# 2 Squib
Greetings, all you lovely people.
Today we’re deconstructing an episodic fantasy piece written by ButonFly on Minds. This first episode is titled Squib.
The gates of Silkwood were tall and heavy, made of thick branchless logs harvested from the very swamp in which they stood, watched closely by a loose guard of men under pools of firelight.
This sentence has three elements Iwould change, beginning with the description, which is inefficient. The phrase ‘tall and heavy’ can be achieved with ‘immense.’ ‘Logs’ by their definition are thick, this is what differentiates them from branches. The phrase ‘of men under pools of firelight’ is largely unnecessary, conveying only that it’s dark. ‘The gates of Silkwood’ can be swapped to ‘Silkwood’s gates.’ (This last one is a common structure switch you can make to a cut a few words, provided it reads well. And it should be noted that ‘immense’ increases the imposing factor of the door, which may disagree with Author’s desired feel)
I believe the sentence structure and word choice could also be improved. ‘Vigilant’ is a stronger, more accurate, word than ‘closely’ and can be attached to ‘men/guard’ to avoid the LY. ‘Made’ is another word that can be improved without sacrificing comprehension; as a fundamental word it is inevitably more forgettable, less interesting than potential synonyms, which in turn saps the sentence of potential ‘oomph’. Try replacing it with a stronger, more distinctive word like ‘fashioned,’ ‘erected with,’ ‘comprised of’ or ‘constructed,’ something immediately comprehensible but isn’t the first word to come to mind. The use of distinctive language refocuses their attention and makes the sentences more interesting to consume, as opposed to ‘made’ which merely suffices.
For the sentence structure aspect, I mostly take umbrage with the passive, which suffers the same flaw as the generic word, it saps a sentence of potential strength by replacing a distinctive, commanding verb with ‘was,’ and verbs can be just as distinctive as an entire adjective phrase, conveying both physical description and an emotional impression. At a glance, I would reorient the sentence to something more like “Immense and fashioned of branchless logs, Silkwood’s gates…” You can argue whether it has more power or is more interesting, but it is concise. However, you will notice I excised a particularly significant portion of the description, which segues into my next point…
What is ‘harvested from the swamp in which they stood’ trying to convey? I obviously recognize the main descriptive intent, but what is the purpose of that description? Why is their point of origin relevant, and this ignorance is exacerbated by the vaguely aggrandizing ‘very’ and ‘in which they stood’ which reminisces on poetry, and thus mythology. (these details are why is sounds aggrandizing, they convey elements of importance and deep magic.) I believe the author is trying to convey that these events occur in a swamp, which is better shown by having characters interact with the swamp. From an immediate technical standpoint, though, it uses excessive words to convey its point.
This leaves us at…
Silkwood’s gates were immense, fashioned of branchless logs and watched closely by a loose guard under firelight.
Entering would require marching up the gravel strewn road, waving friendly at the gate, drawing back one’s hood, and stating who you were or what your intention might be at such a late hour.
This is a simpler sentence to dissect, beginning with the phrase ‘gravel-strewn road’ which can probably be reduced to ‘gravel road,’ but whose mere existence is debatable. (My knowledge of swamps is admittedly lacking, but I am fairly certain gravel is rare, especially in a medieval society.)
The sentence also takes a liberal interpretation of ‘require’ as I doubt it is mandatory to ‘march’ or ‘wave in a friendly manner.’ While liberal interpretations are acceptable (especially in dialogue) it is something I suggest avoiding when the author is speaking, because the author has to be clear and avoid misinterpretation.
Finally, the sentence, while probably necessary, deals in rather boring subject matter. The phrase “march up” veers into the pedantic as you obviously have to approach something if you wish to interact with it. The phrase “waving friendly at the gate” provides little, and the rest is wordy while also being too exactingly detailed for a sequence most people can easily envision. This is also the second instance of indicating it’s dark/night, which should be mentioned once. In this situation I would remove the mention of ‘firelight’ above as that is vaguer and could just be referencing a dense canopy.
I would reword the sentence to something more like “Entering would require revealing one’s person, name, and intent at such a late hour.” While the subject matter is still fairly common, you expend as little time upon it as necessary. I deleted ‘might be’ as simply unnecessary, and ‘waving friendly/ drawing back hood’ as adding details that don’t really serve the narrative. They were purely fluff. (In the case of ‘waving friendly’ it could be argued that it provided a bit a levity, thus justifying its erroneous existence. I, however, [from the context of a malignant and heartless amateur editor} don’t believe so, and don’t think it would fit in an otherwise serious segment. Author preference prevails, however.)
Squib knew all this because he’d watched it happen many times before. Which was why he always opted for a side route, shrouded in darkness, made possible by a grappling hook acquired in this very town.
Purely refinement here. The ‘all’ is unnecessary, and probably incorrect since it’s referencing a single action with multiple sub-elements as opposed to several distinct objects. ‘Happen’ is unnecessary since we know he’s observing a sequence of events (although this character’s habit of watching the comings and goings of a city at night seriously makes me question his lawfulness.) ‘Before’ is unnecessary because ‘watched’ is past tense, thus including the ‘before’ passively.
I also believe the ‘which was why’ in the ensuing sentence is incorrect. ‘which’ (in this instance) is a dependent connector, it needs two phrases, with the second being dependent upon the first. The period here separates the phrases into two sentences, thus divorcing them and rendering the ‘which’ incorrect.
The phrase ‘always opted for a’ can be reduced to ‘preferred.’ I would delete ‘shrouded in darkness’ as it is unnecessary to describe squib’s vile duplicity, and it is also needlessly dramatic for the third, and relatively unimportant, sentence of a story. ‘Made possible’ can be reduced to ‘facilitated’ and ‘this very town’ to ‘Silkwood/Silkwood itself.’ The ‘itself’ in this sentence works because it serves to highlight the irony, which may or may not need the assistance and is likely subject to person preference. I included it for that reason, and because I believe it improves the rhythm.
He always enjoyed his trips into town despite the very real dangers he faced. The rewards, however far outweighed the risks, and they did so particularly on this very trip.
Mostly refinement here, and a little word choice. ‘Always’ is unnecessary to convey the point, which is that he enjoys these excursions. The phrase ‘his trips into’ can be reduced to ‘visiting’ thus excising glue words and improving the word variety. A thornier phrase is ‘very real’ which is comprised of glue words, but also relies on the ‘very’ for its impact when a stronger could stand on its own and carry more impact. I personally like ‘attendant,’ but its largely personal preference. The ‘he faced’ is entirely unnecessary; we know Squib is the subject, and thus automatically apply any event or thought to him. On a more complicated front, the ‘however’ in the second sentence mildly contradicts the ‘despite’ in the first. Both are offering contradictions to the same event (the visit’s peril), but operate distinctly from one another. A better word would be ‘besides’ which maintains the contradictive element, while connecting the two thoughts.
This bring us to the word choice. I personally believe ‘exceeded’ reads better than ‘outweighed,’ in part because it is the more infrequent word, but mostly because I just think it reads phonetically better, with a smoother innate rhythm while ‘outweighed’ reads like two words cobbled together. Ultimately, this is dealer’s choice.
Now we reach the end of this paragraph with the phrase, ‘and they did so particularly on this very trip’ we can be streamlined with a little restructuring to ‘particularly on this trip’ which may read incomplete in a vacuum, but succeeds with context. The final grudge I maliciously hold against this sentence is that last ‘very.’ It’s unnecessary, and actually conveys a mildly obnoxious feel because its purpose is to sensationalize something that doesn’t need or benefit from it.
Sentence with edits applied: He enjoyed visiting town despite the attendant dangers. Besides, the rewards far exceeded the risks, particularly on this trip.
If you would like to finish this chapter, or maybe check out some of Buttonfly’s other pieces, here’s the link to his minds page.
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