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.
Paul Massey says
I would have written it this way
As he swung down to the sandy shore, Clay’s momentum was brought to a sudden halt.
Jill, with shoulders slumped and head bowed, was standing at the waters edge. Grief weighed heavily on her slender form.
He felt like an interloper; sighing silently as he felt his breath being taken away.”Ready?”
Andra M. says
What I’ve learned from editors, writers, and writing books is to avoid passive verbs such as ‘was’, ‘were’, ‘is’, and ‘am’, as well as ‘be’ and ‘being’.
Paul’s example has a lot of that.
Pamela Cosel says
Paul–I can see what you’re trying to accomplish with a rewrite of Randy’s suggestion, but two words seem out of place and overdone in your version: “heavily” (as in “weighed heavily”) and the next line, “silently” (in “sighing silently”). The words don’t fit and seem overuse to me. Isn’t a sigh somewhat audible? Doesn’t the word “weigh” imply and “show” heavy? Also, the word “sudden” seems overdone. I’ve always been taught to avoid those kind of words: sudden, all of a sudden, a few minutes later — that kind of thing. I prefer Randy’s version. More natural flow and not artificial in its description. Nice try, though.
Valerie B. says
A little new to this. I’m trying to uderstand the MR unit. What makes paragraph one a motivation. I see it is objective and something a video camera would see. But how is it a stimulus for the next paragraph? Also, I’m not seeing how paragraph two is a reaction to one.
Valerie B. says
Read it again. Yes, I see that paragraph one is a reaction not a motivation. Also, that paragraph two is a motivation followed by the last reaction paragraph.
Blessings to you, Randy! Thanks for the critique.
Jim Thompson says
I think this conforms to MRU. Since I changed some of the wording, I may have modified the author’s voice. Please let me know.
Clay released the vine as his feet struck the sandy beach, running to a stop a few yards from Jill.
She stood by the water’s edge, shoulders slumped and head bowed. Empathy for the grief weighing on her slender form stole his breath.
Though intruding seemed wrong, circumstances gave him no choice. “Ready?”
Randy sez: No, Jim, this isn’t working yet. Your paragraph 1 shows three things happening simultaneously which have to happen in sequence. Paragraph 2 contains first a Motivation and then a Reaction.