blog #24 Mercy
Today we have a piece titled ‘Mercy’ by Raygunner on Writing.com.
‘Not a lapdog but does a lot of it,’ is how the bulletin board post read. My family had been looking for a dog for some time and my mother found this post on an old-style pin-up bulletin board where she worked. That’s how she found Ritzy.
There’s not much to improve in this paragraph, just something of a start-and-stop structure, one repetition and one inefficiency. The structural flaw comes from the first sentence, which is chronologically out of place in the narrative. It’s not a bad starting sentence, but it forces the author to first explain it in the second sentence, then introduce it again (the two mentions of the bulletin board.) I don’t like this structure because it forces the reader to stop and backtrack instead of just flowing along with the narrative.
The repetition element is the two bulletin board mentions, and the inefficiency is the last sentence. The ‘That’s how she found Ritzy’ is a little complicated because while it is unnecessary for comprehension (due to the next sentence) it does serve to close the paragraph, filling it out and making for a smooth transition. Which might be particularly important after we apply the easy paragraph fix.
— My family had been looking for a dog for some time when my mother found this post on an old-style pin-up bulletin board where she worked: ‘Not a lapdog but does a lot of it.’— ( switched ‘and’ to ‘when’ for grammar reasons.)
The problem with this solution is that it makes the sentence/paragraph more boring to read. There’s two reasons for this: ‘my family…’ is simply a more generic, set-the-scene sounding start than ‘Not a lapdog…’ which carries elements of humor and warmth and thus makes for a more compelling start. (‘My family…’ has no immediate emotional connotation.) Then there is the fact that the original paragraph/sentence’s structure involved more effort to compute (however minor) because of its warped narrative progression, which helped to distract the reader slightly. Without that, the sentence has a basic meaning, a straightforward structure and no investment from the reader. This is less a misstep than just undesirable. (Also, [lest you, my ducklings, acquire disreputable notions] disguising boring sentences with convoluted prose is not an advisable practice, not that I believe the author intentionally implemented it here.)
The question now becomes ‘how do we improve this sentence?’ We could switch ‘my family’ for ‘we,’ which is more personal at the cost of a little ambiguity. We might also reduce ‘been looking for’ to ‘wanted’, which both removes the slight ‘for’ echo and improves the sentence by tightening the parts of its without sacrificing character. That last part could probably use some explanation. The second part of this sentence has a distinct character, it’s describing something readers would not have envisioned on their own in this situation and something they would not have interacted with much while using words with texture. Conversely, ‘had been looking for’ has no distinct character or story; its concept, words and general composition is something most readers will interact with on a daily basis, i.e., looking for something. By replacing it with ‘wanted’ we reduce the amount of time the readers need to spend on something boring, and ‘had wanted’ is simply more active than ‘had been looking.’ ‘Looking’ is emotionally ambiguous, ‘wanted’ is not. This leads us to…
— We had wanted a dog for some time when my mother found this posted on an old-style pin-up bulletin board where she worked: ‘Not a lapdog but does a lot of it.— (Switched to ‘posted’ because I think it sounds better. Why is hard to explain, but it has to do with the description of the billboard. All the words in the section are ‘light’ and ‘smooth,’ adding the ‘ed’ gives the section a little more texture and variety.)
This still doesn’t quite work as well as it could; it reads somewhat poorly as a cold open, like the reader’s starting in the middle of a sentence. (The original structure actually worked quite well in this regard because it opened with the post, i.e., an advertisement, which are meant to capture random peoples’ attention. It works here because people are used to advertisements being the first thing they notice.) But I can’t see an immediate fix. I toyed with switching the structure around to something more like…
—We had wanted a dog for some time when my mother found an old-style pin-up bulletin board where she worked with this post: ‘Not a lapdog but does a lot of it.’—
But this makes it sound like she found the bulletin board stowed away in some corner. Fortunately, I don’t think the sentence reads too terribly, and there might be other structures to employ with the original iteration.
(‘Not a lapdog but does a lot of it,’ is how the bulletin board post read. My family had been looking for a dog for some time and my mother found this post on an old-style pin-up bulletin board where she worked. That’s how she found Ritzy.)
The original purpose of my first restructuring was to remove the unnecessary repetition of ‘bulletin board,’ and in the pursuit of that I removed the first mention, but we can also remove the second mention instead, resulting in something like…
—‘Not a lapdog but does a lot of it,’ is what the post on the old-style pin-up bulletin board at my mother’s work read, and my family had wanted a dog for some time. That’s how we found Ritzy.—
This runs a little long if you just string it all together, but we can resolve that by converting from ‘and my family’ to something more like —My family had wanted a dog for some time, so that’s how we found Ritzy.—
It’s debatable which of the two versions is superior and probably subject to personal preference but I like this second better. It adheres to the author’s original structure more closely and has a stronger beginning, which is vital.
I was in school when my mom and my brothers brought Ritzy home and heard his bark for the first time when I stepped onto the front porch. It sounded like certain death. I didn’t open the door. I yelled first to make sure it was safe. Having already been accepted by Ritzy, my family introduced me to him and within minutes I went from being a possibly deadly threat to his new family to having our new ninety-five pound German Shepherd protector’s head resting my knee trying to shame me into sharing my bowl of Dinty Moore beef stew. It took all of five minutes for me to love Ritzy.
There’s very little to improve in this paragraph. In the first sentence, the ‘Ritzy’ echoes a little bit with the previous paragraph (This was one of the reasons I considered deleting the concluding sentence) and I think there needs to be a comma after ‘home’ since the two events are neither sequential nor simultaneous.
Another thing to debate is reducing ‘stepped onto the front porch’ to ‘returned home. The first of these is more distinct, with character and a clearer visual, but is also slightly wordy in a sentence that is already slightly wordy. I think we can just delete ‘front’ from the equation because that’s the mostly likely porch he would step on. (We’ll also be deleting the ‘my’ from ‘my brothers’ as unnecessary.) A third change to consider is swapping ‘in school’ to ‘attending school.’ ‘Attending’ is more distinctive than ‘in,’ but it might conflict with the narrative. This is a story about a dog becoming part of a family and the simplicity of ‘in’ might outweigh the distinctiveness of ‘attending’ because ‘attending’s’ more academic sound makes it feel more distant/reserved. I am going to persist with ‘in’ since it doesn’t subtract from the sentence while ‘attending’ might.
The next three sentences are a little clunky since they’re treated as separate statements. We can alleviate some of this by connecting the last two with a comma and deleting the ‘first,’ thus merging them into one thought. This changes the story though, and perhaps against the author’s intent. It’s not a significant change, but its there. We could also flip the last two sentences into something like —I yelled to make sure it was safe before opening the door.— I think we’ll use this because it doesn’t add external meanings and it cuts a few words.
After that, I would start a new paragraph, in part because there’s a significant rhythm leap from ‘safe’ to ‘having’ and in part because the story is changing. Then, I would reduce ‘our new ninety-five pound German Shepard protector’s head’ to —our ninety-five pound German Shepard’s head—. I deleted the ‘new’ because it echoed with the previous ‘new’ and because it was self-evident. I deleted ‘protector’s’ for rhythm and because it’s ancillary information. After that, all the paragraph needs is an ‘on’ after ‘resting’ and a comma before ‘trying’.
This leaves us with (all edits)…
—‘Not a lapdog but does a lot of it’ is what the post on the old-style pin-up bulletin board at my mother’s work read. My family had wanted a dog for some time, so that’s how we found Ritzy.
I was in school when my mom and brothers brought him home, and heard his bark for the first time when I stepped onto the porch. It sounded like certain death. I yelled to make sure it was safe before opening the door.
Having already been accepted by Ritzy, my family introduced me to him and within minutes I went from being a possible deadly threat to his new family to having our ninety-five pound German Shepherd’s head resting on my knee, trying to shame me into sharing my bowl of Dinty Moore beef stew. It took all of five minutes for me to love Ritzy.—
This reads pretty good in my opinion, obviously not perfect but who needs perfection?
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