Blog 46: The Cruise Ship
Hello everybody. Today we have a piece titled the Cruise Ship from iscjohn on Writing.com, an independent author. This is a work in progress and should not be viewed as a finished product.
Carl Dunaway was standing on the deck of the huge ocean liner having a smoke and minding his own business, absentmindedly feeling for the gun in his shoulder holster once again. Leaning against the rail, he continued looking toward the skyline of the North Atlantic Sea. The sun was beginning to slip into the horizon as the ship sliced through the smooth waters of the vast ocean.
I have no thematic or style elements to comment on for this paragraph, so we’ll just venture into the technical aspects without delay.
The first sentence is passive (indicated thus by the ‘was’) which is less impactful and energetic than it could be. Often times a passive sentence is easily fixed (as it is here) because the passive verb ‘was’ is attached to the actual verb ‘standing’. You just have to delete the ‘was’ and convert ‘standing’ to ‘stood’. After that we have just some general wordiness with ‘deck of the huge ocean liner’ which can be converted to possessive and thus cut the ‘of the’, tightening the sentence, reducing the number of filler words. —…stood on the ocean liner’s deck…— I removed ‘huge’ as a description because the classification ‘ocean liner’ generally means a huge ship, rendering the adjective unnecessary. Next we have the phrase ‘having a’, which can be reduced to a comma for all the same reasons as above. —…ocean liner’s deck, smoking and…— Now, we must explore more fraught waters. I’m not sure the phrase ‘minding his own business’ is necessary and it’s also something of a cliché, which tend to read poorly. I don’t think it necessary because the context of the scene conveys this, he’s absently touching his gun and the scenery is idyllic. Second, minding one’s own business is something that conveys itself via the narrative. Him simply not intruding conveys it, which means the description is not required. Next we have a little ambiguity in ‘feeling for’, which is generally used when someone can’t see what they’re looking for. The issue is that Carl knows where his gun is, so he wouldn’t be feeling ‘for’ it and more just ‘feeling’ it. We’ll just want to use the appropriate word because the appropriate will add a significant amount of color to this action; is this a nervous tick? Habit? Or just something he’s doing. (The last two might seem close synonyms but there is a difference.) This action is habitual though, so with the right word we might be able to remove the need for ‘once again’. I doubt it because ‘feeling’ and its synonyms don’t really boast that much complexity, but it’s still a habit to engrain.
— Carl Dunaway stood on the ocean liner’s deck, smoking and absentmindedly fingering the gun in his shoulder holster again.— (‘once’ is unnecessary to the sentence comprehension-wise and thus is only relevant as rhythm. I thought we can get away with removing it, so I did. I chose ‘fingering’ over ‘stroking’ because ‘stroking’ is more intimate and that felt like the incorrect tone.)
(Leaning against the rail, he continued looking toward the skyline of the North Atlantic Sea.)
There are a few things here; I believe the phrase ‘looking toward’ can be reduced to a single word that also conveys more information, maybe ‘watched’, ‘observed’ or ‘regarded’ depending what exactly he’s doing. Then I believe we can delete ‘sea’ from this sentence as ‘North Atlantic’ is sufficiently expressive on its own. There’s also a small element of ‘sea’ and ‘ocean’ not being synonymous. Then we can migrate ‘skyline’ to after ‘North Atlantic’ and thus remove the need for ‘of the’.
All of these are fairly simple changes but I have a more grievous concern. I’m worried about the ‘leaning’ and that it might echo/read poorly from ‘fingering’ in the previous sentence due to the close proximity. There is also a certain level of ambiguity as to whether he was already leaning against the railing or is actively doing it now. Finally, the sentence is a little empty. The ‘leaning’ section is entirely flavor text, which has the effect of isolating ‘looking toward’. This would be fine, but ‘looking toward’ doesn’t continue any element from the previous sentence or introduce anything for the subsequent one. Thus, I might suggest something like…
—He was leaned against the railing, watching the placid North Atlantic skyline as the sun dipped low.—
You’ll notice that I added an element (two elements really) from the next sentence. There are two reason for this: first they provided an easy resource to fill out this sentence, and second the next sentence contained mostly obvious/unnecessary content. Let me elucidate.
Sentence 3 (The sun was beginning to slip into the horizon as the ship sliced through the smooth waters of the vast ocean.)
This sentence conveys two pieces of relevant information, the lateness of the hour and the calmness of the ocean. The other points it mentions are that the ship is moving, which is more or less a given considering our MC’s relaxed disposition, and that the ocean is vast, which doesn’t need to be stated. Those general points aside, there is also just some minor inefficiency. Phrases like ‘beginning to’ are almost always unnecessary. Here you can simply delete it and convert ‘slip’ to ‘slipping’. ‘Into the horizon’ is fine but I swapped to ‘low’ in my rewrite because it conveys the author’s point with a single word. The phrase ‘as the ship sliced through’ exists only to introduce the ‘smooth water’ and provides no value in of itself either for relevant information or imagery adding texture to the scene. It ‘slicing’ through the water isn’t something the readers can feel or touch in the same way they can feel a wind jostling our MC. So I took the relevant information from this sentence and combined it with the second, reducing the phrasing so it wouldn’t bloat its new home. Let’s combine them and see how it reads…
— Carl Dunaway stood on the ocean liner’s deck, smoking and absentmindedly fingering the gun in his shoulder holster again. He was leaned against the railing, watching the placid North Atlantic skyline as the sun dipped low.—
There are still a few elements I’m uncertain off; I feel that ‘smoking’ reads a little abrupt, that ‘he was’ transitions poorly from the first sentence and that some readers might interpret the last phrase as our MC watching the sun sink. I’ve already considered the ‘smoking’ conundrum a bit and the phrase ‘a cheap cigarette’ resolve my rhythm issues while providing more color to the character and scene. It might not be appropriate for our MC, but it will suffice until further revelations. I think the part I’m struggling with for ‘he was’ is that ‘was’ reads aggressively weak here but I can’t convert it to ‘leaning’ because that reads poorly and remains slightly ambiguous.
—Carl Dunaway stood on the ocean liner’s deck, smoking a cheap cigarette and absentmindedly fingering the gun in his shoulder holster again. He was leaned against the railing, watching the placid North Atlantic skyline as the sun dipped low.—
Maybe we could just swap that last sentence around a little bit…
—Carl Dunaway stood on the ocean liner’s deck, smoking a cheap cigarette and absentmindedly fingering the gun in his shoulder holster again. The sun was dipping low, but he felt no urge to move from where he leaned against the railing, watching the placid North Atlantic skyline.—
This is definitely longer, but it flows well and gives another avenue to express personality. While I chose ‘felt no urge’ just about any emotion could go there with just a little amending. The author can choose what best suits his character.
With that, I believe we’re done for today.
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