Hello everybody. Today we have a piece from Wrath.Of.Khan titled The Track Meet.
Tim Koch lifted his head. Long brown strands of hair that looked lighter in the sun than they really were framed his oval face. His hips popped up in one swift motion. Thumb, index, and middle fingers dug deeper into their grassy cushions. For a few seconds, he stayed frozen and then sprang forward at three-quarter speed down the field. Hair flowed and his track jersey flapped against to his wiry frame and ruffled behind.
This is a decent opening paragraph. It relies on active sentences and a sense of building tension to interest the readers. The first three or four sentences are about preparing the reader, subtly telling them something is about to happen and in so doing build in them an expectation. It’s a formula that works well for paragraphs, chapters, and books. This paragraph falters slightly in its execution with the payoff/culmination of the expectation feeling underwhelming (in my opinion at least.) I can’t say why exactly, but I do know a few elements that detract from the final effect. First is the final pause (For a few seconds, he stayed frozen) which should tighten the expectation further but doesn’t because it has no tension. ‘Frozen’ has no innate movement, no pressure for release and so doesn’t convey either of these onto the reader, which in turn means the reader doesn’t feel any tension, thus diffusing the paragraph. The second element I espied is that, despite being active, ‘sprang’ felt unimpactful. Theoretically I would prefer to use a word like ‘erupted’ or ‘exploded’, which are more violent but also have connotations of release that ‘sprang’ lacks. The problem is I don’t know if they’re too much for the scenario, transgressing into either the aggrandizing or reading too fantasy/sci-fi-esque. Those are my general thoughts, now to begin the technical side.
I have no real complaint concerning the opening sentence, it might be a tad too short or abrupt, but it does serve as a proverbial and literal ‘heads-up’, which is appealing. The second sentence is more fraught. It reads run-on in its current iteration with the subject and verb widely separated by the description. With that in mind, I will rearrange it…
— Long strands of brown hair framed an oval face, looking lighter in the sun than they really were.—
There were two minor alterations here besides shifting ‘framed his oval face’ to the start of the sentence. I moved ‘strands’ over one space because it read smoother, both because ‘strands’ flows better than ‘brown’ and because it separates the adjectives with the ‘of’. These changes make the description and sentence read smoother, allowing it to flow. After that, I changed ‘framed his oval face’ to ‘framed AN oval face’. I did this to avoid two ‘his’ in close proximity. Something else this sentence structure did was remove the need for ‘that’ (decluttering the sentence ever so slightly) and switched ‘looked’ to ‘looking’, which trades weight for flow. This isn’t a sentence of calamity or drama so the smoother ‘looking’ provides more value.
For the third sentence there is little to adjust from a prose standpoint, I would just switch ‘popped up’ to ‘rose’ or a similar single word. But, individual components aside, the sentence reads stilted. It doesn’t flow well into the fourth sentence because they’re both flat statements and there’s no lead-in or transition. This is also somewhat due to the brevity of the third sentence, which prevents it from having any internal rhythm or flow. Thus the third sentence reads stiff and flows awkwardly into the fourth. So I would combine them. This isn’t the only solution, but it’s the easiest and does require me to invent content. (These are the main reasons I resort to this solution so often in my edits.)
— His hips rose in one swift motion, thumb, index, and middle fingers digging deeper into the grassy cushion. —
Aside from those mentioned before, there’s a few minor changes. ‘Dug deeper’ became ‘digging deeper’ for grammar reasons, and I switched ‘their grassy cushions’ to ‘the grassy cushion’. The reason for the second swap is purely phonetics, I just think they read better. Why is hard to explain, I think the ‘their’ R sound echoed softly with ‘deeper’, but I can’t figure out why I prefer ‘cushion’.
Now we progress to the next sentence. (For a few seconds, he stayed frozen and then sprang forward at three-quarter speed down the field.)
I’ve already discussed this sentence above but we still have to resolve it. There is another thing to note first, however, the sentence dictates the direction Tim runs twice. First with ‘forward’ then ‘down’, and we’ll want to avoid that if possible. So, I’m considering something to the effect of…
—He inhaled, muscles tensing, and erupted down the field at three-quarter speed. —
It’s hard to say if this works in isolation but superficially it seems to work. The ‘inhaled’ and ‘muscles tensing’ are both acts of preparation, priming readers for the release. They also require fewer words, which emphasizes them subtly. I flipped the order of ‘down the field’ and ‘speed’ to remove the need for the repetition of ‘forward’ and ‘down’. I contemplated changing ‘at three-quarter speed’ to ‘at a three-quarter sprint’ since ‘speed’ is less specific and doesn’t have the energy inherent to ‘sprint’ but decided against it because it required the addition of an ‘a’ after ‘at’. Explanations aside, we’ll combine them and read.
—Tim Koch lifted his head. Long strands of brown hair framed an oval face, looking lighter in the sun than they really were. His hips rose in one swift motion, thumb, index, and middle fingers digging deeper into the grassy cushion. He inhaled, muscles tensing, and erupted down the field at three-quarter speed. —
I think this reads fine, all except the first sentence which just does not flow well into the second. I keep wanting to read it differently than its written. (This is something to pay attention to when you’re reading or editing. Consider how you’re consuming the words. If you’re stumbling as you read, something’s off about the prose. If your skimming, the contents of the narrative aren’t interesting etc. etc. A lot of my editing is just trying to understand why something feels off or underwhelming and then resolving it.) Unfortunately, the only way to fix the first sentence’s flow is to add something and I just don’t know what, so we’ll move on to the final sentence.
(Hair flowed and his track jersey flapped against to his wiry frame and ruffled behind.)
This sentence reads slightly awkward, mostly the ‘hair flowed’ because it reads differently than the rest of the paragraph. It feels disconnected because it’s given no direction or link to the subject and so doesn’t flow well. There’s also the accidental ‘to’ in the middle of the sentence that needs removal. The double ‘and’ read a little poorly as well. I have a potential edit, I’m just not particularly content with it.
—His hair flowed and his track jersey flapped against his wiry frame, ruffling behind.—
I worry that this solution introduces more problems than it resolves with the numerous ‘his’. I considered deleting ‘ruffling behind’ because it’s such a similar action to ‘flapping’ (both serve to indicate his jersey was moving because of his speed) but that left the sentence feeling incomplete. Right now the best I can come up with is adding a ‘freely’ after flowed. The two ‘F’ do echo slightly, but the additional adjective separates the initial ‘his’ and balances the two main actions of the sentence to more comparable lengths. It reads better in conjunction with the rest of the paragraph than solo, but I still vacillate over ‘ruffling behind’.
—Tim Koch lifted his head. Long strands of brown hair framed an oval face, looking lighter in the sun than they really were. His hips rose in one swift motion, thumb, index, and middle fingers digging deeper into the grassy cushion. He inhaled, muscles tensing, and erupted down the field at three-quarter speed. His hair flowed freely and his track jersey flapped against his wiry frame, ruffling behind. —
Altogether, I’m decently pleased with this. It’s by no means perfect but I can’t really improve it further without inspiration and or several hours agonizing over particular lines.
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