Today we have a piece titled ‘Bitter’ by Swordpen on Writing.com
“Here ya go pal.”
The bartender wore a smug grin as he placed the Old Fashioned in front of me with all the poise of a drunken baboon. The kid was young, might not even be old enough to drink the swill he’s serving, and far too full of himself. His name’s Andy I think… no, maybe Ricky? Like it matters, I’m too old to give a damn about some puffed-up asshole kid, whatever his name is. His type don’t last long here anyway.
Viewing this paragraph as a whole, the author made evident attempts to cultivate a personality for our character, using both circumstance, opinion and word choice all to further his desired effect. Unfortunately, there are a few elements that subtract from the result. The first is that it’s almost entirely exposition, conveyed to the readers un-interactively via the main character’s inner monologue. As a result, we don’t feel what the MC opines, we don’t see it, we just understand that this is what the author wants. (This last comment is the core flaw in ‘telling,’ it is the difference between the author saying, ‘this character is mad’ and us being pissed off at what happened.) The second point is that despite his effort, the paragraph doesn’t convey a clear personality; we don’t know if he’s just irritated, world-weary, malcontent, etc., which means the author didn’t hit his mark or didn’t have a clear target in mind. Combined they take what could otherwise be a compelling, distinctive character introduction and distances it from the readers, so they don’t latch onto and interact with it.
Now to commence the more technical aspects of this paragraph, I would fasten your attention on the correlation of ‘placed’ and ‘poise of a drunken baboon’ in the first sentence. This is a comment on the importance of the correct verb, noun or adjective. ‘Placed’, while sufficient, doesn’t say what the author wants it to, thus necessitating the simile, which, although colorful and fun, is clunky. The proper verb could convey the gist of what the author described (which I believe is a little hyperbolic as I imagine a drunk baboon would have difficulty delivering more than a half-tankard of moonshine.) Consider ‘plunked’ or ‘dropped’, ‘slammed’, ‘fumbled’, ‘tossed’, etc., anything that conveys disdain or awkwardness, rendering the simile without purpose besides aesthetic.
That aside, we’ll begin the simple efficiency comments. ‘Wore a smug grin’ is a little roundabout, possibly to avoid the LY; ‘grinned smugly’ or ‘grinning smugly’ achieve the same effect more directly and with fewer words. After that, ‘in front of’ can be reduced to ‘before’, and I would consider amending ‘Old Fashioned’ since it’s a little ambiguous.
This leaves us with something like —“Here ya go, pal.”
Grinning smugly, the bartender chucked a tankard/cup of Old Fashioned before me.— (Added the comma before ‘pal’ since ‘pal’ is a direct address and thus gets bracketed with punctuation in dialogue.)
For the next sentence (The kid was young, might not even be old enough to drink the swill he’s serving, and far too full of himself) we have some more inefficiency, but also an absence of smooth progression. The second sentence doesn’t really build off the first, resulting in them not flowing smoothly since there’s no continuation. (There technically is relation, but it requires the readers to side-step and change tracks first, which is not an effortless process.) Now for the words themselves, there is some iteration in ‘kid’ and ‘young’ since both convey the same thing (that he’s young.) ‘Might’ and ‘be’ can be reduced to ‘probably’ or ‘maybe,’ and ‘far too full of himself’ can be replaced with a more specific word, potentially arrogant/conceited/supercilious/etc.’ (whichever one reads best for rhythm and intent.)
This, temporarily, leads to —He was young, maybe not even old enough to drink the swill he served, and conceited.—
The in-sentence rhythm is a little off, mostly with ‘conceited’ feeling incomplete. (There is also a small reiteration with ‘smug’ and ‘too full of himself/conceited.’) The easiest fix to the rhythm is to add an adjective but another fancy tickles my idea box… This second sentence is mostly present for flare. As previously stated, the conceit is indicated via ‘smug’ and, as now noted, the youth is already conveyed in the subsequent sentence with the use of ‘kid’, meaning we only have to migrate the emphasis on his age via something like…
—“Here ya go, pal.”
The bartender chucked the Old Fashioned before me with a smug grin, looking barely old enough to drink the swill he served, maybe not even.—
All the information is conveyed and (in my opinion) combining the sentences actually improves the conceit element because it connects it to the bartender’s youth. (The original didn’t because the ‘and’ in the second sentence separated the information into two facts as opposed to one; here they’re attached.) This also removes the inefficiency of stating a fact (‘he was young’) and then clarifying/validating the fact (‘maybe not even old enough…”) This inefficiency was always present, I just liked the phrasing and context of ‘maybe not even old…’ enough that I thought it outweighed the repetition. We remove the original lack of flow between the two sentences, and the overall rhythm of this single sentence is solid.
For the next sentence (His name’s Andy I think… no, maybe Ricky?) there is little to adjust. The only change I’m considering is replacing the name correction since it’s a little unpleasant to read. (This is more a fundamental flaw than due to the author’s word choice or structure. It’s a proverbial stop and backtrack, which are just disruptive.) This would result in something like —His name’s Andy or something…— It’s ultimately everyone’s individual preference, and I prefer the improved rhythm.
Next sentence (Like it matters, I’m too old to give a damn about some puffed-up asshole kid, whatever his name is.) has a little more to work with. The phrases ‘like it matters’ and ‘whatever his name is’ are repetitive of the same point (our MC’s disinterest.) The phrase ‘give a damn’, while colorful is just a wordier version of ‘care’. ‘Damn’ is too soft of a profanity to incur an emotional reaction from most readers, and the wordiness it brings in combination with the rest of the sentence further dilutes its impact. The word ‘some’ has a similar diluting effect, its ambiguity/uncertainty blunts the impact of ‘asshole’, and ‘kid’ clutters the section, further diminishing it. These various thoughts bring us to…
—Like it matters, I’m too old to care about puffed-up assholes. His type never last long anyway.
I brought in the last sentence of this paragraph because it’s part of why the rhythm for this sentence works. Normally the sentence would be a little too short and thus feel perfunctory or incomplete, but the succeeding sentence flows well from it (ameliorating the sense of incompletion). And the second sentence in itself is a little short and hard statement, which serves as a phonetic capstone/period to the previous sentence and the paragraph as a whole. I also made two changes to the final sentence, the first being swapping ‘don’t’ for ‘never’ because ‘never’ reads smoother but also more aggressively because it’s so absolute. I deleted ‘here’ as unnecessary.
Now, all my edits.
—“Here ya go, pal.”
The bartender chucked the Old Fashioned before me with a smug grin, looking barely old enough to drink the swill he served, maybe not even. His name’s Andy or something… Like it matters, I’m too old to care about puffed-up assholes. His type never last long anyway. —
I’m mostly happy with this. My final issue is with the use of ‘like’, which reads more flippant than bitter. Thus, I might consider something more like…
—“Here ya go, pal.”
The bartender chucked the Old Fashioned before me with a smug grin, looking barely old enough to drink the swill he served, maybe not even. His name’s Andy or something… As if it matters; I’m too old to care about puffed-up assholes, and his type never last long.—
That’ll be all for today. If you like what you’ve read, consider checking out some of the author’s other work. https://www.writing.com/main/portfolio/view/brylord
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