# 41 Oneka
Hello everybody, today we have a piece titled Oneka by FifthWood on Wrting.com.
Lady Tokugawa Tsuruhime offered the tea bowl to her husband with as much of a bow as she could handle, being eight months pregnant with their first baby. Returning the bow, Lord Tokugawa Ogimaru accepted the tea bowl. He placed his left hand up and flat, under the bowl. With his right hand he cupped the bowl, turned it a quarter turn, and sipped.
From a technical standpoint there is little this paragraph could improve on. It’s written almost entirely in active voice and with attention to detail, taking time to develop and (to my limited knowledge) authentically display the aesthetic/theme of the narrative. While not always viable, a theme or prevalent aesthetic can be extremely enjoyable additions to historical fiction and, in particular, fantasy or science-fiction. All that said, if I were to levy a criticism against this paragraph it would be that nothing happens and there’s no indication of a story. This isn’t an egregious absence, but whenever possible you still want the first paragraph to propel the story forward. This one does not.
Now for the more technical aspects. To begin, a simple rearrangement: we can remove the ‘to’ from the first sentence by moving ‘her husband’ to follow ‘offered’. Mostly this change just cuts the ‘to’, which in my opinion tend to read poorly. After that I would delete ‘handle’ as unnecessary but also because that section of this sentence is, unavoidably, wordy. The wordiness is because of the phrase ‘as much of’ and just the number of short/glue words. A sentence with a high concentration of short or conjunction words tends to read poorly because they often use a lot of tasteless words to say little. Thus, I would like to delete ‘handle’ because it reduces the number of words and I think it reads better, something to do with the phonetics that I can’t quite put my finger on. Finally, for this sentence, I would convert ‘baby’ to ‘child’. This is entirely phonetic, I prefer the deeper sound of ‘child’ to the Y of ‘baby’, which reads more high-pitched. I think this is because the rest of the sentence has lower phonetics as well, so ‘child’ reads more similar. But I could also be hallucinating.
In this next section I am going to toy with more significant alterations. There are two reasons for this: first, I dislike how the next two sentences don’t flow into/from one another—they’re two flat statements instead of a progression—second, my inner repetition sensibilities want to reduce ‘the tea bowl’ to ‘it’, saving a few words and removing the soft echo. As I read it again though, further difficulties present themselves, specifically the opening phrase of the final sentence, which is clunky due to a somewhat indirect structure. Normally, I would just adjust the structure, but therein lies the difficulty (and I imagine the reason for this structure.) What “with his right hand he cupped the bowl’ does is separates ‘cupped the bowl’ from ‘under the blow’ diminishing the echo of ‘bowl’. That’s probably a little too much just talking, let me give you all something to look at…
— Lady Tokugawa Tsuruhime offered her husband the tea bowl with as much of a bow as she could, being eight months pregnant with their first child. Returning the bow, Lord Tokugawa Ogimaru accepted the tea bowl, placing his left hand flat beneath it. He cupped the bowl with his right, turned it a quarter, and sipped.—
You’ll notice I made changes different from what I originally intended. I combined the second and third sentence because I could do so in such a way that they read smoother, with an easy pleasing progression. Where I changed it was in replacing the concluding ‘the bowl’ with an ‘it’ instead of ‘the tea bowl’. Aside from that, I made a few deletes; ‘up and’ (which I believe is unnecessary as most readers won’t envision him holding the bowl on the back of his hand) ‘hand’ from ‘right hand’ (to avoid it echoing with ‘left hand’, and because I believe readers will make the connection easily enough that they won’t need the specification) and ‘turn’ from ‘quarter turn’ (because I believe it unnecessary since its literally the action he’s preforming, and I think it reads better since the two ‘turn’ echoed.)
This reads well enough that I am content. I’m still debating the restructuring on the first sentence as the original might read better in the paragraph as a whole, but for now it suffices.
In the background a servant girl played a shamisen. She plucked the strings gracefully producing a calming melodic tune.
There are two general elements to mention for this paragraph, the first being the repetition of ‘played a shamisen’ and ‘plucked the strings’. This is basically saying ‘she played music’ twice, only with the second time indicating it was a string instrument. The second comment is that there is a missing comma from the second sentence, either before ‘gracefully’ or ‘producing’.
On a more personal note, I also dislike the structure for the first sentence. There’s nothing technically wrong with the structure, it just has the effect of separating the sentence into two thoughts, whereas leading with ‘A servant girl’ treats them as one and reads, albeit negligibly, smoother. Leading with ‘a servant’ does cause its own problem though. By leading with the ‘a’ you emphasize its sound, where the previous structure masked it somewhat, leading to it echoing with the ‘a’ before ‘shamisen’. It’s a ‘pick your poison’ situation.
I might also argue the inclusion of ‘melodic’ since most music tends to be melodic. That aside, I have a few ideas I’m toying with.
—A servant girl played a shamisen in the background, fingers dancing gracefully over the strings to elicit a calming melodic tune.—
Here I combined the sentences again, but that’s mostly in response to ‘plucked the strings’ being the definitive action of the second sentence and also the main thing that wants to be removed. Without that action, the second sentence ends up feeling insufficient. Aside from that you might wonder why I kept the main structure of mentioning her playing again when that was what I wanted removed. Yes, I preserved the structure, but I changed the meaning. The second part of this sentence no longer says ‘she played’ but describe how she played. I chose ‘elicit’ over ‘producing’ because it felt more artistic; she’s drawing out the music that’s already in the strings as opposed to just making it like a line at a factory, which is what ‘produce’ evokes.
Now, while this seems to resolve my difficulties, I don’t like how this rewrite sounds. It doesn’t fit the slower, more defined style of the first paragraph. (With ‘defined’ in this context meaning a measured pace and a soft distinction between thoughts. My rewrite loses the feel of ‘distinct thoughts in one sentence’ and just strings all the individual elements together. The previous time I combined sentences had a similar effect, but it didn’t read off because it was sandwiched between two other sentences and the first part of that still followed the ‘defined’ style.)
There is also an element of this paragraph feeling incomplete or lacking. It’s basically one comment inserted between the interactions of Lord and Lady Tokugawa. Something like this is often employed to convey an element of violence or abruptness, but this paragraph is neither and is thus left feeling a little bit awkward. My rewrite emphasizes this because fast, flowing sentences tend to read like buildups, both in the present and original format. With these thoughts in mind, the best solution I can devise is combining the paragraphs, which helps the second one not feel so awkward, and slightly amend the wording.
— Lady Tokugawa Tsuruhime offered her husband the tea bowl with as much of a bow as she could, being eight months pregnant with their first child. Returning the bow, Lord Tokugawa Ogimaru accepted the tea bowl, placing his left hand flat beneath it. He cupped the bowl with his right, turned it a quarter, and sipped. A servant girl played a shamisen in the background, fingers gliding over the strings to elicit a calming melodic tune.—
Here, I changed ‘dancing gracefully’ to ‘gliding’ because it largely conveys the same gist and removes the LY, which contributed to this paragraph/sentence not sounding likes it predecessors. This doesn’t entirely resolve my issues, but I think it will read well if the next paragraph starts correctly. By combing the second and first paragraph we also resolve the issue of the second paragraph feeling awkward/misplaced because it becomes part of the aesthetic description that defines the first paragraph and so doesn’t feel incomplete anymore.
I think that’s all for today.
If you like what you’ve read of the story or author’s style, check out more of this story or their other writings. https://www.writing.com/main/portfolio/view/fifthwood
If you like my work, consider subscribing.