Schemes and Scenes – Part Four


Schemes and Scenes – Part Four

This is the fourth article in an occasional series on scene development.  Self-Editing For Fiction Writers, Chapter Four, focuses on Proportion, with two exercises.  Read the third article.

crossed 1Correct the proportion in the following passages.

A.  Carter


As he approached the last hill, Carter passed two more runners who had started fast but were now spent and fading.  They could not longer keep their arms up; their stride, once crisp high-stepping, was now a tired, struggling, agonized shuffle.  They licked their lips; their head and shoulders drooped and swung desperately from side to side as if that extra motion could somehow coax additional reserve and speed from their aching legs.


I can imagine this passage coming at the end of an extended description of the race.  While the original passage captures the immediacy of the moment, it does not capture the tension, the action.  The reader wants to cross the finish line with Carter.  I intend to edit the passage to strike a balance that captures the agony of the finish line.


As Carter approached the last hill, he passed two runners.  The course had reduced their crisp high-stepping stride to an agonized shuffle.

B.  Dotty


She walked to the sink, reaching for a glass and turning on the tap.  “Watch out for the egg.”

It was too late.  Eddy (a four-year-old) was wiping his eyes and did see it.  His foot slipped.

Dotty wanted to cry.  She grabbed Eddy by the arm, pulling him to his feet.  Reaching for the dishrag, she tried to wipe his pants.  “Stop crying,” she said, handing him a glass of water.  “Drink this, then go change your pants.”


Mine:  The first paragraph has too much action description.  The second paragraph includes a parenthetical statement.  The third paragraph is close.

Authors:  There is too little detail.


My first revision:

Dotty reached for a glass.  “Watch out for the egg.”

It was too late.  Eddy, wiping his eyes, did not see it.  He slipped and fell.

Dotty wanted to cry.  She tried to clean Eddy’s pants.  “Stop crying.”  Then she handed him a glass of water.  “Drink this, then go change your pants.”

My second revision:

Dotty stepped over the broken egg and reached for a glass.  “Don’t step in it Eddy.”  But, her words were too late.

Eddy, still wiping his eyes, didn’t see it.  He stepped on it.  His foot flew out from under him.  He fell and began to cry.

Dotted knelt beside him.  She wanted to cry, too.  She tried to wipe his pants clean.  When the egg wouldn’t come off, she got him a glass of water.   “Drink this, then go change your pants.”


Proportion means just that, getting the balance right.  I assumed both passages needed shortening.  The first had too much detail.  Then I took my knife to the second passage, already lean, and shortened it further.

I should have been looking at the passage to see what it needed.  When I edit my work, I cut, cut, cut.  But, sometimes, a key passage may need more words, or different words.  My job, as editor, is to help the reader.  Give them enough to fill in the details on their own.

Read the fifth article.





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