It’s time to critique another short 2-paragraph item. For newcomers to this blog, I’m analyzing short segments from my readers’ works in progress, using the “MRU” technique which I explained in full on my “Writing the Perfect Scene” article.
This one was posted by Beth:
He swung down to the sandy shore to fetch Jill. He stopped a few yards away, observing her at the water’s edge, her shoulders slumped and her head bowed.
He was familiar with grief. It weighed on her slender form, so heavily it took his breath away. Much as he hated intruding, he had no choice. “Ready?”
Randy sez: One thing I see here is that three sentences in a row start with the word “He.” One of my editors caught this once and I wound up having to rewrite a lot of sentences, so I’m sensitive to this kind of thing.
I would break up paragraph 1 into 2 parts, a Reaction and then a Motivation. The second paragraph is fine in principle. What I see is that the first part leans toward “telling” and I would like to sharpen it up just a bit to be more “showing.”
Here are my suggestions. (And bear in mind, these are ONLY suggestions. Every writer would write this segment differently, and who’s to say who’s right?) My goal here is to redo this as closely as possible to Beth’s original words:
Clay swung down to the sandy shore to fetch Jill, but stopped a few yards away.
She stood at the water’s edge, her shoulders slumped and her head bowed. Grief weighed on her slender form.
Clay felt his breath taken away. Much as he hated intruding, he had no choice. “Ready?”
Randy sez: So the structure is now a Reaction, then a Motivation, then another Reaction.
As many of you have noted, putting in paragraph breaks between each Motivation and Reaction leads to short paragraphs. This has the advantage of letting your reader fly down the page. It also tends to add a lot of pages to the book. The examples we’ve seen have not had a lot of interior monologue or complex actions or dialogue. When you add things like those in, the paragraphs will bulk up again.