Blog #61: A Romantic Holiday in Paris
Hello everybody, today we have a piece titled a Romantic Holiday in Paris by Mira on writing.com.
Once out of Paris Charles De Gaulle airport, Mira and Aleksi navigated the underground system to the centre of Paris. After checking in to their hotel and having a steamy shower, they made their way to the River Seine. Standing by the river, they looked across it and could see Notre Dame. A Medievel Cathedral standing there in all its glory basking in the sunshine.
Despite the variety and strength of its word selection, this is a weak opening paragraph. Its flaw is that it’s a recitation of events and reads more like a synopsis than the beginning of a story. Events are important in a story, but just saying they happen takes the fun and interest out of them. You want to immerse your readers in these moments of impact, you want them to feel the emotions on display. By simply reciting the events here, the author deprives the reader of any attachment to them or attachment they could have built. Functionally, this is the equivalent of a friend telling you they went, ate, or did something cool without providing much details on it; the only way this scenario inspires a reaction from you is if you have a preexisting attachment to whatever thing they went to, ate, or did.
This paragraph put two thoughts into my head, the first being that the author was scene setting before getting the story started. This is a flawed concept since you could introduce the important elements far more organically in the progression of a normal scene through character interaction or occurrences. (Especially since this isn’t a fantasy of science-fiction narrative with a sky-high learning curve.) Readers don’t have to know everything from the start, and slowly learning and experiencing the story can be enjoyable all on its own.
The second thought was that this style is not entirely irredeemable, it’s just not implemented in such a way that it works. This paragraph employs a very telling heavy style and recounts events from a distance (which I know I’ve already mentioned.) The problem isn’t so much the distance from the events as it is the distance from the emotions; why should we care that they’re leaving an airport in Paris? Or that they’re taking a shower/visiting the Seine? The author says only that these events happened but leaves out the emotion both from the characters themselves (the only implied emotion in the entire paragraph is ‘steamy’) but also from the readers. This style can work (huge swaths of the Silmarillion written by one J.R.R. Tolkien employ this style) but you have to find a way to provide the emotion through context or the conflict of the events themselves, and you still have to take time to introduce your characters with enough story to sow attachment.
After reading a little further ahead, I feel this was not a particular style choice on the author’s part, but more of the scene setting mentioned in my previous paragraph. This doesn’t actually change all that much in the scene, however: we can either take creative liberties to adjust the events mentioned so that they have emotional context and meaning to the characters, or we can fast-forward past the scene setting. I prefer the first option because I believe it’s the most likely to add value to the narrative.
Sentence 1 (Once out of Paris Charles De Gaulle airport, Mira and Aleksi navigated the underground system to the center of Paris.)
Now, when you’re trying to infuse a scene or a moment with emotion you can’t just say ‘X was romantic’ and achieve the desired result. The objective is to use words and pacing that cultivates the desired emotion in the reader; you don’t want to say ‘X was romantic’ you want the readers to think and feel X was romantic. For that to work, you (on some level) need to think and feel it was romantic as well. The question then becomes what context can we provide to this arrival in Paris romantic/important? That answer is fairly easy, make it special, either because of rarity or effort or something planed like a marriage proposal. I don’t want to do the marriage proposal because indicating that at the start says this is a story about the proposal and I don’t know if it is. (A marriage proposal is such a defining event it will overpower anything else in the immediate narrative, especially a romance narrative, so it’s not something you want to mention and then ignore until the moment comes as it will be distracting.) So we’ll focus on this trip being special because it’s rare or was difficult to afford. Maybe both of our MCs rarely escape their jobs and are constantly trapped by workaholic bosses? They could also be workaholics, but them being trapped in the workspace adds an element of powerlessness and external opposition, which gives this trip a slightly more triumphant vibe; they had to fight to get it/we’re lucky. In contrast, them being workaholics means the lack of trip/vacations is their ‘fault’ and so not as deserving of empathy and attachment. Them being unable to take this trip for poverty would be another good reason, because it makes the trip special to them in a way that readers can understand and empathize with. I prefer the poverty angle because it’s simpler to implement (doesn’t require a story to convey) and adds an element of tragedy (albeit small) to their story and this moment.
Next comes the hard part: figuring out how to add their poverty and the rarity/importance of this trip to them without distracting the readers or bogging down the progression.
—After years of scrounging and saving, Mira and Aleksi finally stepped from Charles De Gaulle airport into the radiant splendor of Paris.—
Obviously this sentence partook significant changes; I choose to include both ‘scrounging’ and ‘saving’ (when ‘saving’ alone would have sufficed) because I liked the rhythm and subtle emphasis the repetition supplied, but also because ‘scrounged’ has a dirtier, more desperate connotation for me, cultivating images of struggle and unpleasant work, both of which build into the aspect of this trip being special. Instead of them just saving money, there’s now elements of actual sacrifice. The ‘finally’ also supplements the narrative of this trip being special because it says they’ve been waiting for this for a long time and expresses a sensation of relief, of finally attaining this thing they’ve wanted. A more controversial change would be migrating the ‘Paris’ from the airport’s name to the end of the sentence. I researched whether the ‘Paris’ was actively part of the airport’s name and while it does seem to be so, I also saw several uses without the ‘Paris’ included, meaning I could probably get away with dropping it from the name under the excuse of colloquialism. As for why I wanted to do that, I wanted to end the sentence/the introduction to this story with them entering Paris, because that emphasizes it as the destination and the point they’ve worked to for so long. It also allows me to exploit the massive cultural/ narrative weight Paris passively has. ‘Paris’ as a single word means so much, but burying it in the middle of a sentence and tying it to a different name removed all that heft from the word because it doesn’t treat ‘Paris’ as a thing of importance. (Shifting it to the end of the sentence so it acts as an exclamation point emphasizes that weight.) Finally we have ‘radiant splendor’ which might be a bit too sensationalistic. Rhythmically it helps the emphasis on ‘Paris’ while thematically is bespeaks beauty and awe. My intent with the second point was not tell the readers ‘Paris is beautiful and you should be in awe’, that’s a flawed endeavor, but to create an impression of beauty. I do not say something is beautiful, I try to create a description that people will see as beautiful or will stick in their minds. In this context, ‘radiant’ is the pivotal word here because it means brilliant light (often golden) which is deeply linked to heavenly imagery and often used in films to introduce breathtaking scenery. But it is also an evocative word because it conjures imagery of these brilliant, stunning lights, and if you apply radiant light to something, it almost always becomes magical/deific. (There might also be an undercurrent of theme with the sentence originating in a grim, dark place via ‘scrounging’ and then ending with them stepping into the proverbial light, but that’s too fancy for me to have concocted by anything except accident.)
Continuing, we have the mention of the ‘underground system’ to include as well as the second sentence. This is largely a repetition of the exercise for the first sentence: find a meaning the readers can invest in. The problem is, I can’t think of an easily conveyed reason for why them traversing the underground and enjoying a (probably) erotic shower would be important/interesting to the readers. Theoretically, I could fabricate a reason for the underground, but that would require significant tangent implementation to explain the important and then deliver on said importance meaningfully, and ultimately I don’t think the pacing of the larger story would harmonize with a sojourn of that size. The shower element I intend to leave vague for the same reason and because I don’t think it needs to be explored. So, with all this said, what do I want to do with this sentence? I think it would function best as a simple transition section. Yes that is similar to what I criticized it for at the beginning of this post, but I also think I have a way to make the sentence meaningful regardless.
—Enraptured, they navigated the underground system to their hotel near Paris’ center, checked in to enjoy a steamy shower, and then traveled to the River Sein to see one of the sights Mira had wanted to see most of all: The Notre Dame Cathedral.—
This is still clunky and unrefined but it’s a good place to explain what I’m trying to do. Aside from all the significant changes, the meaningful change to this section is the ‘sights Mira wanted to see most of all…’. What this does is give this sentence emotion in the form of desire while teasing the readers with the fulfillment of that desire (and simultaneously giving ‘Mira’ more character because she want’s something fervently.) This also functions as a small motivation to incentivize the readers to keep reading because it presents them with a forthcoming resolution (Mira seeing Norte Dame) which we know is important to her for some reason. By emphasizing this desire (done via mentioning it, by using strong word such as ‘most of all’ and then with the colon to isolate and emphasize ‘Notre Dame’) we let the readers know there’s something here that’s important and interesting, thus building a desire both to see the resolution of that desire and learning the reasoning for it. (It is the author’s job to fulfil the promises they make to the readers in situations like this, failure to do so will destroy interest in the narrative and confidence in the author. So beware.) On a more technical level, I added ‘enraptured’ as a transition to the new sentence (it continues the theme of awe that ‘radiant splendor’ started) and changed the ‘hotel’ to be destination instead of ‘the center of Paris’ because it technically is their destination and it left me free to delete ‘center of Paris’ should I feel it benefited the rhythm of narrative. There’s no provided reason why their hotel being in the center of Paris is important, which reduced that information to fluff and thus only valuable for rhythm or because it enrichens the imagery in some way (which it doesn’t.) I’m still not entirely sure whether or not I’ll keep it. I replaced ‘made their way’ with ‘traveled’ because it’s one word instead of three and the sentence was already waxing distended.
For the final two sentences, (which I’m combining since one of them lost most of its content) we can delete ‘could see Notre Dame’ because we already introduced it as their destination and I would like to remove ‘a medieval cathedral’ as I believe most people are familiar with Notre Dame. We can also delete ‘standing there’ since ‘basking in’ serves as the sentence’s verb just as well. (A minor inefficiency is having both ‘standing by the river’ and ‘looked across’. ‘The River’ and ‘it’ are the same thing so you’re mentioning the same thing twice in one sentence when you only need to do so once. “They looked across the river upon…”. Another inefficiency is saying ‘looked/saw’ twice with ‘looked across it’ and ‘could see’ when they could just ‘see’ it from the start.)
The difficult is transitioning from the mention of Notre Dame being their destination to them actively being there. It would be awkward for that to happen with no transition, so I would institute a paragraph break, which can effectively indicate a lapse of time in the narrative and transition from the scene-setting of the first paragraph to the more in-moment style of the second. (The story transitions to a dialogue between our MCs in the next few paragraphs.)
—After years of scrounging and saving, Mira and Aleksi finally stepped from Charles De Gaulle airport into the radiant splendor of Paris. Enraptured, they navigated the underground system to their hotel near Paris’ center, checked in to enjoy a steamy shower, and then traveled to the River Sein to experience the sight Mira had wanted to see most of all: Notre Dame.
She settled on the river’s edge and gazed across the tranquil water at the ancient cathedral basking in the sunlight in all its glory. “…Beautiful.”—
(The “beautiful” is her dialogue from the next paragraph, albeit it pared down to feel more like a whispered self-comment of awe.)
For the final sentence, I wanted to transition the readers to the in-moment style so I used an action attached to the river (thus it continues the narrative set by the first paragraph with them traveling to the river and provides a smoother transition.) I backtracked a little on myself by adding ‘across the tranquil water’ instead of just saying ‘gazed at the ancient cathedral’ and the reason for this is purely rhythmic. I tried to ameliorate the slight repetitiveness of it by adding the description of ‘tranquil’ and using ‘water’ instead of ‘it’ (thus varying subject and justifying its inclusion with more description.) I added ‘ancient’ as a descriptor for rhythm (again) but also because the word ‘ancient’ carries connotations of grandeur and awe and respect and these accentuated the scene and Mira’s admiration of the cathedral in a way that ‘medieval’ did not. (Medieval was correct on a technical level but added nothing on a thematic or tonal level, reducing it to purely information the readers already know.) Finally I swapped ‘glory’ and ‘basking’ because I think this structure readers better with ‘glory’ serving as the final cap instead of ‘sunlight’. (I think ‘glory’ reads better in this context for much the same reason ‘Paris’ read better at the end of the sentence above, it’s a stronger, more thematic word and thus functions as a subtle exclamation point and completion of the author’s message than ‘sunlight’ did.)
As for some other minor changes I made to the second sentence, I reduced ‘see one of the’ to ‘experience the sight’. This is both to reduce word count and to avoid the use of double ‘see’ in the sentence. I debated on ‘one of the sights she wanted to see most’ vs ‘the sight she wanted to see most’ for a while since I don’t really know if it’s authentic for the character and I feared it might be a bit extreme/sensationalistic. Ultimately, I decided the reduced word count read better and committed.
The last phrase I’m not particularly happy with is “they navigated the underground system to their hotel near Paris’ center, checked in to enjoy a steamy shower and then traveled…” because it feels a bit rushed to me. Unfortunately I can’t think of an easy solution, and the only one that occurred to me was adding another action to ‘navigated the underground system’ to slow it down. But I couldn’t think of an action to add, so we’ll leave it here.
If you liked what you’ve read, check out the rest of this story or some of the author’s other works. https://www.writing.com/main/portfolio/view/mira2016
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