Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fighting PPP (Pedantic, Plodding Prose) Rule Number One: Get to the Good Stuff Sooner

“You’re trying very hard to get us all the info in the dialogue, but since it’s so obvious, it’s just not working.” – Sabina 

“The [descriptions] take up a lot of space and don’t seem important to the story…it is a bit long and dull.” – Chris 

“Some of your paragraphs, especially the more descriptive ones, are a little long.” – Lucy 

“Dare I say it, condense things a little.” – D. J.
These comments from fellow writers on, plus similar advice not listed here, convinced me to adopt step one.  Forced to identify the main conflict in SEEING MAGIC, I reevaluated the first eight chapters.  Then I cut anything which wasn’t absolutely necessary to introduce it.  Afterward, I went back and added tangible action sequences to the beginning. 

Originally SEEING MAGIC began with seven chapters of backstory before Evan reveals the existence of magic to Maggie.  Those chapters were as follows:  

Chapter 1 discussed the night before she travels.  Maggie says goodbye to her friends and argues one last time with Mom.  Parts of this chapter were funny although not relevant to the main conflict, but Maggie’s fight with her mom provided important background.  It became a one-page prolog after much editing.   

Chapter 2 described the flight across the country where Corey throws up from motion sickness.  This chapter was supposed to establish Maggie’s deep sense of responsibility and love for her younger brother.  I condensed it to a one paragraph discussion with Evan.   

Chapter 3 covered the drive from the airport to Corey’s camp, and then to Fiona’s cabin in Cacapon.  This was supposed to describe the environment, aka the setting, in great detail.  I spread the setting descriptions throughout the book.   

Chapter 4 showed Maggie on her first night in Cacapon highlighted by Fi’s evening pagan ritual and weird noises which frightened her.  This chapter was supposed to introduce a sense of mystery and suspense, but the new prolog sufficed.   

In Chapter 5 Maggie experienced her first day working in the garden, where she heard more noises, and had a bad dream in which she’s chased by monsters through the corn field into her mother’s hospital room. 

Chapter 6 followed her second day in the garden where Maggie meets Buach, a Sidhe, who tries to kidnap her, but Evan intervenes.  

During Chapter 7 an accident in the library leads to meeting the magical House Brownies.   

Finally, in Chapter 8 Evan reveals the existence of magic.
Now SEEING MAGIC has a one-page prologue where she fights with Mom.  Tension and conflict are intertwined with backstory in 292 words.  In Chapter 1 Maggie arrives in Cacapon and experiences weird rituals and noises.  During Chapter 2 Maggie explores the garden, talks with Evan, and has the bad dream.  In Chapter 3 Buach tries to kidnap her; she falls into the river, and the Brownies help Evan rescue her.  Maggie’s self-defense battle against Buach adds tangible action, conflict and establishes her character as strong and smart.  In Chapter 4 Evan reveals the existence of magic.

Here’s the prolog:

“I.  Don’t.  Want.  To.  Go.”  I shook my head back and forth. 

“You’re going.”  Mom set her jaw and her green eyes flashed, daring me to defy her further. 

My resolve started to falter.  I plopped down onto a chair at the kitchen table and asked the question which had been most bothersome since she’d made her announcement four days earlier.  “Why do I have to go away?”

She stopped drying dishes and took the seat next to me.  She sighed deeply and rubbed her hand over her brow.  “It’s time for you to meet the rest of your family…our family.  I used to think we would be better off if we stayed away from them...but circumstances have changed.”

“I don’t even know where I’m supposed to be going, and why aren’t you coming with me?”
“You’re going to Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. Your brother is going to a military school summer camp in Woodstock, Virginia, and well, there are things I need to do here this summer.”

“What things?” I was less angry and more concerned.  “Let me stay and help you.”

“I don’t want you here.” 

Her words hit me like a slap in the face.  I jerked upright in my seat.  The chair slid backwards.

Her face fell and she reached out her hand to caress my cheek, but I tilted my head to deny her touch.  “I didn’t mean it like that.  I just need to take care of this alone…” she trailed off lamely.

I relented, but tried one last time to learn the driving force behind her decision.  “Can you at least tell me what this is?”

Her eyes wouldn’t meet mine.  “No, I don’t want to scare you.” 

Those words scared me most of all.

Thanks to all my friends at for steering me in the right direction.

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