ways to describe a characters internal physical reactions to fear and terror- and I have a number of Emotional Thesaurus' sitting on my shelf. I've used up. But I'll figure something out.

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        • Hi Ryan - if you've not spotted it, Emma Darwin also does a great blog about filtering. https://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2016/07/filtering.html

          The use of 'he thought' is filtering rather than telling. (Although filtering can also be a strong indication of too much telling). Filtering adds distance between the reader and the character/action, which is why it's generally something you want to avoid. Although filtering has its place when you purposely want to draw attention to character's thoughts or actions.

          When you're putting your character's thoughts onto the page, they have to be the thoughts of the POV character. Who else would be thinking them? So, especially when you've only one character in the scene, if you find yourself wanting to tag with 'thought' there's usually another problem. As Glyn already mentioned, your PD might be out. In this case, maybe not close enough for the jump into present tense first person.

          Hope that makes sense.

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        • Basically, what Glyn said.

          Except, personally, I like the glimmer of light eclipsing dark; the inversion works for me.

          I'll add to the list: His eyes wandered…? I suspect they are darting rather than wandering, Also, the way that bit is described lacks a sense of reality. His head would turn. His head roll on the ground. He wouldn't just lie there, stretched out. He's probably be half-perched on an elbow by the end of that moment searching for a sign of anything.

          And, about three quarters of the way through, there's a double then. It might not look too bad, but the second felt like a fourth, it jarred.

          An extra detail I was thinking about last night, before this rewrite. What is the nature of this blindness. Yes, I get that it's magical. But where is the magic working? Is it stopping light from entering his eyes, or stopping any signal from reaching his brain. There is a massive difference; specifically that in the former case, running his eyes would mean he would see spots of some sort.

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          • The protagonist is the subject of the spell, so he has no idea the nature of it or what has happened. A paragraph later the Mage describes to him what happened and why. This paragraph is more of a visceral response rather than a logical one. The technical reasons come later.

            I didn't see the double 'then' - good point.

            I think you are correct that 'Wander' might be too passive for the situation.

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            • I wasn't asking about the technicalities of the spell in order to explain it. I asked in order to get the details of the experience right.

              As I mentioned, depending which side of the cornea the spell affects, the experience will be different. The character doesn't need to understand it, doesn't even need to try to make sense of it. But the detail of what's experienced – rubs eyes, sees distorted shapes (try it, even in the dark, the eyes create signals when rubbed vigorously) – will make the passage more real.

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              • Ahh... I'm tracking now. Yes, that is a good point and one I'm now taking seriously.

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              • Just my opinion, but I think you've overdone it in your re-write - it's turned very poetic and that doesn't fit with what I feel you are trying to say. Did you let yourself be swayed by all the advice and try to incorporate it all?  Remember, you can't please everyone. 

                If you decide to carry on with this particular version, which does show much more than the first, you may like to think about a couple of things which occurred to me:

                Leaves do the rustling, whereas tree branches might make a sound if there's a strong enough wind to cause them to rub together.

                'Pondering' seems far too contemplative for someone in his position. He's just woken up blind and lost in an unknown place. I don't think I'd feel like 'pondering' my dilemma; I think I'd be too panicked. 

                The other thing which made me pause was the 'furious thrashing of his heartbeats'. It's an interesting way to try to describe the phenomenon, but I simply don't get thrashing of a heart. You've said his heartbeats are 'booming in his ears'. 

                And now I read it again, I suggest you could lose the reference to nightmares - in this re-write, it's lost relevance to what's going on. 

                I took a small mental step away from the details and thought: 

                The blindness is caused by a magical spell so, in your world, there could actually be absolutely nothing. But you will need to know exactly what the spell does, so that you understand the effects, even if you don't spell it (sorry) out to the reader.  So I then went on to wonder if you should be too concerned with degrees of blindness and recognition of the ways darkness is perceived within this section. I'd be more inclined to concentrate on the visceral aspect and the immediate experience. That's assuming this take on it will fit into your overall story.

                If there is more to write, it may be time, as Glyn suggested, to leave it alone for now, work on another chapter or part of the story and then go back to this bit. It's easy to get bogged down in a small part of the whole. When you return, you may well find that your subconscious mind will have sorted out how it should be. Happens to me all the time.

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                • Thanks for the reply. Most of your suggestions I'm already fixing now. This is the fourth draft and I need to just get this done and move on. 

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                • Blackness was all Avidius could detect when he opened his eyes. A dark void staring back at him, without so much as a glimmer of light. He blinked multiple times, but the blackness remained. Where am I? His eyes wandered in all directions, but the darkness gave up no discernible shapes. He could hear tree branches rustling in the breeze, smell wet grass, and feel a mossy turf beneath his palms where he lay. I’m outside. He drew a deep breath, his iron girded chest filling with moist, crisp air. And I’m alive... but why can’t I see! He sat up, waved his hands before his face. Nothing. He rubbed his eyes vigorously then clenched them shut before opening them again. Nothing. Then, like having the wind knocked out of him, the realisation hit him: I’m blind. It was a fate worse than death, the stuff of the worst nightmares of his youth.


                  This is something like what I might do with it. I agree with Glyn about the eclipse - seems too much trouble than it's worth at that point. I actually like the 'could hear' etc., though, it emphasises the fact that his other senses (as opposed to his vision) are still working, and he's not dead or something the like. I'd leave the stuff about his mind scrambling for an explanation, that seems to jar with the suddenness and shock of his realisation just a little further on. Likewise, I'd shorten the end bit a little to make it snappier (you definitely don't need both 'often' and 'recurring'). I really like the description of the darkness though, the way it's not 'giving anything up', and personally, I also think the description of his surroundings (tree branches rustling, mossy turf beneath his palms) works very well.

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                  • Thanks. Your re-write is nearly like the one I just finished. I never realized how difficult it is to write for someone who's blind. 

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                    • I think writing pretty much anything one doesn't have any first-hand experience of is difficult. Or rather, getting it right is. Having said that, I found your paragraph quite intriguing - I wouldn't mind reading that book! :)

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