#40: For Better or For Words
Hello everybody, today we have a sci-fi piece titled For Better or for Words by Melisscious on Writing.com.
The smoke spiraled up from my lips and hotboxed the roof of my umbrella before creeping out to meet the raindrops.
The rain always fell in winter. If you mentioned it you’d hear the reply “at least it’s not snow”.
Which, fair enough, you didn’t have to shovel rain. It also wasn’t cold when it rained, just water-logged.
I’m treating these various paragraphs as one, despite them being three, because I’ll be combining them through the course of my edits. The reasons for this are because I believe they will read better and I don’t believe they warranted individual paragraphs.
I believe they’ll read better because of rhythm; paragraphs are a sequence of related thoughts in a narrative, and a narrative in of themselves. They need to progress naturally, to have a beginning, a middle, a conclusion and (optimally) a point. This story’s original paragraphs were sentences treated as paragraphs, and (just like periods added somewhat randomly [although grammatically correctly]) they gave the prose a stuttering feel because it was constantly stopping. So we combine them and allow the prose to flow, to tell a narrative instead of cite bullet-points.
Now for the more word-specific elements. In the first sentence, we can delete ‘up’ as unnecessary. Smoke, mist, steam all rise naturally, so stating it is unnecessary. I would also consider switching ‘smoke’ for ‘mist’ as they are not synonymous and ‘smoke’ would only work if our MC happens to be smoking or on fire inside, and there is no indication of cigar or cigarette. Continuing from these, I would like to replace ‘the roof of’ with ‘beneath’ as it conveys the same information but only uses one word. ‘Beneath’ might echo slightly with ‘before’ but I don’t believe so. I read that section a few times, disliking the way it read/transition, but I think it had more to do with the wordiness/clunkyness of ‘out to meet the raindrops’ than an echo. ‘Out to meet the raindrops’ is clunky because of how many short words and conjunctions it has in close proximity. The ‘before’ exacerbates this as well because it’s a weak transition, though not one we can really change. (Best as I can surmise, the reason it reads particularly weak here is because it’s ‘soft’. It doesn’t propel or command the sentence forward with impact like a verb would, and it also renders the subsequent verb into secondary importance. This is not to say one should avoid ‘before’, just that it has a deleterious effect in the current iteration.) So, with these thoughts in mind, perhaps we could try something like…
—Smoke spiraled from my lips, hotboxing beneath my umbrella before creeping out into the rain.—
There are several ways one could pen the last phrase, but I chose this one because I believe it’s the richest. ‘Out’ is unnecessary to the sentence, but I preserved it because it emphasizes the ‘rain’ and ‘creeping’. It makes the phrase read more exposed, even though this has no bearing on the author’s meaning, which in turn increases how much energy ‘creeping’ and ‘rain’ have. (It causes no confusion because it’s not explicitly saying or alluding to the ‘exposed’ element.) As for what I deleted, ‘meet’ and ‘drops’ served to romanticize this action, individualizing the elements and expressing their interaction, but were clunky and cluttered the phrase. What I mean by ‘romanticize’ is that it made this action more special and ‘meet’ by itself has romantic connotations. ‘Raindrops’ lacks that inherent romanticism but had a similar effect because it individualized the rain, making them special and, as a result, vaguely more intimate. Thus, ‘meet’ and ‘raindrops’ together tried to energize the action of smoke creeping out. Regardless, I deleted them because they were the aforementioned clunky, but also because they were unnecessary. ‘Rain’ by itself is a rich word, carrying a host of connotations, which means you rarely have to emphasize it, and ‘creeping’ is an energetic, descriptive word as well. (There’s probably a better word, one that conveys the author’s desired tone since ‘creeping’ tends to be more ghoulish, and that doesn’t feel like what the author desired.) What the energy of ‘creeping’ and ‘rain’ does is diminish the returns on ‘meet’ and ‘raindrops’ because they already infuse the sentence with energy and emotion. So ‘meet’ and ‘raindrops’ provide less value to the sentence but what they subtract remains unchanged.
Was that enough sentence arithmetic for you all?
Continuing with sentence two. (The rain always fell in winter. If you mentioned it you’d hear the reply “at least it’s not snow”.)
There’s little to touch upon here, mostly just adding a pair of commas, one after ‘it’ and one after ‘reply’. We could delete the initial ‘the’, which has the added effect of making the rain feel more personal to our MC, and thus to the readers. We could also delete ‘the reply’, but I’m not sure if that benefits the sentence or not. Finally, ‘this’ may read better than ‘it’, being a smoother word and links the MC more closely to the question. (‘This’ is for something you’re in proximity to or just mentioned, thus it places you physically closer to something than ‘it’ does, making it more personal.)
—Rain always fell in winter. If you mentioned this, you’d hear the reply, “at least it’s not snow”.—
Now, sentence three/four. (Which, fair enough, you didn’t have to shovel rain. It also wasn’t cold when it rained, just water-logged.)
This first sentence is incomplete. By placing brackets around ‘fair enough’ you say it can be removed from the sentence without causing issue but try reading the sentence without it and it doesn’t make sense. This is easily fixed, however, simply replace the first comma with a ‘was’ or ‘is’. Both technically work here since while this narrative is in the past, you probably don’t have to shovel rain in the MC’s present either. For that same reason, I would consider swapping ‘didn’t’ to ‘don’t’. After that, I can only take umbrage with the assertion that it’s not cold when it rains. It’s why the term ‘freezing rain’ exists. Admittedly, ‘rain wasn’t cold’ is probably a truer statement the more northern you get. But this doesn’t feel like a northern region because then snow and ice would be a given and wouldn’t merit this sort of statement. Again, a simply fix, though, just add an ‘as’.
— Which is fair enough, you don’t have to shovel rain. It also wasn’t as cold when it rained, just water-logged.—
And the full paragraph combined…
— Smoke spiraled from my lips, hotboxing beneath my umbrella before creeping out into the rain. Rain always fell in winter. If you mentioned this, you’d hear the reply, “at least it’s not snow”. Which is fair enough, you don’t have to shovel rain. It also wasn’t as cold when it rained, just water-logged.—
This still needs a few touch-ups. The double ‘rain’ in immediate succession between the first and second sentence reads poorly. The ‘which’ in the fourth sentence is probably incorrect grammatically since ‘which’ is a direct continuation but there is a period break separating them. Finally, I believe we can delete ‘when it rained’ as understood from the last sentence. The ‘it’ will transition from representing a moment in time to representing rain. The context will provide clarity and the fact that ‘rain’ was the last word written in the previous sentence, as well as serving as a soft subject of that sentence, helps as well.
The ‘which’ we can just convert to ‘that’ or replace the period with a comma. I think I slightly prefer the comma option because that way of phrasing it feels natural.
For the two ‘rain’ I will just restructure the sentence slightly to ‘It always rained in winter’. Mostly, this just juggles the ‘rains’ farther apart while exploiting the fact that rain can be both a noun and verb, which prevents the necessity of additional words.
— Smoke spiraled from my lips, hotboxing beneath my umbrella before creeping out into the rain. It always rained in winter. If you mentioned this, you’d hear the reply, “at least it’s not snow”, which is fair enough. You don’t have to shovel rain. It also wasn’t as cold, just water-logged.—
One last final change, I switched the comma between ‘enough’ and ‘you’ to a period. I did this for two reasons: one, to avoid the sentence running too long: two, because I like how it emphasizes the remainder of the sentence, converts it into a flat, somewhat dry, statement.
That’ll be all for today.
If you like what you’ve read here, consider checking out the rest of the story or some of the author’s other works. https://www.writing.com/main/portfolio/view/melisscious
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