The Surprising Elements of Style

I did a comparison between the first draft of Fractured and the corrections my content reader suggested. I wanted to show how bad 1st drafts can be and still become pretty good stories. But before I got around to it, I had this “correction” sent to me by a someone who’d taken it off the sales page blurb:

“Or in a doorway you pass a much-too-young-for-you man and lightning strikes from ice-blue eyes.”

The blurb is the opening paragraph Fractured Men.

Sometimes what you never thought would happen, does. All at once. A furnace explodes taking your house with it. A cop says your father’s dead. Or lightning strikes from the ice-blue eyes of a much-too-young-for-you man you pass in a doorway.

So let’s talk about opening paragraph style, instead.

They always talk about “hooks” and whatever for the first sentence of a book. I’m not sure about all that, but I do know what’s happening here:

Sometimes what you never thought would happen, does. All at once.

A sentence and a frag. One of the strong themes in this story is unexpected things happening. “All at once” might have just been the word “suddenly,” but in this case all at once carries the implication that the something is life-changing, affecting “all.”

In the graph, the idea introduced is supported with three examples:

A furnace explodes taking your house with it. A cop says your father’s dead. Or lightning strikes from the ice-blue eyes of a much-too-young-for-you man you pass in a doorway.

They are all frags. They all begin with action (furnace explodes, cop says, lightning strikes) and they are all dramatically life-changing. You know the guy in the doorway is life-changing because houses exploding and fathers dying are.

This is a unit of three, like a simple flower arrangement or a basic rule in graphic design. There’s structure and pacing—the last frag is almost the exact length of the previous two. The last is a downhill slide from tragedy to hope and takes us directly to our story.

One year to the day later, the young man was my husband. I didn’t have a fucking clue what that could mean. It made me a husband too, and I was even less-clued about that. Right this minute it meant being rudely awakened thirteen hours after our wedding by Cam stripping the covers off the bed and yanking the bottom sheet out from under me. He shoved my thigh over and examined the mattress cover. 

“Swear to God, I’m gonna have to put a waterproof mattress protector over this,” he mumbled.

I would never write the sentence my critic sent because it’s not my style at all. But that isn’t really the point. The point is, it’s not a sentence. I mean, a brick is a brick, I suppose, but once it’s in place, it’s part of a wall or a road or barbecue. I’s cemented in place, playing a role in a larger reality.

If it’s rewritten into something else, it doesn’t serve it’s function.



Now let me show you something:

This is the above opening graph from the oldest unedited copy I have, the first first draft:

Sometimes everything you thought would never happen does. All at once. A car crashes into yours, a cop says your father’s dead, or lightning strikes from the ice-blue eyes of a much-too-young-for-you man you pass in a doorway.

I was still in first draft, maybe 70% of the way done before I rewrote it. It was what I wanted to do sort of, but one long sentence, which works in many contexts, just didn’t here. It was too fast, too smooth, too not good enough.

I didn’t think about all this stuff I told you up top because there’s some subconscious style factory in our brains, I am convinced, that does it for us. In doing the writing all I have is: it just doesn’t feel right until it does.

And then, someplace down the road, you look at it and think, “Hey, cool, look how that works!”

Surprise!

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s