#25 City of Dreams
Hello everybody, today we have a science-fiction piece from Joe Nelson on writing.com. Profanity is included in the extended piece, so proceed with caution.
Paragraph 1&2 (combined because paragraph one is all of one sentence.)
Nexus City stood on the edge of the world.
For those with the units, it was a gateway to the outer colonies, where a brighter future waited amidst the stars – or so the commercials said. Such electric dreams littered the walls of monolithic skyscrapers, beaming down at the masses with the promise of dazzling possibilities. A stranger could be forgiven for thinking that this was a neon wonderland, but far beneath the sparkling lights of the upper city lurked the shadowy streets of the lower slums, where the poor and the downtrodden fought to survive in the reflected glow of impossible dreams.
To begin, that opening sentences merits praise, using evocative imagery (the ‘edge of the world’ is a vibrant piece of mythology) and starting the reader in an immediately active environment that’s probably different from what they would have imagined on their own. It’s not without criticism, however.
The wording is a little clunky; ‘the edge of the world’ can be reduced to ‘the world’s edge’ and ‘stood’ is a rather inert verb, meaning it subtly detracts from the sentence’s more distinctive/energetic elements. Unfortunately, I can’t think of an easy replacement. Another element is that even as the author says ‘the edge of the world’ readers are going to recognize that he/she doesn’t mean it literally, which subtracts from the sentence’s oomph. Finally, the sentence doesn’t actually say that much. It’s an incendiary comment made to spark interest, but it doesn’t flow into the story, rendering it more a flash in the pan than a kickstart to the journey. Some of this is its being separated into two paragraphs, and some that the author doesn’t mean it literally, turning the sentence into an advertisement rather than an introduction or beginning.
For the second paragraph, praise is again warranted and with far less restraint. The word choice here is vibrant and distinctive, varied and full of personality and emotion. Look at the skyscrapers, they’re not ‘tall’ or ‘huge,’ they’re ‘monolithic,’ conveying a sense of distance and vague deific-ness while also conjuring a dark, solitary pallet unto the world. And that’s the other thing, the imagery and world is vivid, full of the contradictory neon consumerism and shadowy poverty.
There is also a third, less physical, layer to this. It’s something I’ve taken to referring to as soul (though that term is needlessly aggrandizing,) but in practice it is the difference between the author telling the reader something and wanting to tell the reader something. This isn’t a paragraph about conveying information the readers need to know to understand, about just preparing a plot point or future scene; this paragraph is a story the author wants the readers to see and feel. It’s a small difference, but the more parts of a book or story where you are actively telling a story (and this ‘story’ can be anything from description to emotion) instead of just filling in lines, reaching your destination or making time for rhythm, the better it will be. (Also, one needs to distinguish between this kind of prose and sensationalistic prose.)
Now, for a few improvements. The phrase ‘it was a gateway to the’ is just a little clunky and passive, but can be fixed with something along the lines of —offered passage to the— which converts to active and cuts a word. Next (as much as I like it) the phrase ‘electric dreams’ is ambiguous, there isn’t enough of a connection between ‘commercials’ and ‘dreams’ for the reader to seamlessly understand that the author is using them synonymously, there is also a minor element of repetition between ‘dreams’ and ‘dazzling possibilities.’ The problem is that ‘dreams’ is hard to replace, and not just because any alternative would lack the emotionality of ‘dreams.’ We can bandage the problem by switching ‘such’ to ‘those’ and that might suffice since it’s a slightly more direct bridge than ‘such’, but I don’t know. For now we’ll continue.
I dislike ‘littered’ as that feels too random for advertisements and also conveys a sense that the advertisements aren’t densely packed. (This last issue is entirely up to the author’s design, but my inferences give me the impression that he wants this part of the city very bright.) Potential replacements are ‘blanketed, decorated’ and their synonyms, but I kind of like ‘wreathed’, which has connotations of festivities and also conveys the impression that they go all the way around the skyscrapers, providing an additional level of dimensionality.
After that, I would consider deleting ‘the walls of’ which is unnecessary for comprehension or aesthetic, but might be required for rhythm. Let’s read them…
— Those electric dreams wreathed the walls of monolithic skyscrapers, beaming down at the masses with the promise of dazzling possibilities.—
— Those electric dreams wreathed monolithic skyscrapers, beaming down at the masses with the promise of dazzling possibilities.—
Neither reads particularly better than the other, so we’ll preserve the author’s original. Continuing with a handy reminder of the original…
(A stranger could be forgiven for thinking that this was a neon wonderland, but far beneath the sparkling lights of the upper city lurked the shadowy streets of the lower slums, where the poor and the downtrodden fought to survive in the reflected glow of impossible dreams.)
Here, I would delete the ‘that’ from ‘that this’ as unnecessary for rhythm or comprehension. Then we have a simple restructuring to consider. ‘…the sparkling lights of the upper city…’ to —the upper city’s sparkling lights—. I’m inclined to making this change because I do think it reads better and helps to highlight the contradiction by concentrating its themes. We don’t lose any visuals or aesthetics with the cut, just glue words.
After that, I would consider deleting ‘shadowy streets of the’ since the imagery is naturally cultivated via ‘lurked’ and ‘slums’
This leaves us with something like….
— Nexus City stood on the world’s edge.
For those with the units, it offered passage to the outer colonies where a brighter future waited amidst the stars –or so the commercials said. Those electric dreams wreathed the walls of monolithic skyscrapers, beaming down at the masses with the promise of dazzling possibilities. A stranger could be forgiven for thinking this was a neon wonderland, but far beneath the upper city’s sparkling lights lurked the lower slums, where the poor and the downtrodden fought to survive in the reflected glow of impossible dreams.
In reading this again, there are a few things I dislike; ‘offered passage’ is flavorless, as is ‘said’ and there’s a soft ‘the’ echo, plus a few rhythm improvements.
— Nexus City stood on the world’s edge.
For those with enough units, it offered the outer colonies and a vibrant future amidst the stars… or so the commercials said. Those electric dreams wreathed every wall of the monolithic skyscrapers, beaming at the masses with the promise of dazzling possibilities. A stranger could be forgiven for thinking this a neon wonderland, but far beneath the upper city’s sparkling lights lurked the lower slums, where the poor and downtrodden fought to survive in the reflected glow of impossible dreams.—
I exchanged the second ‘the’ for ‘enough’ because I think it reads better and reduces the number of THE’s used. I deleted ‘passage’ as unnecessary and switched from ‘brighter’ to ‘vibrant’ in part for rhythm and in part because ‘brighter’ subtly indicates that life here isn’t bright, which, while accurate, dispels the illusion too soon. A little restructuring removed the need for ‘where’ and ‘waited’ (with ‘waited’ being one of the duller words in the original composition.) I switched to ellipses from a hyphen just because they flow better where a hyphen is a hard stop. I added ‘every’ mostly because I think it reads better, but also to indicate a prevalence of the advertisements/propaganda, which in turn increases the brilliance of the upper city. I deleted ‘down’ as unnecessary for comprehension or rhythm. I deleted the ‘was’ from ‘this was a neon’ as unnecessary and because I think it reads better from a rhythm standpoint when the whole paragraph is considered.
Unfortunately there are still three things I can’t quite reconcile: The opening paragraph feels disconnected, and a slight hiccup between the second and third sentences, and the third and fourth sentences. The hiccups are extremely minor, maybe entirely in my head and maybe just dependent on how the sentence is read. The second hiccup I’m fairly sure of; its feels like there wasn’t enough preparation laid out for the ‘a stranger…’ continuation because only one element was given. (The phrase ‘could be forgiven’ often ensues a litany, which here creates a mental discord between what the reader expected and what the author gave. It’s like truncating an alliteration before completing it.) This doesn’t need much to fix, just a second element after ‘dazzling possibilities’ that is equally fantastic without transgressing into repetition. For the other issues, I’m considering a more drastic alteration…
—Nexus City stood on the world’s edge, offering the outer colonies a vibrant future amidst the stars for those with enough units… or so the commercials said. Those electric dreams wreathed every wall of the monolithic skyscrapers, beaming at the masses with the promise of dazzling possibilities and a life of fulfillment. A stranger could be forgiven for thinking this a neon wonderland, but far beneath the upper city’s sparkling lights lurked the lower slums, where the poor and the downtrodden fought to survive in the reflected glow of impossible dreams.
I think this resolves my issues, but whether or not it truly does is up to you all. Other changes I might consider is replacing ‘sparkling lights’ with ‘splendor’ and deleting ‘lower’ as unnecessary since we have ‘beneath’ and it reads a little poorly so close to ‘lurked’. (I know I made that change, but shush there’s a beautiful rug I need you to check under.)
That’ll be all. If you like what you read from the author, consider checking out some of his other work. https://www.writing.com/main/portfolio/view/joenelson
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