Blog #62: Peepshow
Hello everybody, today we have a repeat offender with Andrea Craig and her piece Peepshow.
After the end of a long day in the San Aguado summer heat, the working men and women of Ridgeback liked nothing more than to spend their evenings in the various air-conditioned establishments all over the Southwest section of town. During the day most of these establishments were open for business, and at night they were closed and that end of town was mostly quiet save for the harsh and muffled thump of music pumping out of a tall building covered in colorful neon signs.
As an opening this paragraph is flawed in execution, but there is an idea and story here that deserves mentioning and just needs polishing to shine. What this paragraph does is introduce the readers to the normal, the safe, and the everyday with the description of the people and of the businesses that work during the day. Then it contrasts that normal with that one building that runs in the night, and by doing that it’s trying to tell the readers this building is different, is interesting, is worth exploring, and maybe just a bit dangerous. That’s what the structure of the paragraph is trying to achieve (whether the author actively realized it or not), and the inherent conflict of the establishment being ostracized is a mechanic of building interest. (There’s also a subtle layer of visuality added to the stew; the people work in the days and frequent businesses that operate during the days, this cultivates an impression of light and ‘good’, but the ‘tall building’ operates at night—in the dark— and uses vibrant colors to illuminate and attract from that obscurity. This is both an interesting visual play and builds an impression of the ‘tall building’ being sinful. Again, the author may or may not have included these elements intentionally, but they’re still present, coloring the story. Figuring out how to use visuals and narrative impressions intentionally is a great way to improve your writing.)
So this paragraph has a story and theme it’s trying to convey (almost always a good thing) but that theme is slightly vague and the actual word choice doesn’t augment it. If you’re trying to achieve a particular theme, or build atmosphere, you want your verbs and adjectives to supplement that. If you want a more threatening atmosphere, choose more violent or aggressive words like ‘misery’, or if you want a happier atmosphere use words that are often used in conjunction with happiness like ‘bouncing’ (this practice also holds true for introducing characters.) In this opening paragraph the words are functional but lack the theme building aspect they could potentially have.
We’ll start with a general clean-up of the paragraph.
‘After’ automatically indicates the ‘end of’ something (since it has to end for something to happen ‘after’ it) so ‘the end of’ is unnecessary. ‘Working’ is probably unnecessary since it’s conveyed largely through context and implication. After this we have the phrase ‘liked nothing more than to’ which is a pejorative, but the author doesn’t seem to have a purpose behind this being the thing they enjoyed most of all. This results in the phrase feeling both purposelessly hyperbolic, and to me unnecessary. If the author did specifically mean ‘nothing more’ then it needs a bit more story to explain why that distinction is important over them just visiting the establishments. (Justification is only needed because ‘liked nothing more’ is so extreme.) Concluding the first sentence we have the phrase “all over the southwest section of town’ which we can reduce to “throughout the town’s southwestern section.”
—After a long day in the San Aguado summer heat, the men and women of Ridgeback spent their evenings in the various air-conditioned establishments throughout the town’s southwestern section.—
(On a side note, this section might benefit from slightly more information, specifically concerning what the people were doing outside in the heat and what kind of establishments they frequented. Also, when I say ‘more information’ I don’t just mean clarification, but specifics conveyed in such a way that they complement the author’s desired tone. The author is vague here, but there is potential for the story to be expanded and enrichened here, if one wants to devote the necessary effort.)
Sentence 2 (During the day most of these establishments were open for business, and at night they were closed and that end of town was mostly quiet save for the harsh and muffled thump of music pumping out of a tall building covered in colorful neon signs.)
This sentence is unnecessarily passive and the first part unnecessarily wordy. ‘Open for business’ can be conveyed with just ‘operated’, which is also active. For the next part we have ‘at night they were closed’ which can be reduced to ‘but closed at night’. A further amendment we can make is that instead of ‘…during the day but closed at night…’ we can write ‘during the day and early evening’. This has the same effect as the previous sentence because it strictly outlines when the businesses operate. (You could add an ‘exclusively’ to ‘during the day’ to emphasize that the one business runs at night; this is unnecessary but might provide enough thematic value to merit inclusion.) I want some way to convert ‘was mostly quiet’ to an active sentence but am still searching for a proper solution, so we’ll move on for now. This brings us to ‘muffled thump of music pumping out of’ where there are several things to mention: ‘thump’ and ‘pumping’ echo one another and are both technically unnecessary, you could write ‘for the harsh and muffled music from a…’ This reads a little off though (‘harsh’ and ‘muffled’ don’t flow particularly well together) so I would include the ‘thump’ both because I like how it gives the music a more tangible feel and because it helps smooth out the rhythm. The final easy thing to notice is that ‘colorful’ is understood from ‘neon’ and as such is unnecessary.
—Most of these establishments operated during the day and early evening, rendering the nights mostly peaceful save for the harsh and muffled thump of music from a tall building covered in neon signs.—
This is what I ultimately devised, with the ‘rendering’ making the middle transition active, but that final description of ‘tall building covered’ is a little bland for my taste. ‘Tall’ is fine but not particularly exciting and ‘building’ basically just says it exists, painting no image for the readers to latch onto and conveying no theme, aesthetic, or emotion for a structure that on surface level seems important. That, however, is less about the technical clean up and more about maximizing of potential, which is better attempted on the paragraph as a whole.
— After a long day in the San Aguado summer heat, the men and women of Ridgeback spent their evenings in the various air-conditioned establishments throughout the town’s southwestern section. Most of these establishments operated during the day and early evening, rendering the nights mostly peaceful save for the harsh and muffled thump of music from a tall building covered in neon signs.—
Revised edition. (I’ll end up taking many creative liberties here, probably, so be warned.)
—After toiling through the long hours of San Aguado’s summer heat, the men and women of Ridgeback would finally retire to the respite of air-conditioned establishments scattered throughout the town’s southwestern section. Most of these establishments operated exclusively during the day and early evening, to preserve the night’s tranquility, but one, a worn and graffiti-stained skyscraper, radiated lurid lights from a forest of neon signs and pumped an incessant roar of music long after dark fell.—
So this is what I threw together to try and emphasize some of the narrative elements for this paragraph, generally by adding adjectives so they acquired a clearer theme/vibe and story for the readers to latch onto. For the start, I added ‘toiling’ because ‘toiling’ adds a sense of grueling work to me, which then further builds into the heat element. (In the original paragraph, the author wrote ‘the working men and women’ and I deleted it as unnecessary. I maintain that it and my ‘toiling’ are unnecessary, however, ‘toiling’ brings two elements to the narrative I like: first it is an active verb and thus energizes the sentence it’s in, whereas ‘working’ is purely describing something we can immediately infer. The second element is how ‘toiling’ describes the kind of ‘work’ they’re doing, painting it in a harsh light, while ‘working men and women’ simply says ‘these people worked’. ‘Toiling’ adds emotion and context and visuals to the story that ‘working’ does not and so, in my opinion, justifies its inclusion despite being unnecessary.) The next notable change was converting from ‘long day’ to ‘long hours’ and the reason for this change is that it emphasizes the duration; although the span of time is functionally the same, ‘long hours’ changes the perspective on that time, shortening it so the characters experience it as incremental instead of all at once. I think/hope ‘long hours’ cultivate an impression of more ‘hour after hour’ whereas ‘long day’ is ‘they worked for a long day’ and ‘long hours’ feels like it emphasizes the severity just a bit more. The next major change is ‘would finally retire to the respite’ and the important words here are ‘finally’ and ‘respite’, both of which build in the theme of their jobs being hard. ‘Finally’ adds to the feeling of their work elongating the minutes and ‘respite’ emphasizes/includes their relief at being done. I added the ‘scattered’ for reasons of rhythm.
For the second sentence, I went ahead and added the ‘exclusively’ because I liked how it emphasized the final structure/establishment/business, it sets the stage for its introduction and description. I then implemented ‘to preserve the night’s tranquility’ instead of ‘rendering the night mostly peaceful save for the’ for a couple different reasons: I liked how ‘preserve’ read over ‘rendering’, both phonetically and because it read like a direct continuation of the narrative, explaining why the business operated only during the day, as opposed to tacking on the information (I feel it read smoother); it also cut some words and is ultimately a stronger phrase/sentence, comprised of stronger words with ‘preserve/tranquility’ as opposed to ‘mostly’; finally it also used ‘but one’ as a transition, which is a stronger, more emphatic, transition because it’s a hard stop and contradiction, further distancing the our final establishment from its predecessors. What followed is just me trying to paint a more distinctive and vibrant picture of the building; instead of it just being tall and covered in neon signs, I made it old with ‘worn’ added to the seedy nature of its aesthetic via the ‘graffiti’. I used ‘skyscraper’ because it cultivates a clear, immediately recognizable image that ‘tall building’ just didn’t. Then I added ‘radiating lurid’ because ‘radiating’ adds an element of blinding brilliance to the mental imagery (quite striking in a night scene) and ‘lurid’ because that’s just a strong word and reinforces the building’s more iniquitous occupation. ‘From a forest of neon signs’ adds to the imagery of a skyscraper just covered in neon lights, and the brilliance of that display as well, and concludes the mention of the music, introduced via the verb ‘pumped’. I ended up cutting the ‘harsh’ entirely just because I couldn’t include it in a way I found pleasant, and I felt the intent was conveyed regardless with ‘incessant’ having a distinctly grating connotation here and ‘roar’ being loud. We close with ‘long after dark fell’ which just brings the narrative of this sentence full circle, reminding the readers that this establishment actively contradicts the rest, and reinforcing the imagery of ‘night’ that I wanted.
That will be all for today.
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