The Ubiquity of Horses

Horses by the oceanSit close, boys and girls, calm down, and drink your juice. The story I’m going to tell you today is…Micky, Micky! Stop pulling her hair or I’ll use the sarcasm again. You want that? I know you don’t. So get your fingers away from her.

For story time today we’re going to talk about revising fiction, and no, I don’t care if you don’t want to hear this one. We’ll do The King in the Golden Boat tomorrow. Yes, yes, I know you think this is excessively didactic, not that I asked any of you.

So long ago, about a week, in a land far away, well…right here actually, a man was writing a novel and— What? What’s a novel? As it happens, we don’t have a clear answer to that, what with Stern’s Tristram Shandy coming along immediately after the publication of the first English novel. I mean, one whole page was printed in solid black. It sounds scary? You bet it was scary.

Then let’s say a man was writing a really long story. And he would write something, and later he would read it again and think “PeeeYuuuu! This stinks! How can I make this better?” I’m going to give you four examples of how he changed it, what we call revising.

Example One

[Original before revision] The first two sentences of a new chapter.

“I guess we need to think more about our clothes if we’re gonna do this,” Benedict said. They were passing a stable, and a strong smell of horses and straw came onto the street.

(Revised the first sentence to refer to the ending of the previous chapter, also giving Benedict a reason to look at his clothes and comment on them.)

After cleaning the coin on his shirt, Benedict looked at his shirt, then at his pants. Now that they were in the past, the modern nature of their clothing seemed like a more serious question. “I guess we need to think more about our clothes if we’re gonna do this,” he said. He and Miramar were passing a stable, and a strong smell of horses and straw came onto the street.

Example Two

[Original before revision]

“I wonder if I could learn to ride a horse here,” Miramar said. “Then when I go to camp in California after I get home, I’ll already know.”

(Expanded what she said a bit, to show more of her thinking, gave her an additional motive for wanting to learn to ride a horse.)

“I wonder if I could learn to ride a horse here,” Miramar said. “Then when I go to horse camp in California after I get home, I’ll already know. I’d get on that horse and start riding around, and they’d think I didn’t know how.”

(Since Miramar is talking to her father, she would probably not name where home is. Took out the reference to California.)

“I wonder if I could learn to ride a horse here,” Miramar said. “It would be fun when I go to horseback camp when I get home to already know how.”

(Expanded her thoughts a bit, adding a response after Benedict’s practical reply. This was also intended to give a little emphasis to the fact that sometimes she insists on what she wants, as a small bit of developing her personality.)

“I wonder if I could learn to ride a horse here,” Miramar said. “It would be fun when I go to horseback camp when I get home to already know how.”

“I’m not sure how we’d arrange that,” he replied.

“Well it must be possible. Everybody rides a horse here,” she said.

Example Three

[Original before revision]

“Flush, you bastards!” one of the men said loudly and threw cards on the table, laughing. Seeing a card game in progress made Benedict wish he was playing.

As he and Miramar walked on, she asked, “What does flush mean?”

(For literary interest, added a metaphor about sharks, but it was also meant to show something about how intensely Benedict approaches card playing. The addition of the last sentence was also to emphasize the strength of his desire to play.)

“Flush, you bastards!” one of the men said loudly and threw cards on the table, laughing. Seeing a lively card game in progress gave the shark in Benedict a scent of blood in the water. It was with effort that he turned away from the open doorway.

As he and Miramar walked on, she asked, “What does flush mean?”

(Revised the last sentence to follow the ocean metaphor implied by sharks.)

It was with effort that he turned away from the open doorway, to swim toward calmer waters.

As he and Miramar walked on, she asked, “What does flush mean?”

(In the second sentence below, changed the verb “walked” to “moved—he and Miramar moved, to get a smoother flow from the previous sentence, which now refers to swimming. It was awkward to say “swim” immediately followed by “walk”.)

It was with effort that he turned away from the open doorway, to swim toward calmer waters.

As he and Miramar moved on, she asked, “What does flush mean?”

Example Four

[Original before revision]

She was talking about the ubiquity of horses here in the ancient world.

(One small change in this sentence, “talking” to “speaking” just for the poetic sound of it, as the p  in “speaking” echoes the b of “ubiquity”,  followed, in both words by a vowel and then a k sound (though spelled differently). It’s a little thing, but it’s nice to pay attention to such details when possible.

She was speaking about the ubiquity of horses here in the ancient world.

Alright, boys and girls. Story time is over. Time for a nap. Then don’t sleep, but I’m going to.

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Filed under Giving Birth to a Book (That's Why I'm Screaming), How We Create Magic

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