blog #50 You talk of Freedom
Hello everybody, today we have a piece titled You Talk of Freedom by Rebecca Sykes on
Writing.com, I’m sure it will involve furiously supporting the global enslavement of the human race to mice overlords.
Rushing down the stairs, Mia checked her phone. She’d been waiting for the philosophical debate on Freedom for weeks, so it was imperative she attended on time.
While this is an active beginning, it is action without consequence or context and so doesn’t grab the reader’s attention effectively. A reason for the running is promptly given but we still have no reason to care about it. Just because something is important to our MC does not make it important to us, and that is the flaw here; there’s nothing in this paragraph to tease us or pique our interest, nothing to make us want to keep reading.
The second issue with this opening paragraph is the subtle repetition it suffers. Both phrases in the first sentence “rushing down the stairs/checked her phone” and ‘so it was imperative…’ all convey the same point: she was in a hurry. The actions and context vary of course, but the message is the same and that leads to the paragraph lacking depth/meat for the readers to grasp and consider and enjoy.
The last general comment I would make is that I dislike the use of ‘imperative’ here. ‘Imperative’ means something important and vital, which in turn means there must be a consequence to it not being achieved and there is no consequence given here so that her being late would be a problem. ‘Important’ would be an opening statement from the primary speaker that you had to hear for context, or that you were habitually late and would receive a demerit if you were late ‘one more time’. This also leads to the first phrase of the second sentence (She’d been waiting…) falling into a false equivalency; the phrases are linked by a ‘so’ but in reality how long you’ve been anticipating an event has little bearing on its ‘importance’, the importance will always originate from some other element.
Now for more technical element, this paragraph could use a little more description, specifically where the ‘stairs’ are and maybe a little bit of where she is. Based on context from the next paragraph I assume Mia’s currently in an institution of higher learning (since she enters the lecture hall immediately in the next paragraph) and that it’s early morning (since she’s lamenting the use of a ‘snooze’ function) and from this I can extrapolate (cause I’m so smart and stuff) that the lecture hall’s somewhat underground. We can use this information to expand upon the information given so that other readers won’t have to work so hard to orient themselves. Making readers work for the story is only enjoyable in mysteries and should be avoided. (It also appears I am in a loquacious mood today, so bear with me.)
—Rushing down the university’s basement stairs, Mia squeezed/bowled through a group of ascending students with a hasty apology. She’d been waiting for this philosophical debate on freedom for weeks and refused to be late.—
The changes I made to the first phrase a pretty obvious, the added description helps to immediately orient the readers in the story so they can understand the context of, and passively envision, their surroundings. Two words of description added and the story swells: readers can see hallowed halls, maybe uniforms, and school grounds. After that I had to improvise to fill in an action to round out the sentence, and I’m not entirely pleased with what I came up with. Mia colliding with other students is still ultimately about her haste, but it does give a little more physically by having her interact with her surroundings, and it helps to describe the scene and lead into the next sentence while also putting a little character (which I know next to nothing of) on display. So while it’s meaning remains the same, it does enough ancillary good that I am satisfied. The changes I made to the second sentence are initially minor; I switched ‘the philosophical’ to ‘this philosophical) because ‘this’ makes the debate feel more personal (thus reinforcing it’s importance to her) but also makes it sound more singular (thus helping to validate her urgency in arriving on time.) After that I simply cut the last phrase because I didn’t know why it was important to her and replaced it with ‘refused to be late’ which uses the emphasized ‘refused’ to convey its extreme importance to her in an active and personal way. The ‘to be’ is a little weak, but in the context of the large sentence it’s minimal and overshadowed by the emphasis on ‘refused’. Oh, I also reduced the capital F in ‘freedom’ to a regular F since it’s not a proper name.
Following her fellow students Mia entered the lecture hall and looked around for her friends, Ben, Sarah, Ruby and Chris who escaped the house quicker than her. Unfortunately, she couldn’t spy them so went to take the only remaining seat at the front and placed her laptop on the table. Sighing to herself, she made a promise to not snooze her alarm again. Out of all the days to be stuck at the front it had to be when the guest professor was an ex-acquaintance of her parents.
For this paragraph we’ll start with the easy stuff. In the first sentence we need a comma after ‘fellow students’ since that’s an introductory phrase and we can reduce ‘looked around’ to ‘scanned’ or ‘searched’. After that we need another comma after ‘Chris’ since the comma before ‘Ben’ indicates the ensuing list of names is an adjective phrase. In this situation I might consider swapping the bracketing commas for dashes just for clarity and ease of reading. Then I would consider swapping ‘quicker than’ to ‘before’ because it flows better with one word. Now for less simple changes, I would consider rewriting the initial phrases for this sentence. The reason for this is twofold: help smooth the progression between paragraphs, and the fact that in the first paragraph she’s ‘rushing’ and in the second she’s ‘following’ (which tends to be slower) and the lack of transition between the two makes it’s a little jarring. There’s also an element of me just not like ‘following her fellow students’ and I think there are a couple potential reasons for this (I can’t pinpoint exactly why yet). First, she knows where she’s going so Mia wouldn’t need to ‘follow’ anyone; second the paragraphs starts with her following fellow students despite being late (presumably because they’re clogging the entrance) but ends with their only being one seat available, which disgruntles me slightly because there are students still arriving in numbers sufficient to clog the entrance, and finally the phrase just doesn’t say anything interesting or relevant to the story other than there were other students involved, which we would assume naturally and which I expressed somewhat in my rewrite of the first paragraph. Thus, I might attempt something like…
—The lecture hall appeared and Mia slowed, slipping inside and scanning for her friends—Ben, Sarah, Ruby and Chris—who’d escaped the house before her.—
‘The lectured hall appeared’ is still somewhat boring, but it’s active, provides a progression of events the readers can follow, explains why Mia slows down, and thus provides a transition between paragraphs for smoother flow. I converted the ‘entered’ to ‘slipping inside’ mostly for rhythm and to avoid another ED verb in close proximity to the others. Finally, I added a ‘had’ to ‘who escaped’ mostly because I felt it read better and because I believe I can do so without infringing on grammar. This is a past tense narrative, but the comment of her friends escaping before her is double past tense and thus the ‘had’ is appropriate (since it indicates a previous event to the current in-narrative moment.) ‘Escaped’ by itself is comprehensible, but ‘had/who’d’ reads better.
Now all those previous reasons aside, most of the changes I made to this sentence were done blindly. I did not like how the sentence read, it felt clunky and a little bit patchwork, and my changes here mostly came from just rewriting/adjusting the sentence in such a way that it read better to me. The paragraph above this one is my attempts to explain why I think my changes made the sentence read better. Even now, it reads a little rushed to me, but that’s something we can adjust on the final edit.
Now for sentence two (Unfortunately, she couldn’t spy them so went to take the only remaining seat at the front and placed her laptop on the table.)
Here there are a few more easy changes to make. I would delete ‘unfortunately’ as it’s not really necessary and not entirely accurate. There’s no penalty for not finding her friends so it’s not necessarily ‘unfortunate’. After that, the phrase ‘went to take’ can be reduced to simply ‘took/claimed’ or their synonyms. ‘Went to’ is needless fluff and is only necessary if something were to interrupt her so she couldn’t take the seat, but nothing does so ‘took the seat’ is functionally the same as ‘went to take the seat’ but requires two fewer words. Next I would adjust the sentence around ‘at the front’ and ‘take the seat’ because in the current iteration the sentence says ‘Mia takes the last seat available in the front’ not ‘took the last seat, which was in the front. Thus, I might suggest something like…
—Unfortunately, she failed to spy them so resigned herself to the front with the last available seat and placed her laptop on the table.—
While I’m still not content with ‘unfortunately’ it does improve the rhythm and transition of these sentences. I would prefer an alternative LY or introductory word but for now it will suffice. After that I changed ‘could not’ to ‘failed to’ and the reason for this is mostly ‘failed’ is a richer word than ‘could’ and a verb. After that we get murkier and harder to explain, I wanted to shift the ‘front’ information to before the ‘last seat’ but that required a little finagling. I’m rather pleased with ‘resigned herself’ for two reasons, ‘resigned’ is a more interesting/less common word than ‘took’ or ‘claimed’ which were the main alternatives I was considering, and the structure of the sentence being ‘resigned herself to the last chair’ conveys the same information in a different, less obvious way, which makes it more interesting to read. (All this without complicating the actual process of reading. ‘Resigned herself’ is still easy to read and absorb.) Thus, I’m ultimately fairly content with this sentence. Onward!
(Sighing to herself, she made a promise to not snooze her alarm again. Out of all the days to be stuck at the front it had to be when the guest professor was an ex-acquaintance of her parents.)
The changes to these sentences shall begin with the easy ones. First, we can delete ‘to herself’ as unnecessary since she’s alone and not conversing with anyone. ‘Made a promise’ is also unnecessarily wordy and can be reduced to ‘swore’ or ‘vowed’ or one of their alternatives. I considered doing ‘promised herself’ but feared the double ‘her’ in proximity would echo. After that I would consider swapping ‘not’ for ‘never’ because ‘never’ is a smoother word. In the next sentence we can reduce the phrase ‘out of all the days’ to ‘of all days’ and those are the extent of my initial changes.
— Sighing, she swore to never snooze her alarm again. Of all days to be stuck at the front it had to be when the guest professor was an ex-acquaintance of her parents.—
However, there is a more drastic change I might consider, and that’s swapping these two sentences around. There are two reasons for this. ‘Sighing…’ after my cuts, ends up feeling incomplete and tacked on, it has no relation to the previous sentence and only serves to introduce ‘of all days’, but we can use my rewrites in the previous section to correct this.
—Unfortunately, she failed to spy them so resigned herself to the front with the last available seat and placed her laptop on the table. Of all days to be stuck at the front, it had to be when the guest professor was an ex-acquaintance of her parents. Sighing, she swore to never snooze her alarm again.—
‘Of all days’ actually works better in this configuration because it’s immediately preceded by her lamenting the front row (conveyed in the ‘resigned’) so we know she doesn’t like the front then it immediately explains by why instead of first being interrupted by her vow. It’s a smoother narrative progression, and the ‘vow’ now serves as a conclusion/final resolution to the paragraph, rounding out this sub-narrative and providing a smooth continuation for the succeeding paragraph.
All my edits.
—Rushing down the university’s basement stairs, Mia squeezed through a group of ascending students with a hasty apology. She’d been waiting for this philosophical debate on freedom for weeks and refused to be late.
The lecture hall appeared ahead and Mia slowed, slipping inside and scanning for her friends—Ben, Sarah, Ruby and Chris—who’d escaped the house before her. Unfortunately, she failed to spy them and so resigned herself to the front with the last available seat, placing her laptop on the table. Of all days to be stuck at the front, it had to be when the guest professor was an ex-acquaintance of her parents. Sighing, she swore to never snooze her alarm again. —
This reads pretty good in my opinion, I made a few last minute changes for rhythm, such as adding ‘ahead’ to ‘the lecture hall appeared’ and an ‘and’ to ‘so resigned’. Both of these are technically necessary, but I couldn’t read ‘so resigned’ without flinching and the ‘ahead’ does make it read smoother.
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