Hello everybody, today we have a piece titled stuck by Julian Lee on Writing.com.
Turned out the shortcut was longer than it had appeared on the map. Or, at least, it felt that way. Probably because the narrow road offered many twists and turns, so the going was slow. That, and the tired ‘63 Corvair wasn’t the most comfortable ride.
As opening paragraphs go, this is a little suboptimal. The prose is mostly fine, but there’s nothing here to engage the reader, either in their imagination or their interest. There’s no indication of a narrative, which would start their minds working on how the story will precede, and the description, while effective, doesn’t afford the reader with energetic or unique imagery. There is a small amount of stylization present but not enough, or pleasing enough, to suffice. It’s not a calamitous deal, but it’s something to improve upon.
That aside, we progress to the technical aspects of this paragraph, where I have a few musing to entertain you all with. First is a minor grammatical misstep. The ‘had’ in the first sentence is unnecessary since the ‘was’ already places this sentence in the past tense. So unless the map exists solely in the past, I.E. it was eaten, then ‘had’ is unnecessary. After that, we have the phrase “offered many twists and turns” which is a little wordy and indirect. ‘Twists’ and ‘turns’ are sibling words here and mean basically the same thing, rendering the presence of both iterative. The other indirectness is the use of a secondary verb when the adjective could suffice. ‘Afford’ is unnecessary here because ‘twisted/turned’ can fulfill the role of verb without sacrificing the description. ‘Afford’ provides no particular description, tone or element to the narrative (except maybe as an element of the stylization) so you don’t lose anything by excising it and it doesn’t provide much. With this in mind, I submit —Twisted/twined/curved/snaked (etc) constantly.— I used ‘constantly here in lieu of ‘many times’. This trades the two words for an LY and a word that reads better in my opinion. As for why it reads better, I attribute it to the fact that one specific word reads more confident than an approximating phrase (anything more than one word.) And, just like oration, confident prose is more enjoyable than awkward, vague prose.
After that, we have the phrase ‘so the going was slow’, which is mostly just passive where it could be active. I have two haphazard possibilities, though there are many.
—limiting the speed limit—
—curbing our/my progress—
I don’t necessarily like either of these, but they’ll suffice for now. There really is a glut of options, one just has to find their preference. — Probably because the narrow road twisted constantly, curbing our speed.—
For the next sentence, I have just one change. The phrase ‘the most comfortable ride’ can be reduced to ‘exactly comfortable’. We don’t need ‘ride’ since we know this is a car, and ‘exactly’ is one distinctive word as opposed to two more generic words. This also maintains the author’s stylization because while the words are different their tip-toeing tone remains.
The entire paragraph—Turned out the shortcut was longer than it appeared on the map. Or, at least, it felt that way. Probably because the narrow road twisted constantly, curbing our speed. That, and the tired ‘63 Corvair wasn’t exactly comfortable.—
Esmé downshifted for an approaching curve. The air-cooled, pancake engine revved, producing an alarming clankity sound. Compared to a ‘63 VW—its closest contemporary—the 80 horsepower Corvair had a lot more oomph. But the car was back heavy (or front light, however you looked at it) and didn’t handle so well. Hell, the thing was designed old. A Porsche it definitely was not. And it was prone to bouts of overheating—not to mention the very definition of homely. Then too this particular pea-soup-green specimen sported well over fifty-thousand miles since Jordan had last overhauled it—a lot for an antiquated Chevy.
(Notice how the narration format of this paragraph no longer agrees with the ‘our’ in my rewrites above. We will be changing this in future iterations. You have been warned. Read at your own peril. Despair awaits. Spooky ghost sounds.)
There’s less to touch up in the paragraph. I might argue for reducing ‘clankity sound’ to ‘clanking’ or ‘clank’, depending on the author’s intention. The use of ‘sound’ is unnecessary since ‘clank’ is a sound. After that we have ‘had a lot more oomph’, with the ‘had’ being most important. ‘Had’ is a generic cover everything word, which means it works in a lot of situations but is absolutely boring and lively. It’s a stand-in verb, but it’s an unnecessary one here. I would switch it out for ‘packed’ or ‘pumped’, a verb that describes something. After that, I would consider swapping ‘a lot’ to ‘significantly’ for the same reasons as above, one word and sounds more confident/assertive.
For the next sentence, I would consider combining them because I prefer that these two thoughts flow together instead of being interrupted by the period. Then we have the phrase ‘however you looked at it’, which reads a little wordy and ever so slightly ambiguous. ‘However’ can be read several ways and in several tones here, and I prefer specificity. Thus, I submit —if you prefer— leaving us with…
— Esmé downshifted for an approaching curve. The air-cooled, pancake engine revved, producing an alarming clank. Compared to a ‘63 VW—its closest contemporary—the 80 horsepower Corvair packed significantly more oomph but was back heavy (or front light, if you prefer) and didn’t handle so well.—
If this change doesn’t tickle your fancy, I would suggest using ‘viewed’ instead of ‘looked at’ since that removes the need for the glue ‘at’. Finally, I would consider changing ‘didn’t handle so well’ for ‘handled worse’. This loses some of the author’s style, but it’s more active and fewer words.
Moving on and jumping a sentence, I would argue the unnecessity of ‘A Porsche it was not’. The description of the car paints it into an old, unfavorable and unreliable light, so contrasting it against a Porsche serves limited value and it does not flow well with the rhythm of the paragraph. Let’s see if I can explain. The previous sentence (Hell, the thing was designed old) is a sentence that builds momentum. It’s an exclamation that’s going to flow into elaboration, it is a sentence that builds flow. ‘A Porsche it was not’ is a flat statement, a concluding comment that caps a paragraph or meaning and thus kills momentum. This alone is disruptive in the middle of a paragraph, but it also doesn’t feed off the ‘designed old’, so the ‘Porsche’ sentence reads intrusive and aborts the rhythm. So I would delete it.
For the next sentence (And it was prone to bouts of overheating—not to mention the very definition of homely.) I would delete ‘bouts of’ as I believe it’s unnecessary. ‘Prone’ means likely, but if something is likely to experience spans of overheating isn’t it just likely to overheat in general? With this cut, I would consider marrying it to the previous sentence. I’m not entirely sure of this choice, but it’s something to consider for rhythm and flow, and because it makes these sentences read more like a litany than individual statements. (For more ambitious writers, this would be a way to manipulate the tone and voice of your prose, painting it more into the light of a tirade or clinical dispassion, whichever best suits your characters/narrative.)
And it’s here where I would drop the ‘Porsche’ comment, since it’s at the end of the description and would serve as a culmination or a summary. You would just want to structure it in such a way that it flows from the preceding sentence.
—Hell, the thing was designed old and prone to overheating—not to mention the very definition of homely. So, not a Porsche.—
After that we have the final sentence (Then too this particular pea-soup-green specimen sported well over fifty-thousand miles since Jordan had last overhauled it—a lot for an antiquated Chevy). Here I have just a few changes, first being exchanging ‘too’ for ‘again’ because ‘too’ is the wrong word, but mostly because ‘then again’ is easier to read and more immediately digestible than ‘then to’, which needlessly made me contemplate if it worked grammatically (still not sure it does, which influences this decision.) After that, delete the ‘had’ as unnecessary due to ‘last’ serving as the past tense modifier.
Now, all my changes.
— Turned out the shortcut was longer than it appeared on the map. Or, at least, it felt that way. Probably because the narrow road twisted constantly, curbing our speed. That, and the tired ‘63 Corvair wasn’t exactly comfortable.
Esmé downshifted for an approaching curve. The air-cooled, pancake engine revved, producing an alarming clank. Compared to a ‘63 VW—its closest contemporary—the 80 horsepower Corvair packed significantly more oomph but was back heavy (or front light, if you prefer) and handled worse. Hell, the thing was designed old, prone to overheating, and the very definition of homely. So, not a Porsche. Then again, this particular pea-soup-green specimen sported well over fifty-thousand miles since Jordan last overhauled it—a lot for an antiquated Chevy.—
I only made one change, deleting the hyphen from ‘not to mention’ and reorienting that sentence so they became three items in the same list as opposed to two items and an afterthought/continuation. I did this because I think it reads better without the stop and restart, and further builds into the ‘Porsche’ comment.
All told, I think it reads fairly well, so I’ll leave it there. See you all soon.
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If you have something you would like edited, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll edit something up to a soft cap of 3k words, post a small section to the blog and render the rest privately. The private review will have a different format, but similar depth.