#4 Chasing Stars

By Tristen Kozinski No comments

Today we have a sacrifice from J.M.Robinson, an author whose books tend to feature strong female leads, romance, magic, and action. I have several of her books and this is a short story tilted Chasing Stars.

Paragraph 1

Jessica pressed her palm against the glass, heat fogging around her hand. Cold. Wet. Rain patteredoutside, slicking the rails and swirling across hot platforms. She might spend her entire lunch break watching it, neglecting her tea and croissant, but she didn’t know when she’d see rain again.

This first sentence is hard to edit, because while I can see elements I would like to change, they’re hard. For instance, ‘her palm’ and ‘her hand’ are iterative, but you can’t just remove one. The first solution that occurred to me was to exchange ‘her hand’ for ‘it,’ which at least diminishes the echo, but also reads poorly. Ultimately, I decided on something more around the structure of “Jessica touched the glass, heat fogging around her hand/palm.” This still conveys the image, but the flow might suffer, feeling just a little short. My first instinct here was to add ‘icy’ to glass, but that becomes iterative on the temperature, which ‘heat fogging’ conveys.’ I think another descriptor would work, just one that isn’t conveyed somewhere else already.

Next we have ‘Cold. Wet.’ Which I say delete, we know it’s cold from the first sentence, and the subsequent sentence tells us it’s wet via the rain, so these sentences are just here for accent. The problem is, the accent doesn’t convey anything, it’s either too vague, or just trying to emphasize the cold and wetness, which is unnecessary.

For the fourth sentence, we have ‘rain pattered outside’ but ‘outside’ is unnecessary because it’s self-evident from the context of the paragraph: it’s not raining inside, otherwise the author would have told us. The next section is another hard one to explain as it pertains mostly to style instead of the technical. The phrase ‘slicking the rails and swirling across hot platforms’ is borderline empty description.

‘Slicking the rails’ is superficially fine, the wording is distinctive and smooth, but it’s also distant. It’s outside and a small element in a huge canvass that gets largely ignored, moreover, it’s divorced from the characters and thus reader. Jessica has zero interaction with these rails on any level, physical, emotion, visual, or auditory (for this context, physical is differentiated from sensory as something she has to touch or is indirect contact with.) Nor are the railsparticularly interesting; think of this scene in the context of a movie: you’re sitting observing a fogged window with your hand pressed against it, the camera glides out and focuses on a slick railing and…nothing. That is the extent of this description, it’s purely superficial and there’s no story to it. The author is telling us nothing with this zoom and focus other than it’s wet, which we already knew. This also provides no context as to her environment; we don’t know where she is or what her environment is, which is important because readers need to be able to see where they are. An easy solution to this is to add the environment up above in the missing description I mentioned, such as “café glass/window” or “train glass/window” thus orienting the reader and rounding out that sentence.

Now, the second phrase “swirling across hot platforms,” which is more an allusion to description than actual description. What does a hot platform look like? That depends on the environment, the technological advancement and whatever the author wants it to. So again, this is a very vague description with no physical aspect for the readers to grasp onto. It somewhat indicates either a more rural or steam-aged environment due to the open-air stations, but that’s largely guesswork and you don’t want the reader to have to guess as your meaning. You want to be clear and efficiently convey the important/strange elements of your environment.

How would I alter them in my infinite ignorance? I would suggest replacing ‘slicking the rails’ with something else, and expanding on ‘hot platforms’ because the image that alludes to does work. When I think of it, I see steam on an ornate train platform, enough that it feels hotnot just warm, and I see it swirling and collapsing as rain pelts it, a physically manifested conflict between hot and cold. Yes, it’s a little melodramatic, but if handled correctly so as to not be overbearing, it would give both the rain and heat (and thus platform) a very physical manifestation around the character, and through her the readers. This, of course, could be the entire opposite of what the author intended. And that goes back to my comment on clarity, I don’t know what the author wants me to see.

Paragraph1, Sentence 5 (reminder)

She might spend her entire lunch break watching it, neglecting her tea and croissant, but she didn’t know when she’d see rain again.

First, this sentence suffers a significant structural flaw. What it says, is she might waste her lunch break to watch it (the rain) BUT doesn’t know when she’d see the rain again, which would incentivize her TO watch it. This is, unfortunately something only the author can fix, as it’s the whole point of the sentence. The easiest fix is to swap ‘but’ for ‘as.’

You can also delete the second ‘she,’ ‘break,’  and potential swap ‘she’d see’ to ‘it’d/it would.’

Paragraph 2

It appeared God didn’t think a city like Salt Lake needed rain, not when they paved over grass and uprooted trees to build yet more pomp and power.

To begin ‘a city like’ is unnecessary and can go, the later ‘pomp and power’ indicates a settlement of notable size. Its inclusion may boost clarity, however. The phrase ‘a city like’ distances her from Salt Lake, thus indicating she’s on her way there. It’s still open to misinterpretation, but ultimately the author’s choice. That only works if she’s notin Salt Lake, if she is, delete as initially suggested.

As for the rest of the sentence, I don’t particularly like it, but can’t see any easy improvements. It’s wordy for the most part, but ‘uproot trees’ is a generic phrase and ‘paved over grass’ is largely devoid of impact. The one thing I somewhat conceived was swapping “paved over grass and uprooted tree” to “raped the earth” which is distinctly more violent and impactful, but also vaguer. You can probably delete the ‘yet’ as unnecessary, since ‘more’ already conveys the existence of pomp and power.

Paragraph 3

After a blissful moment, the rain stopped. She pressed her cold hand against her cheek, taking a second to selfishly love something man did not create – a rare occurrence, one that she barely knew herself only because current science admitted there were still things man could neither stop nor duplicateRain reminded her of rebellion, falling without bias on the heads of those who raged they could not control it.

The first phrase ‘after a blissful moment’ is repetitive with the phrase ‘taking a second to selfishly love’ in the second sentence, mostly due to the ‘blissful.’ But if you remove the ‘blissful’ the first phrase becomes largely irrelevant. Since there’s no indication of time passing, just saying that the rain ended is enough (if you ignore the rhythm standpoint.) Since you can’t ignore the rhythm standpoint, this sentence might best be served by marrying it to the next. “The rain stopped/attenuated, and she pressed cold fingers against her cheek…” (swapped to ‘cold fingers’ because it removed the first ‘her,’ which echoed slightly.) I think this reads better, but you need the full sentence to be sure so we’ll come back to it.

The second part of this sentence is wordy and a little confusing. The phrase “something man did not create” is just needlessly verbose, and loses impact because of it. ‘Natural’ says the same thing and carries with it an in-built emotional context for most readers. Its brevity also helps the emotions the author is trying to convey by allowing the readers to focus on them instead of translating a string of words into the desired emotion. The confusing element is the word ‘selfishly,’ which I don’t understand. What is the author trying to tell us about this character or the world? It’s unclear, so this description only muddies our view of the situation. I would also swap ‘taking a second to love’ to ‘basking,’ which conveys the same emotion and liberates us to delete ‘taking a second’ which is unnecessary specification (Jessica is going to leave momentarily, thus removing the need to give the action a timeline). This leaves us with. “The rain stopped/attenuated, and she pressed cold fingers against her cheek, basking in something natural—” The last phrase is a little off still, but you may be able to fix that by swapping ‘something’ to ‘the’ or expanding to ‘basking in the natural sensation.’ It all depends on what the author specifically wants to say, which I am not privy to.

This brings us to the sentences third part. (a rare occurrence, one that she barely knew herself only because current science admitted there were still things man could neither stop nor duplicate) Here, I would delete ‘a rare occurrence’ as it is heavily implied (this obviously necessitates rewrites), or delete ‘one that’ and ‘herself.’ It’s still unnecessary but if you’re going to include it, streamline the sentence. I would delete ‘current,’ exchange ‘were still’ for ‘remained’ and change ‘stop and duplicate’ to ‘duplicate and stop’ as I think that has better rhythm. Those things aside, I can’t tell if this sentence is conveying that she’s also a scientist—which doesn’t fit because she would then be the ‘science’ that’s telling her man can’t duplicate everything. But if she’s not a scientist, how did she learn this information, and why is she one of the few people who know of it—as implied by ‘she barely knew herself only’—?

Paragraph 3, sentence three (reminder)

Rain reminded her of rebellion, falling without bias on the heads of those who raged they could not control [TK1] it.

There’re a couple things here, first that the structure disagrees with what the author is trying to say. The phrase ‘rain reminded her of rebellion’ is a comparison, and structurally what should follow should be the similarities between rain and rebellions, but what follows really isn’t rebellion. The rain isn’t in conflict, it’s entirely unfazed by who it’s falling upon. The sentence is also a wee bit melodramatic. Nothing before it has indicated a huge, wrathful enmity in the scientist at their inability to control the weather etc, so this ‘who raged’ comes out of nowhere and feels at odds with the paragraph that preceded it.

For substitutions and whatnot, I would exchange ‘without bias’ to ‘implacably’ (different word, but conveys the same result) and delete ‘on the head of’ to just ‘on’ or maybe ‘upon’ if the author’s feeling frisky.

That’s it for today. If you like our work, please consider subscribing. If you like what you’ve seen from J.M.Robinson, here are her links: