#12 Fox on the Run
Greetings, you barbarous bullions, today we have a sacrifice from Candid Ishida on Writing.com involving canine reprobates of the worst sort, foxes. This is the first chapter of a story titled Fox on the Run, and will no doubt include much furred skullduggery.
When Penelope pulled into her driveway, the fox was already sitting there. It perched on the front porch, staring her down with eyes like two golden search lights that cut through the afternoon fog. Penelope turned the key in the ignition until the engine grumbled to a stop, then covered her mouth and nose. She waited, struggling to suck in breath, but the creature didn’t disappear, and she remained in her car, listening to the tick of the engine as it cooled. Finally, she allowed herself relief.
First thing to note is the slight overlap in ‘sitting there’ and ‘perched on the front porch.’ Both of these place the fox, but placing him once would suffice. So, I would combine these sentences —…the fox was already perched on the front porch.— It should also be noted that ‘front’ here is unnecessary from a descriptive standpoint, serving only to confirm that her driveway is in the front of her house. I’ve left it included (at great personal suffering) because it alleviates the echo between ‘perched’ and ‘porched.’
Persevering (despite the aforementioned suffering) the rest of the sentence can be reduced/streamlined with just a little restructuring. We move ‘through the afternoon fog’ to follow ‘stared her down’ and thus remove the need for ‘that cut,’ which the description itself implies.—…staring her down through the afternoon fog with eyes like two golden search lights.—
The next phrase, in my opinion, is needlessly detailed. ‘Penelope turned the key in the ignition until the engine grumbled to a stop’ amounts to a walkthrough description of something most readers are familiar with, but doesn’t alter the pattern or use it describe either Penelope or her car. Thus, this description doesn’t really provide the reader with anything. The easiest solution is to reduce the phrase to its core meaning ‘she turned off the engine then covered her mouth and nose’ but I don’t like how it reads, both in ‘turned off’ and the ‘then.’ ‘Turned off’ unfortunately has no effective synonyms, so we’ll have to live with it. The ‘then’ is also tricky, since it avoids the double ‘and,’ but it reads poorly with the shorter introduction. With that in mind, I think something like —Penelope killed the engine and covered her mouth and nose.—may work. The two ‘and’ doesn’t read too poorly (though its’ really a personal preference between ‘then’ and the two ‘and’) and I believe ‘killed the engine’ is an accepted enough parlance to work in lieu of ‘turned off.’
Next, the phrase ‘struggling to suck in breath’ can be reduced to—struggling to breathe. — It’s personal preference whether one believes the ‘suck in breath’ is enough of a distinctive to merit the extra words. I don’t personally believe so, but some synonyms of ‘panting’ may provide an interesting alternative, like ‘gasping’ or ‘wheezing’ etcetera. That’s more a question directed at what exactlythe author wants. After that, I would reduce ‘listening to the tick of the engine as it cooled’ to —listening to the cooling engine tick. — Which I believe conveys the same information, but with fewer words and without adversely affecting the pacing.
Those are the extent of my edits for this paragraph, but as an opening paragraph I believe it deserves modest praise. The author displays patience (which is a valuable trait) doesn’t fall into the trap of empty action while also introducing conflict and implying character traits without relying on exposition. It’s not immediately enthralling, but it takes all of a few sentences to tell the readers that there’s a story here.
“I can’t breathe,” she said out loud, “so I’m not dreaming.”
I don’t like this paragraph/sentence. The ‘she said out loud’ is awkward and disruptive, while the dialogue itself treads the line on being overtly expositional for the reader’s exclusive benefit, and thus feels unnatural. The sentence might benefit a little from being switched to internal thoughts by deleting the speech designator and converting to italics, but the sentence structure itself is of someone explaining something, which is not how people think unless they’re trying to calm themselves down. This could be the author’s intent, but they don’t commit enough to make it immediately evident from the dialogue alone. Something more like “Calm down, calm down. You can’t breathe, so it’s not a dream.” But I don’t know if that’s the author’s intent or not. (Which is another subtle flaw, whatever element the author is trying to convey isn’t coming across. They could be using this as just filler, but I frown egregiously on that practice.) So it’s hard to suggest meaningful alternatives besides switch to internal thoughts.
That was when the fox sauntered down the porch steps and trotted over to the driver’s side door. Raising up on two back legs, it peered through the window, wagging its tail like a dog greeting his beloved master while it sniffed at the glass.
Here, I would delete ‘porch’ since it’s an unnecessary designator (we know where the fox is) and ‘trotted’ since ‘sauntered’ can serve both actions here by itself. The phrase ‘raising up on two back legs’ can also be reduced to ‘rising on hind legs.’ (I would swap off ‘two’ regardless since it’s one of those ‘no duh’ descriptions. Foxes have two back legs naturally, so it’s only when they have a different number that it bears mentioning. Anything else is pointless.) After that, I would delete ‘greeting his beloved master’ since the ‘dog’ reference suffices to convey the desired image. A ‘Furiously’ could be added if the author wants to convey extreme excitement (which the current iteration doesn’t really do.) I would combine it to the rest of the sentence via —and sniffing the glass. — (A possibility here is that mentioning ‘beloved master’ in this instance is an attempt to consign a master and pet relationship between her and the fox, which has value but is awkward in this instance since it merges too seamlessly with the dog simile.)
Another thing to note, is that the first sentence does walk the readers through obvious events (even after my edits.) Logically, it could be reduced to —That was when the fox sauntered to the driver’s side door— or even—The fox sauntered to her door, rose onto hind legs and peered through the glass, wagging its tail like a dog and sniffing the window— This conveys all the same information, but it differs on rhythm, (which is a significant difference) pacing, and preference. My preference would probably dictate something more like that last alternative (though I would include the ‘that was when.’) But the pacing is hugely dependent on the scene and the context, and it can have a huge effect on the tone of a scene. A tight, remorseless pacing can convey peril better than half-a-dozen adjectives. But a tight pacing can also hurt a scene, altering the tone against what the author wants or needs. Here, I would use the tighter pacing because I don’t think the slower pacing overtly benefits the scene. Some of this is because the author chose appropriate words, ‘sauntered’ conveys the slowness/patience that would normally benefit a surreal scene like this, thus alleviating the need for it to be introduced via volume of prose.
All my edits applied:
—When Penelope pulled into her driveway,the fox was already perched on the front porch staring her down through the afternoon fog with eyes like golden search lights. Penelope killed the engine and covered her mouth and nose. She waited, struggling to breathe, but the creature didn’t disappear, and she remained in her car, listening to the cooling engine tick. Finally, she allowed herself relief.
I can’t breathe, I’m not dreaming.
That was when the fox sauntered to her door, rose onto hind legs and peered through the window, wagging its tail like a dog and sniffing the glass.
(I deleted the ‘two’ from ‘like two golden’ because we know it has two eyes.) I still don’t like that middle sentence, but C’est la vie. We could also delete ‘that was when’ as unnecessary but I’m uncertain whether or not that compromises the rhythm. Finally, it bears consideration to change the comma after ‘disappear’ to a period and delete the ‘and’. Again, I’m not sure of the rhythm, but it works at a superficial glance/
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