Blog #54 With My Own Money
Hello everybody, today we have a piece titled With my Own Money by Thankful Sonali on Writing.com.
Vishnu’s thin brown hands were trembling so much he could hardly count the coins. He dropped one, and it rolled under the bed.
I have no general thoughts on this as an opening paragraph, so we’ll immediately progress to dissecting it from a technical perspective.
Starting with the first sentence, the wording here is needlessly passive both in the context of ‘were trembling’ being easily switched to ‘trembled’ and in the sense that the sentence as a whole is passive. It’s describing an action rather than preforming one just to perform the action in the next sentence. (It says his hands are trembling, then has an action displaying this instead of just using the action.) Another thing to mention (though this is less a criticism than an area to improve on) is how the phrase ‘so much he could hardly count the coins’ is more boring than we would like. This is somewhat because the words chosen to convey it are bland, lacking energy, momentum and emotion, and also because the action detailed is vague and un-interactive. Whenever possible you want readers to be able to feel or replicate an action in their minds while they’re reading because that makes the action more real to them, and thus more immersive. Another thought that just occurred to me (after staring at this page for a long while trying to figure out a potential rewrite) is that the phrase ‘so much he could hardly count the coins’ is unnecessary; it’s flavor text that could just as easily be written as ‘violently’ or (preferably) conveyed with a more aggressive synonym for ‘trembled’. Not all flavor text is bad, but it has to provide significant aesthetic value to justify its existence.
(At this point in the blog I attempted a rewrite and ensuing explanation based on some rather significant misinterpretations on my part. These interpretations were somewhat due to me not reading ahead, but also somewhat due to the lack of environment, description or evident tone to properly indicate what kind of story I was reading. This only manifested into such a significant issue for me because I’m not just reading the story but thinking on and dissecting it constantly. A normal reading wouldn’t have allowed time for the misinterpretations I made—I’ll include the rewrite, explanation and my specific misinterpretations below—whereas the dissection allowed my imagination to run wild. I’m including this long, long comment because it’s ultimately a reflection of this opening paragraph’s slight ambiguity. This is less of an issue for misinterpretation, which I commented on above, but in the lack of story and context being conveyed, which results in the event taking place being blander than it otherwise could. Again, not an immense issue, but worth noting.) That aside here is a more authentic rewrite I’ve concocted…
—Vishnu’s thin brown hands trembled as he counted the coins awkwardly resting in his palm.—
The logic behind these changes is pretty simple, I deleted the ‘were’ so the sentence would be active, and changed ‘trembled so much he could hardly count the coins’ to ‘as he counted the coins’ because it’s active with a verb (counted) rather than a passive description. The ‘as he’ is unfortunately a weak transition but I couldn’t think of anything better that kept the sentence structure somewhat close to the original. The addition of ‘awkwardly’ was both to help the sentence end smoothly but also to validate him dropping the coin in the next sentence. Finally I added ‘resting in his palm’ to place the coins instead of just having them floating in a vacuum of possibilities. I would like to swap ‘awkwardly’ to ‘precariously’ because it’s more suitable to the narrative and infuses a danger of falling, but I don’t know if it would really work. Why would the coins be resting precariously? What visual does that give and what visual do we actually want? The image I see/feel when trying to envision this scene is someone at a cash register fumbling with change, but that requires something else to be in hand like a receipt that’s awkward to hold with coins because coins tend to sit pretty well in the hand unless you have a lot of them, in which case you wouldn’t be counting them in your hand but on a table or counter. Ultimately, I decided that ‘precariously’ just didn’t quite work.
An ancillary detail to note is that ‘thin’ is an empty description here in that it’s not really saying anything. These are a normal pair of hands for a boy who’s family is neither impoverished or starving, meaning his hands aren’t ‘thin’ in an unusual sense; they’re thin in the common sense, meaning ‘thin’ is unnecessary but also not saying anything meaningful. When you describe something, you want that description to be defining, to change the readers’ image of that ‘something’. If it’s a common thing (like hands) use adjectives that differentiate it from the standard and implies a story. Another layer to this is understanding what exactly you’re trying to tell the reader with a description. What does ‘thin hands’ tell the reader? That the character has thin hands obviously, but what does that mean for the character and the story? Nothing. Thus I label it ‘empty description’ because it’s just there to fill space. A good way to improve your prose is to excise the empty descriptions and the empty actions and replace them with meaningful additions, things that tell the readers stuff that matters. It makes for a richer story.
Now for the second sentence, I was thinking something like…
—His fumbling fingers knocked one astray, sending it clattering to the floor and rolling beneath the bed.—
There are definitely some issues with this; the ‘his’ at the start does echo slightly with the ‘his’ from ‘his palm’ and there is some inefficiency between ‘knocked one astray’ and ‘sending it’. The alternative to the second of these would be something like “His fumbling fingers knocked one clattering to the floor and then rolling beneath the bed” which is fine but I prefer the rhythm of the first iteration despite the inefficiency and slight repetition. The ‘clattering’ does a couple things, both giving the coin more physicality since it’s interacting with the world, and the world more physicality since it’s including another dimension to the narrative via the inclusion of sound. There’s also an element of Vishnu being distracting to someone who’s trying to sleep in this scene and the inclusion of a loud disruptive noise further compliments that element. ‘Astray’ might be too fancy or fantastical-sounding of a word though and may need a replacement to better fit the author’s voice or style. That aside, lets combine these.
—Vishnu’s thin brown hands trembled as he counted the coins awkwardly resting in his palm. His fumbling fingers knocked one astray, sending it clattering to the floor and rolling beneath the bed.—
The rhythm between these two sentences is still stilted. Maybe we could combine them something like…
—Vishnu’s thin brown hands trembled as he counted the coins awkwardly resting in his palm, knocking one to the floor with a clatter and sending him scrambling after it as it rolled beneath the bed.—
I think this reads all right but maybe a little overstuffed. We could delete ‘as it rolled’ as unnecessary since it ending up beneath a bed is not so inconceivable as to warrant an explanation. Him ‘scrambling after it’ is migrated to this sentence from further in the story, and I feel is stronger here because it feels like a more immediate reaction, which is appropriate.
Also as I read it again, I think a better phrasing would be “…scrambling beneath the bed after it.” It smooths out some of the clunkiness that just deleting ‘as it rolled’ highlighted, so I believe that’s the version we’ll go with.
I also considered a pair of alternative versions in the writing process.
—Vishnu’s thin brown hands trembled as he counted the coins awkwardly resting in his palm, knocking one to the floor and rolling beneath the bed with a clatter.—
—Vishnu’s thin brown hands trembled as he counted the coins awkwardly resting in his palm, knocking one to the floor with a clatter where it rolled beneath the bed.—
These options just didn’t read in a way I liked, both feeling awkward in my mind and with how the latter half of the sentence was strung together. I like how the additional action of ‘scrambling’ helps to break up the string of description and infuses this opening sentence/paragraph with a burst of urgency/energy it previously lacked. Also him reacting to the event in time makes for a more dynamic sequence than him lunging after the coin a few sentences further down.
—Vishnu’s thin brown hands trembled as he counted the coins awkwardly resting in his palm, knocking one to the floor with a clatter and sending him scrambling beneath the bed after it.—
Whether this iteration works or not is up to y’all and the author, but I’m content with it and so will be leaving it here. However, we still have all the edits that ensued from my misinterpretation. There’s bound to be some repetition, so please bear with it and the opening rundown.
(Initially when I wrote the blog I misinterpreted what the author wrote and this resulted in a significant series of edits that don’t fit the story. I’ve migrated that work down here because I believe it still has merit in its points. When reading the opening paragraph I automatically assumed he was at a table, and that his trembles originated from fear rather than excitement, also that I was dealing with an adult rather than a child. I assumed the fear element because I just don’t equate trembling with excitement, which manifests in uncontrolled energy rather than unsteady hands. The fear was also supported by the use of ‘thin’ which I read as a meaningful description, indicating either we were supposed to view the hands in an aesthetically pleasing light —Resulting in my use of ‘slim’ below— or as an indication of extreme poverty and starvation —supplementing the fear narrative of trembled—. These last two comments are not me shifting blame onto the author but more of highlighting how words—specifically ‘thin’ and ‘trembled’— subtly craft impressions and guide the reader’s perspective. This is a core element to building tone organically but can also backfire. Anyway, the fear element conjured imagery of debt and gangsters for me, which indicated far more wealth in play than was actually the case, resulting in the following rewrite…)
—Vishnu’s slim brown hands trembled as he sorted coins from an ornate box into precarious stacks of gold and silver.—
You will notice a lot of changes and additions in this rewrite, mostly expansions on the concepts the author originally laid out. The first notable change was converting ‘thin’ to ‘slim’ and while this does have some grounding in me preferring the phonetics of ‘slim’ it had more to do with ‘slim’ being richer word. ‘Slim’ has connotations of delicacy and elegance (albeit distantly) that ‘thin’ lacks and so paints Vishnu’s hands into a more positive (maybe slightly more poetic) light. Conversely the author may have intended the ‘thin’ to refer more toward starvation, in which case I would have swapped it for ‘emaciated’ which is a more specific, and thus stronger, and more evocative word. I also considered using ‘delicate’ in lieu of ‘thin’ but chose ‘slim’ because I don’t know the author’s exact desired context. (This is an issue with ‘thin.’ Since it has no overt context, we never get a specific picture of what the author intends, leading to ambiguity and a blander description.)
After that you have ‘sorted coins’ which does two things: converts the mention of coins into an action rather than a description, and uses a more distinctive word/action to convey this, adding more clarity and more description to the event. (There’s a huge difference between ‘counting coins’ and ‘sorting them’. ‘Counting’ doesn’t bring any specific image to mind, while ‘sorting’ by its very nature dictates separate piles and is more intensive, providing more space for Vishnu’s trembling hands to cause issues.
I then added the ornate box both for rhythm reasons and because it filled out the scene, giving it more definition, texture, and color while sharing a bit of symmetry with the ‘gold and silver’ later in the sentence. But, this is a baseless addition and indicates wealth Vishnu may not possess or that may not fit the setting the author desires. If that’s the case I would choose something that better suits and describes the author’s desired setting. The same can be said for ‘gold and silver’ later on in that I don’t know how much wealth Vishnu has here or what form it would take. If he’s counting his own money and is impoverished, then the sorting and stacking would have to go as well, replaced with trapping better suited to an impoverished man.
Finally I added the ‘into precarious stacks’, again for some rhythm reasons, but mostly to give his hands something physical to bump into that would send a coin rolling to the floor. I can’t really see trembling hands hitting a coin lying on a table hard enough to launch it to the floor. The only other option would be Vishnu picking up the coins one by one (else a plurality of them would have fallen) and that in turn doesn’t make sense. Even if they were in a purse you would take out a small handful and count them, or you would pour them onto the table. The only reason to take coins singly was for sorting reasons (another reason for me implementing that change.) That aside, I also liked how ‘precarious’ conjured up images of tottering and poorly stacked coins for me, preparing them to be knocked over while also giving a physical effect from his trembling hands (The reason they’re stacked poorly.)
The ‘gold and silver’ is just more description and closes the sentence nicely in my opinion. Again, it may not be appropriate however. I probably should have read ahead… yeah (after reading ahead) the setting isn’t appropriate.
That will be all for today you lovely people.
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