Blog #57 : Not a Demon by Any means
Hello everybody, today we have a piece titled Not a Monster, by any Means by Andrea Craig on Writing.com.
Paragraph 1&2 (combined because paragraph one is all of one word.)
The scruffy, bushy browed bartender poked at her shoulder with the end of a broom. Eileen hunched over her whiskey, still half full. It was her third glass but she wasn’t even buzzed yet. She didn’t answer the bartender, insistent on getting at least tipsy tonight. Her money was good, so it shouldn’t matter to him what she did here.
Not much to say about this opening paragraph either way, we’re introduced to our location and our MC and given a bit of personality (which is generally a good thing.) One thing worth noting on the composition side of things, is how the third sentence is interruptive. The sentence ‘she didn’t answer’ is a response to him poking her, but it’s delayed by the description of her glass. Paragraph’s read best when there is a smooth progression of sentences, each one feeding into the next; inserting the mention of this being her third glass (which has no immediate relevance to what precedes or ensues it) disrupts this rhythm. It also inserts a pause in the sequence of events that doesn’t quite fit, cultivating the impression that he pokes her, she hunches over her glass, nothing happens, then she ignores him. This disconnect in progression causes the reaction of ignoring him to feel out of place, which it somewhat is.
That aside, all my comments involve the technical aspects.
(We’ll ignore the initial ‘ma’am’ as there’s nothing to adjust there.)
For the first sentence of notable length there’s a few things to mention; you have the phrase ‘scruffy, bushy’ which echoes in an unpleasant manner because they share the ending Y sound. (There might also be some level of the Y/’eee’ sound being high-pitched and thus phonetically unpleasant. In a proper situation it can cultivate a more cutesy, cherubic tone, but in the wrong environment it will sound childish and ‘sour’ the prose.) After that we can delete the ‘at’ from ‘at her shoulder’ as unnecessary. The sentence is functionally the same with or without it and removing it makes the prose read smoother. Finally the phrase ‘the end of’ which is unnecessary and ambiguous, ambiguous because either the bush or the handle end could be the ‘end’, and I would say unnecessary because brooms are designed in such a way that one side is good for poking and the other for swatting. In other words, the action of ‘poking’ will generally cause readers to think of the handle end and thus you don’t need to expressly state ‘handle’. There is also a small argument that which side of the broom is irrelevant and so readers can imagine whichever side they’re predisposed to in the moment. Specificity is not always a good thing, it can slow and clutter prose, make it stilted and cultivate a particular tone. A tone that might not be appropriate if the scene/action is comedic or lax. So, I would probably just delete ‘the end of’ but it could also easily just be converted to ‘a broom’s handle’ thus ensuring clarity and removing a few words.
— The unkempt, bush-browed bartender prodded her shoulder with a broom.—
I swapped ‘poked’ out for ‘prodded’ mostly because I preferred how it sounded (the deeper phonetics of the R sound made it compliment the deeper phonetics of ‘bush-browed bartender.’) I swapped ‘scruffy’ for ‘unkempt’ to remove the Y sound and cut the Y from ‘bushy’ for the same reason. I think I can get away with the second of these without changing the meaning. A lingering fear is that this adjusted sentence might read too abrupt or short from a rhythm standpoint, but that’s a question for after we recombine the paragraph.
(Eileen hunched over her whiskey, still half full.)
Not much to do with sentence; ‘hunched’ is a solid action and conjures a clear visual, the only problem is that ‘still half full’ is technically ambiguous, or may even technically refer to Eileen as she is the subject of the sentence. The fix is simple, if a little unpleasant.
—Eileen hunched over her still half full whiskey.—
This sentence does read too short. Functionally it reads fine, but there’s not enough here for it to develop rhythm and it’s too long to be a sentence of pure impact. It’s also not structured to be a sentence of impact. In this situation one could just expand the sentence (which I cannot do) or combine it with a sibling (which is what I will likely attempt.) On another note, I would delete ‘still’ from this sentence. It’s unnecessary for comprehension, but it’s also slightly incorrect. ‘Still’ is a contradiction word, it describes whatever it’s attached to as discontinuous with something that came before, but nothing came before to make the glass being half full a surprise, or contradictory, or in need of specification. It also reads better in my opinion. ‘Still’ inserts emphasis in a sentence, and emphasis slows prose, makes some words speak louder at the readers. This is great when the sentence is built around points of emphasis, or emotion, just not here where the emphasis isn’t saying anything.
(It was her third glass but she wasn’t even buzzed yet.)
The immediate qualm with this sentence is that it’s passive. Passive sentences generally exert twos flaws (for me) the first is that they tend to lack force since passive verbs are inert and generally flavorless. ‘Sprint’ conveys energy and movement ‘was’ does not. ‘Was’ just sits there. Second, passive verbs are often used in sentences where they are not necessary; many times I’ve seen ‘was running’ when ‘ran’ alone could suffice. This isn’t an issue with our current sentence. And all of this isn’t to say the passive voice should never be used (I’ve just used it in this current sentence and its predecessor.) just that there’s usually a stronger option. (An interesting thing to note is how the ‘even’ in this sentence paints it into a more comedic, whimsical light, and conveys that Eileen desires to get drunk.) But how do we convert to active prose? There are, of course, multiple solutions, we could attempt something like ‘It was her third glass, but she remained unaffected’ which cuts a few words but also excises the comedic tone and the implication that getting tipsy was her intention. We could conversely attempt ‘It was her third glass, but she remained stubbornly sober’which returns the desired tone and allusion but necessitates the use of an adverb and might not be appropriate since ‘stubborn’ indicates an extended stint of drinking that two and a half glasses might not fulfill.
What occurs to me now, after reading through the original paragraph several times for rhythm purposes, is that the phrase ‘wasn’t even buzzed yet’ and the sentence ‘insistent on getting at least tipsy’ are largely conveying the same point, with the variance being how ‘buzzed yet’ ensures the readers know she’s still sober and ‘tipsy’ confirming she fully intends intoxication. But the degree of her intended intoxication being ‘tipsy’, a comparatively modest degree of inebriation, means we can probably use that to indicate she’s still mostly sober. So maybe we can try something like…
—The unkempt, bush-browed bartender prodded her shoulder with a broom, and Eileen hunched further over her half full whiskey, ignoring him. This marked only her third glass, and she was determined on getting at least tipsy tonight.—
(Combined the various sentences so you all could read the intended rhythm.)
There were a couple minor changes here; I combined the first and second sentences with an ‘and’ so they flowed better and added an ‘ignoring him’ at the end. This both replaces ‘she didn’t answer the bartender’ with a shorter phrase but also migrates it to be a more immediate reaction to his prodding (which was something I mentioned wishing to fix above.) I added the ‘further’ purely for the sake of rhythm and because I thought it read better. A secondary benefit is that it paints a picture of her posture before the bartender intruded which helps make the scene feel like it has a past instead of just a present. (Subtly indicating life preceding or outside of the immediate story is a great way to make a scene or world come alive. The keyword being ‘subtly’ as stating it to overtly will distract the readers and convert the mention into an interrupter.) I swapped ‘It was’ to ‘This marked only’ because it is active, and I just find ‘marked’ a stronger word than ‘was’. You could potentially exchange ‘was determined’ for ‘insisted’, but ‘insisted’ just read a little awkward in that location to me. You ‘insist’ at someone else, not internally. There’s probably a better word than ‘determined’ though, something that emphasizes the implied humor a little more.
The last sentence. (Her money was good, so it shouldn’t matter to him what she did here.)
Again this suffers from the passive voice, but also how ‘shouldn’t matter what she did’ isn’t entirely accurate. If she started smashing tables or shooting people, I rather think he would have reasonable grounds to expel her, regardless of her money. You don’t always have to be excruciatingly specific, but you don’t want to teach reader you don’t always mean what you say (unless that is specifically your intention.) We can probably also remove ‘to him’ as obvious since he’s the proprietor/manager of the establishment. The ‘so’ is also unnecessary and serves only as a rhythm smoother/transition word but I don’t think it really improves the rhythm. The ‘here’ also can go unstated since that’s understood. The problem with ‘what she did’ is that the author is being purposefully vague because there’s a punchline a few sentences down. I considered adding a new sentence to the effect of ‘At least not for a few more drinks’ thus giving the ‘what she did’ parameters, but the ‘at least’ would echo and that would probably require her to be well past ‘tipsy’. For now, I think we’ll just live with it because it’s not too egregious of a crime.
—She’d paid good money, it shouldn’t matter what she did.—
Now for all of the edits together, including the hitherto ostracized first paragraph (which honestly could just be combined with the second as there’s no new speaker in the second paragraph and the first action is from the barkeeper, but I digress.)
The unkempt, bush-browed bartender prodded her shoulder with a broom, and Eileen hunched further over her half full whiskey, ignoring him. This marked only her third glass, and she was determined on getting at least tipsy tonight. She’d paid good money, it shouldn’t matter what she did. —
For the most part, I like this rhythm. It’s a little stilted on the transition to ‘she’d paid’ and there feels like there’s room for another comment on the end of ‘tipsy tonight’ that could emphasize the humor while smoothing that transition. But that’s an issue for the author to invent a resolution for. That will be all for today.
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