You Say Po-tay-to, I Say Po-tah-to; or More Notes From The Editing Desk

(This posting originally appeared on The Melt-Ink Pot)


(Yikes! I got this all written up, then realized I’d forgotten to actually post it! Sorry it’s late….)

I’ve continued to work on edits to The Daughters of August Winterbourne. So far, I’ve taken out almost 12,000 words, and there are several upcoming chapters that are due to be deleted altogether, or at least greatly reduced. I’m pleased with many of the changes I’ve made, though I by no means feel that the edited sections have reached what I would consider a final draft.

One of the things I’ve been working on this week is how to say the same thing, but in different ways. There are certain notes I want to repeat throughout the story, but I need to do it in ways that don’t sound tiresome and boring.

Here’s an example: Celia, having just had her father confirm the existence of her half-sisters, reacts by running away. It seemed a natural thing for her to do, since she’d had the same reaction on first learning the news from one of her half-sisters.

But this time, following a suggestion from a member of my critique group, I decided to change things up a bit to show that Celia had learned that running away didn’t solve her problems. I had her stop running after about half a block. She is on the verge of returning of her own accord when her love interest, Mr. Fletcher, catches up to her (having been sent by the Academy’s Chancellor to chase her down).

I liked this change to the scene, since it did show her growing and learning from her past experiences. And I was still able to include a little interaction between Celia and Mr. Fletcher. I was even so daring as to have him give her a little hug. On a public thoroughfare and everything! Here’s what that looked like:

He stopped about five feet away from her. “Miss Winterbourne. I don’t mean to intrude. I just wanted to make sure you were all right.”

The sympathy in his face caught her off guard, and her eyes filled with tears. She turned to study the wall, not wanting him to see her cry. “I’m fine,” she whispered.

She caught a movement out of the corner of her eye, and looked down to see his hand in front of her, holding a handkerchief.

“No, you’re not,” he said softly. “But if it would help to tell someone, I’m here.”

Against her will, she turned to face him, eyes still swimming with tears. “Thank you.”

The next thing she knew, his arms went around her, holding her gently against him. Once again, she marveled at how safe and warm she felt there.

Now, this wasn’t a bad scene, but as it was pointed out to me, the part about how she felt safe and warm in Mr. Fletcher’s arms was well enough, but it’s a little cliche. Besides, I’d had her making that same observation a few scenes back, the first time they hugged.

So I made a few changes, and I think it’s better:

The next thing she knew, his arms went around her, holding her gently against him. She buried her face in the grey tweed of his coat. He smelled of river water and coal smoke and peppermint; the scents wrapped themselves around her as securely as his arms.

I’m not convinced that it’s perfect yet, but I think the revised version conveys the sense of feeling safe and warm without using those exact words.

[Update: After being outdoors all day today, I’ve decided that it should be: “He smelled of river water and autumn leaves and peppermint; the scents wrapped themselves around her as securely as his arms.”]

How do other people handle the challenge of echoing a scene or emotion without resorting to repeating the same words over and over?

About sheilamcclune

Aspiring author, sharing the tidbits I've learned along the way.
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2 Responses to You Say Po-tay-to, I Say Po-tah-to; or More Notes From The Editing Desk

  1. Anonymous says:

    I like your updated revision a lot. It repeats the sense of the note but in a new way. It shows the idea instead of telling. It also seems more poetic. Autumn leaves are more romantic than coal smoke (unless you need to show that Celia disagrees with me).Keith

  2. Sheila says:

    Well, I could make a case for Celia finding coal smoke to be a comforting smell, in that it might remind her of her father's workshop or being on the airship. But the autumn leaves sound far more romantic.

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