Blog 65: Break The Chains
Hello everybody, today we have a piece tilted Break the Chains by T.A.Brooks on Writing.Com.
Paragraph 1 (ish)
A new day. A fake sun shining through worn and tattered curtains to wake the siblings sleeping in creaky beds under musky blankets and on old pillows. Another day waking in the dusty little shack to eat a small breakfast and don hand-washed clothes to finally stretch out once they’ve stepped into the sunshine. Another day of work. Another day.
This, in my opinion, is a great opening paragraph. Why? Because it wakes the reader up instantly with the phrase ‘A fake sun’ and tells them this is something new and, more importantly, something interesting. The ramifications and potential narrative relevance of a ‘fake sun’ are enormous and thus invite the reader to consider them and their potential.
My second element of praise is the use of description both as a means to exposit (instead of the author just mentioning that the world has some form of facsimile sun, he has it interact with the environment via the ‘tattered curtains’; this makes both the sun and curtains more tangible as well) and as a method to tell the story (the curtains are tattered and worn, the bed creaky, the blankets smell etc, all of this is telling, or rather showing, a realty of poverty.) The fact that the description is conveyed with action (shining, wake, sleeping) helps to further energize the sentence while the strong word choice (‘tattered’ is a strong word rich in implications and meaning while also being just slightly unusual) make the content both more dynamic.
Finally, the paragraph has a very distinct emotional theme/story it’s trying to convey, and that also gives something for the readers to latch onto, an emotional nuclease where the ‘fake sun’ is an intellectual one.
All of that said, the paragraph isn’t perfect. The first sentence (‘A new Day’) is a blunt statement without internal rhythm or context and it doesn’t tell a story, as such it kind of just exists as the beginning without feeding into the next sentence or really adding anything. It does introduce the paragraph’s theme of ‘day’ but at the cost of being a bit awkward and causing the ‘A new/A fake’ to echo slightly. Sometimes I think I can hear what the author was going for, they want the pause of the period, but the ‘A New’ reads best as a soft alliteration with ‘A fake sun’, which would require a comma instead of a period. The comma may be the way to punctuate it.
Moving on to the next sentence, we have the phrase ‘worn and tattered’ which is repetitive since ‘worn’ and ‘tattered’ are functionally synonymous. It reads fine here, but it’s still not something you’d want to indulge in too much, and ultimately one of those words is taking the place of something that could be adding more to the sentence or story. It’s wasted potential.
(A side note/bit of praise: there is a distinction to be noted between description and a visual. Description is calling a curtain gray, a visual is using description to create a scene in the readers mind, an image that has some meaning or emotion. When you’re describing something, you don’t want to just be filling in information and details, because that’s boring and just a waste of the reader’s attention; you either want to be telling the reader’s a story (conveying relevant and interesting information via their surroundings) or you want to be using the description to create an aesthetic, a scene, a visual. Light shining through a tattered curtain conjures an image a reader can see and interact with. Describing a door as large, plain and wooden because it has to have a description, is boring.)
Continuing with the second sentence, the way the description is structured has an adverse effect on it. The author strings the last three descriptions of the sentence together and there’s little pause or distinction given, which results in them feeling rushed and just a little bit overstuffed. This is emphasized by how the words sound alike (‘sleeping siblings’ and ‘creaky/musky’ and ‘beds/blankets/pillows’) they all have a higher phonetic sound which results in the end of the sentence loosing texture because there’s no variation in sound (if that makes sense.) To fix this we could excise some details to reduce the cluttered feeling, or use alternative words/structure to avoid the sounds bleeding together. Conversely, we could also add some small filler words to the sentence and use them to adjust the rhythm and sound of it, providing distinction to the various descriptive element. ‘Their’ might work well since it has a deeper sound. (Oh, another side note, ‘wake’ implies ‘sleeping’ rendering that description necessary only for rhythm, and thus potentially disposable.)
After a long time considering potential changes this is what I came up with. It’s by no means perfect, and is probably extremely subjective, but I do think it either resolves or ameliorates the issues I had with the original sentence.
Here’s the original, for comparison
—A fake sun shining through worn and tattered curtains to wake the siblings sleeping in creaky beds under musky blankets and on old pillows.—
And my edited
—A new day, a fake sun shining through the tattered curtains of an old house to wake the siblings from their creaking beds, musky blankets and worn pillows.—
First I cut the ‘worn’ from ‘and tattered’ both because it was unnecessary and because I wanted to use it instead of ‘old pillows’. ‘Old’ is an acceptable description but ‘worn’ is just a bit stronger, conveying both the age element but also that the pillows are in poor condition, which helps build the theme of poverty and privation a little more. (‘Worn’ is a stronger word here because it says more and as such is just a bit more dynamic.) After that I added ‘of an old house’; this functioned to slow the sentence down by virtue of the additional words, but also because of the lack of energetic words. Nothing in the phrase ‘of an old house’ propels the narrative, though it does serve the aesthetic of privation, and as such it saps energy/momentum from the sentence, slowing the readers before they run the gauntlet of adverbs. After that I deleted ‘sleeping’ as unnecessary and to remove the second ING in such close proximity. Then I added/changed the phrasing to ‘from their creaking’ instead of ‘in creaky’; this serves two functions, the first being slowing the sentence down again and adding the deeper sounding ‘their’ to balance out the higher phonetics, but more importantly it allowed me to attached all three relevant descriptions (the creaking beds, musky blankets and worn pillows) to a single verb instead of having to introduce all three of them separately (IN creaking beds, UNDER musky blankets and ON worn pillows.) This changes the dynamic of the sentence subtly, altering it from being three separate descriptions to one. It becomes a litany instead of three disparate facts shoved together and so benefits from the speed of this section.
This brings us to the third sentence, which I have much fewer issues with. (Another day waking in the dusty little shack to eat a small breakfast and don hand-washed clothes to finally stretch out once they’ve stepped into the sunshine.)
For the opening three quarters I have almost no criticisms; ‘dusty’ ‘little’ and ‘shack’ are great, depressing words to conveys the author’s vision and to convey onto it emotions and theme (an example of why finding the right word is so strong.) The one change I would make is swapping ‘small’ to ‘meager’ because ‘meager’ feels like the word the author was trying to convey, it’s also more distinctive and colorful than ‘small’. My primary issues lie with the last quarter of the sentence; the phrase ‘to stretch out’ is both a bit confusing since it feels weird for the siblings to be stretching after they’ve eaten, but also because the phrasing is inverted; they go outside and stretch, except the author chose to convey this sequence in the reverse. It is a somewhat personal preference, but I don’t like this format, it unnecessarily tangles and complicates the prose (and its comprehension.) It does have some benefit in varying the sentence structure, I just think that rarely outweighs the cost to flow and rhythm.
The ‘to’ from ‘to finally’ is also a bit off since they didn’t eat as a specific requirement to them leaving, it preceded them leading but didn’t feed into it. The ‘to’ also echoes slightly with the previous ‘to’, so I think that ‘before’ would be a better transition.
—Another day waking in the dusty little shack to eat a meager breakfast and don hand-washed clothes before finally stepping out into the sunshine to stretch.— (Another subtle thing to note is that ‘sunshine’ here detracts from the author’s desired theme; sunshine conveys images of warm, yellow light, which contradicts and thus diminishes the dreary atmosphere, because yellow is a ‘happy’ color and warmth is comforting. To optimally continue the theme you would want a description that either heightened it or just didn’t subtract from it. ‘Day’ is a word that conveys the same technical information without the emotional connotations being as loud, and it’s short enough that you could add an adjective if you so desired. Something like ‘bitter’, which although a bit too vague to work here still cultivates a crueler, uncomfortable tone. To a lesser degree the same could be said for ‘stepping’, which is a generic catch-all word when there are synonyms with stronger connotations or suffering or despair like ‘shamble’ or ‘shuffle’.)
Now for the final section (Another day of work. Another day.) I’m addressing these two sentence’s simultaneously because there’s not much to them and because they’re dependent on one another for their emphasis. The author repeats ‘another day’ here to emphasis and convey drudgery, and that is a great way to organically cultivate the desired emotion from your reader. This section falters slightly because ‘of work’ is comparatively lackluster to the descriptions provided to the house and the process of waking up. The previous two sentences commit to developing imagery and emotion from their words and ‘work’ doesn’t. This closing sentence/message needs to express the misery of the work, the hues and the flavors of it the theme and messaging of this opening paragraph to a satisfying conclusion; without any story behind ‘work’ it ends up feeling lackluster. You would want to give the work shape and make it unpleasant and miserable, something like “Another day of freezing in the mines, of choking on coal dust…” or something like that. (This iteration can’t function because I assume a society capable/aware of false suns wouldn’t need an energy source so rudimentary as coal, I merely used it as an example because mines are notoriously awful places to work, and coal mining is both extremely hazardous as well as being visually iconic and dirty, both of which suit the author’s themes.)
Unfortunately, I can’t supply the additional burden because I haven’t read any further into the story yet, so we’ll just have to leave it as is. (Yes, I’m being lazy.)
This brings us to the final sentence, that last ‘another day’. Above I praised this for conveying drudgery (which I maintain) but the problem is that this final sentence doesn’t say anything. It just repeats the immediately preceding sentence with less context. You almost always want your sentences to be saying something. It could be a repetition of the drudgery with human emphasis “Another day of work. Another God damn day.” Or it could reflect the days to come to really paint the hopelessness of their situation in vivid relief “Another day of work. Just as tomorrow would be, and the day after, and the day after…” The author probably has something specific he’s trying to tell the reader, but it’s an instance where it’s not quite coming across with the clarity it needs to. For me, I think I’ll just add an ‘always’ which is a good way to indicate both the future days of work and reference the past days, all without screaming it at the readers. Thus we close the narrative of drudgery and misery out with an emotional expression of exhaustion and hopelessness.
A new day, a fake sun shining through the tattered curtains of an old house to wake the siblings from their creaking bed, musky blankets and worn pillows. Another day waking in the dusty little shack to eat a meager breakfast and don hand-washed clothes before finally stepping out into the sunshine to stretch. Another day of work. Always another day.
I think that’ll be all for tonight. I’m not particularly happy with my end result, but I’ve tried to express where I think the sentences lose their strength and provided the best solutions I could. I imagine the author can do much better.
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