Blog 70: Twigs
Hello everybody, today we have a piece titled Twigs by Annette on Writing.com.
(Warning: mentions of mature content. Mild but present.)
The inside walls of the tent reflected the bioluminescence emanating off the elven couple after their lovemaking. Pyria and Rogor lay next to each other holding hands and catching their breath as their companion Alina entered.
This is a somewhat lackluster opening paragraph in my opinion. It’s decent on a functional level because it orients the readers in the characters’ environment and situation quickly, while also providing a bit of visual flare and some worldbuilding, but it lacks anything to imply narrative. And ‘narrative’ doesn’t have to mean peril or mystery or conflict, it can also just be about putting your main character somewhere they can be on display, provide an opportunity for the readers who they are and what they want, or just to introduce the readers to that character’s personal story. This paragraph does none of that, and so what results is a somewhat boring opening paragraph.
Obviously, you wouldn’t want to complete introduce your character and story to the reader in the opening paragraph, but you want to give them something. There might be some level of ‘wanting to introduce the readers to the statuesque before disrupting it’, but even then you don’t want it to be ‘boring’.
The question then becomes, why exactly is a paragraph about sex and glowing elves boring? The answer is because the sex and glowing elves don’t mean anything because we don’t have any context for it to mean something. Why does it matter that these elves had sex? Why does it matter that they glow? We don’t know, and the author gives no indication of it, which means the author either didn’t convey their message or had no reason to tell us these things. (The elves glowing somewhat justifies its inclusion through simple ‘cool worldbuilding’, but it’s a fairly superficial tidbit and ultimately just aesthetic.) I supposed the sex is either primarily intended to indicate they’re a couple, or to attract the readers with eroticism. The eroticism element is somewhat hamstrung by the author not committing to it (in that we only enter the story after the most erotic part has finished, and that the author makes no other attempt to increase to eroticism besides just saying ‘lovemaking.’) The ‘couple’ is dependent on why the author wants us to know they’re a couple. The most obvious solution is that they want the intimacy and romance between Pyria and Rogor as a narrative tool (as in one is gonna die by the end of the chapter) or as a way to attach the readers to these characters. Either way, the objective is to get the readers to emotionally invest in these characters, and this is where the couple narrative falters. The author tells us they are a couple, but doesn’t give us a reason to care, so we don’t. As a result, the paragraph doesn’t achieve its objective.
When writing, it is vital to understand what you are trying to achieve, and why it matters. If the ‘why’ is boring (as in orienting the reader in a boring environment through description) the question then becomes ‘how do I make this interesting.’
On a purely technical level this paragraph is decent, with a predominance of strong and active wording. The first sentence is a bit run-on though (a result of stringing multiple distinct thoughts together) while in the second sentence their companion’s entrance feels a bit random as it has no bearing on, and doesn’t result from, them laying besides each other, holding hands and catching their breath. Thus is ends up feeling a little bit like a topic jump or a false equivalency. There is also a very minor feeling of topic jump from the first sentence to the second because the tent reflecting their glow has no real impact on them laying besides each other, and isn’t really even caused by it. The first and second sentence share a topic (the lovemaking) but aren’t directly related.
A side note, you may not need to specify ‘inside’ of the tent as that may be obviously from context.
Anyway, to fix the run-on aspect of the first sentence you should just need to streamline, find where you can use more specific wording or maximize a word you’re already using. ‘Bioluminescence’ for example by definition excludes the light coming from a lantern or any non-organic source. So, if structured the right way, you wouldn’t need ‘emanating’ to say ‘it’s coming off the elves’ because it’s inherent to light’s nature and to the ‘bio’ in ‘bioluminescence’. “The elven couple’s bioluminescence.” Three words removed, no information lost.
Obviously, this doesn’t work as is because we need to directly connect the bioluminescence to being a result of the sex. The author conveyed this by adding an addendum (which contributes to the run-on aspect) and we could do the same with something like ‘which was a result of their recent lovemaking’ but that’s excessively wordy in its own right and would nullify any headway we made. Optimally (for streamlining) we would use something like ‘post-lovemaking’ which conveys the desired information directly and in two words.
This would result in something like “The tent/the tent’s interior reflected the elven couple’s post-lovemaking bioluminescence.” (I added ‘interior’ in as a potential version because I disliked how just ‘the tent’ read—it made the sentence read abrupt/end too quickly, and I disliked how the two ‘the’ echoed in such close proximity. ‘Interior’ still functions the same as ‘the inside walls of’ but does it with one word instead of four. I still believe you don’t need to specify the walls inside the tent, but in this case I think that ‘interior’ adds more to the rhythm and pacing and ease of reading then in subtracts from the narrative by expressing something potentially unnecessary.)
The problem with this rendition is that the cleaner/more efficient structure does emphasize the sentence’s drier tone. This sentence lacks emotion from the character or author; there’s not a feeling of trying to convey beauty, or of safety, or of intimacy, and for me it results in the sentence feeling a bit lacking. (The original sentence has the same issue, but it’s length and clutter helped to distract from it.) The sentence may also just be too short, or feel like it doesn’t contain enough material. Actually, I don’t think it’s really the second of those. I think it’s because our streamlining changed the sentence so that it’s only saying one thing; there’s lots of information in that one thing, but it’s still a full sentence dedicated to conveying a single, superficial detail. (‘Superficial’ not because I dislike it but because the fact they glow after sex is functionally unimportant. It’s a cool detail, but that’s all it is.) Only, as I think about it more, I’m not entirely sure that’s it either. I could write “Mike took a long swig” and that sentence doesn’t feel incomplete to me despite being even shorter and more simplistic. Maybe it’s because ‘mike’ is a character preforming an action, and has a direct, obvious purpose for the reader to grasp, which results in the sentence feeling ‘complete’ because it did its job. Unfortunately, there’s not really a way to fix this without adding content besides the original authors. We could undo what we’ve done, but that wouldn’t really resolve the issue, just disguise it.
For the second sentence, there’s not much that needs to be improved on a purely technical level. The phrase ‘next to’ can be replaced with ‘besides’ (which is both more efficient and smoother because it lacks the hard T’s in close proximity) and ‘catching their breath’ can probably be reduced to ‘panting softly’ (which is somewhat desirable for being more efficient, but mostly because ‘panting’ is more elegant and richer word than ‘catching their breath’. The reason it’s more elegant is because it specifically says what the author wants to say—albeit too strongly— instead of relying on a phrase. The ‘softly’ mitigates the strength so it lines up with what the author wanted. Technically, ‘panted softly’ is a phrase also, but it still says more than ‘catching their breath’ because ‘catching their breath’ doesn’t actually say ‘softly’; it gives no indication of their breathing other than that they’re out of breath. The ‘softly’ is implied more from the context and situation than anything else and may even be wrong. It just depends on what the author’s trying to say.
— The tent’s interior reflected the elven couple’s post-lovemaking bioluminescence. Pyria and Rogor lay beside each other holding hands and panting softly as their companion Alina entered.—
So, these are all the edits we’ve made so far and you’ll probably notice that they’re very clunky, particularly in the transition between the two sentences. This is one of the sections where the original structure had an advantage; with the phrase ‘elven couple’ being closer to the end of the sentence, it made the transition to ‘Pyria and Rogor’ smoother because they’re the same subject. In this version the first sentence is all about the tent, which makes the swap to ‘Pyria and Rogor’ jarring and feel like a topic jump. This is somewhat easy to fix, requiring just a bit of a walk back of our changes.
— The tent’s interior reflected the post-lovemaking bioluminescence emanating off the elven couple. Pyria and Rogor lay beside each other holding hands and panting softly as their companion Alina entered.—
This reads a bit smoother, but there’s still something of a topic jump since the first sentence doesn’t feed into the second; they’re related but not interconnected. (Something to note about the second sentence is that the ‘as’ in ‘as their companion Alina entered’ connects the two actions together when they’re actually completely unrelated. In more complex situations this could potentially be confusing.)
If I were to try fixing the issues mentioned in my opening breakdown, I would probably combine the meat of these two sentences into one and lead with Pyria and Rogor while trying to find places to add emotional/evocating adjectives. This would probably look something like this….
—Pyria and Rogor lay beside each other in a tangle of limbs, panting softly and holding hands while bathed in the warm glow of their post-lovemaking bioluminescence.—
There’s not many changes present, but not many were needed. The first change is the inclusion of ‘tangle of limbs’, which is about conveying physical intimacy and physical closeness in a way that ‘holding hands ( which is a very safe and modest, out in the open display of affection that doesn’t even specifically mean the love of partners) doesn’t. another layer of this is how Pyria and Rogor just lying beside each other holding hands limits the actual physical contact, while ‘tangle of limbs’ emphasizes a lot of physical contact and how comfortable they are with it/each other (again adding to the intimacy that is desired for this scene.)
The second change/addition was ‘while bathed’. The ‘while’ is irrelevant (it just serves as the transition/connection word) so we’ll ignore it. ‘Bathed’ is a soft, enfolding word, it conveys safety and languor and warmth, which again build upon the narrative of intimacy and comfort of this couple lying together. ‘Warm glow’ functions the same way. All together, it paints Pyria and Rogor into a scene of intimacy and safety and warmth, and by doing so builds these things into their relationship. These are also reasons for the readers to like these characters and to care about their relationship with each other.
So, what you end up with is an opening sentence that orients the readers both physically and emotionally in the story, while also providing a neat bit of world building. The fact that their in a tent isn’t immediately necessary for the reader to know and is easily mentioned in the subsequent sentence alongside Alina entering. The concept of the walls reflecting the light is a nice detail, but’s not necessary for orienting the reader, and Pyria and Rogor glowing is a strong visual by itself so we don’t even lose much on that side either.
I think that’ll be all for today. If you like what you’ve read, check out the rest of the story or some of the author’s other content. https://www.writing.com/main/portfolio/view/octobersun2
If you like my work, consider subscribing.