Blog 39: Diorama Hints

By Tristen Kozinski No comments

Hello everybody, today we have a piece titled Diorama Hints from PureSciFiPlus on


Paragraph 1


A one-inch female figurine with a white top and a light blue skirt is placed next to the foot of the bed. As the hand is removed from it the head snaps back. Several drops of what appears to be blood seeps out of that almost severed head. Virginia Gardner steps back a little and looks at her latest diorama.

     In regards to this paragraph, there are few efficiency amendments to make. The best way to improve it instead lies in how generic some of its words are. Phrases like ‘white top’ and ‘looks at’ work from a comprehension standpoint, but are also more inert. More distinctive, specific words and phrases would both tighten the prose but also energize it and describe the scene more satisfyingly. For example, ‘look’ has no connotation and provides only the barest information. A sharper word like ‘examined’ conveys more, coloring the action so there’s more for the reader to chew on (without increasing the effort required) and imbuing emotion into the action where ‘look’ is largely emotionless. One appropriate word can eliminate entire sentences of description and atmosphere building, which means the story becomes that much sharper.

      We’ll begin with the first sentence and ‘white top’, which I would convert to ‘white blouse’ (simply because ‘blouse’ is more specific than ‘top’ and feels appropriate for a woman in a skirt.) I would change ‘light’ to ‘pale’ because ‘pale’ is a less-common word, but still widely known. Even if the core meaning scarcely changes, a less common word will activate a reader’s brain in a way that the bog-standard, prevalent ‘light’ does not. (Note that I chose ‘pale blue’ over a specific color such as ‘cyan’ for two reasons: first, specific colors tend to tread the line of esoteric and thus fail as description: second, colors can also be exceptionally loud in a sentence due to their vibrancy; I could have used azure or sapphire, but those are strident colors and the narrative current tone is a little more staid. This isn’t me just maintaining the author’s style, breaking the style would jar the reader’s unpleasantly.) Next, I would reduce ‘next to’ to ‘beside’ and consider changing ‘of the bed’ to ‘of a bed.’ The reason for this second change is to avoid the ‘the’ echo, and it’s grammatically permissible because this is the first mention of this bed, meaning ‘the’ is not mandatory.

Something I dislike about this sentence, but can’t quite fix is the ‘with’. I can’t even put my finger on why it doesn’t read well, but it doesn’t. The only solution I’ve devised thus far is — A one-inch female figurine, dressed in a white top and pale blue skirt, is placed beside the foot of the bed.— This necessitates the addition of another word, but replaces the generic ‘with’ with the more specific ‘dressed’. I do think this reads better solo, but it also flows well into the subsequent sentence (at least after a little amending) …

     As the hand is removed from it the head snaps back.

Here, I would delete ‘from it’ as unnecessary and of no particular value since it carries no particular flavor or description, and then invert the sentence. — The head snaps back as the hand retreats…

     The reason I like this change is two-fold, it flows better out of the first sentence (this is the little amending I mentioned before) and it flows better into the second. The reason it flows better out of the first is because it continues with the figurine as the subject instead of swapping to the handle without preamble; this is a smoother progression of thought, which in turn means it reads smoother. The reason it reads smoother into the ensuing sentence is because we’re going to combine them. The second sentence didn’t flow particularly well because it was a flat comment without catalyst or effect (meaning nothing prompted it and it caused nothing {until the next sentence at least.}) This means the sentence had no rhythm and no progression, it was stagnant but not a statement of impact. Combing it with the third sentence gives it an effect/links it to its effect so it has progression and story/feel like a complete thought instead of a truncated one.

—Its head snaps back as the hand retreats and several drops of what appears to be blood drips from that almost severed head.—

     There are still a few things to resolve here, first being that ‘head snaps back’ is vague and doesn’t paint a sufficiently clear picture. Even after the added description of ‘almost severed’ we don’t have a clear image. Is the head dangling? Or is the remaining neck rigid? Then there is the echo of the two ‘heads’, which while not egregious could still be improved. With these thoughts in mind, I might suggest something like…

Its head recoils as the hand retreats and dangles from the shoulders by a strip of plastic, oozing what appears to be blood from its almost severed throat.—

     This sentence is longer, but it conveys a clearer image. I deleted ‘several drops of’ because I don’t think it’s necessary. With the verb being either ‘ooze’ or ‘drip’ the amount of liquid automatically indicated. There can’t be more than a few drops otherwise it would gush or flow. Even if there was a mechanism to limit the liquid flow, the verb still conveys the amount. I used ‘recoils’ because it’s a similarly violent action, shares the desired direction and is one word versus two. Normally it might invite ambiguity, (since ‘recoils’ can vary depending on the situation) but the ensuing description clarifies the imagery. I used ‘plastic’ simply for want of a specific material, and ‘dangles’ because it was the more elegant verb. Having the head protrude rigidly would have required more words and a potential passive structure. I switched ‘head’ to ‘throat’ because they work somewhat synonymously in this case (removing the need for more significant edits and restructuring) and I chose ‘throat’ over ‘neck’ because I felt the word read had a more satisfying sound.

     This leaves us with one sentence (Virginia Gardner steps back a little and looks at her latest diorama.)

     There’s little to adjust here. I would convert ‘a little’ to ‘slightly’, though the reasoning for that is ultimately subject to personal preference. I prefer the sound of a single, specific word over two; I think it readers smoother, more confidently, whereas the two words are ever so slightly more awkward. I prefer it enough that I accept the LY, this will vary from sentence to sentence and by author. After that I would replace ‘looks at’ with the specific word for what’s she’s doing, most likely either ‘admiring’ or ‘inspecting’ for flaws. I will also note a dislike for ‘steps back’ for the same reason as the rest of this paragraph’s edits; it reads a little awkward. Normally I might consider replacing it ‘retreat’ (albeit very carefully as that is a distinct leap from ‘retreats’ normal meaning) but we just used ‘retreat’ in the previous sentence and doing so again would cause an echo. I’m currently considering ‘recede’, but that might be taking too many liberties with the word. ‘Withdrew’ might also work, but it doesn’t quite fit here; it feels too medieval, fantasy-esque. Ultimately, I think I just have to live with it. You cannot imagine my misery.

     All my edits.

—A one-inch female figurine, dressed in a white top and pale blue skirt, is placed beside the foot of the bed. Its head recoils as the hand retreats and dangles from the shoulders by a strip of plastic, oozing what appears to be blood from its almost severed throat. Virginia Gardner steps back slightly and admires her latest diorama.—

     This reads pretty good in my opinion, we may be able to delete ‘from the shoulders’ as unnecessary, but I don’t believe it subtracts from the story or prose. The two As in the first sentence do echo slightly as well, and I’m in a constant debate of whether or not to delete the ‘almost’. Other than those comments, I believe this is good.

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If you have something you would like edited, send it to me at I’ll edit something up to a soft cap of 3k words, post a small section to the blog and render the rest privately. The private review will have a different format, but similar depth.