Sunday, 22 May 2016

I thought I'd try and share an insight into some of the creative decisions that form part of the writing process. So I've reproduced a paragraph from my latest work in progress as it nears its completion and I'm just doing some editing, which in my case, more often that not means consideration of certain word choices. It may be for the sound of the word or the rhythm it brings to the sentence. Or, more often than not, for the echo to other words around it that its various shades of meaning might bring.

This section is from a story which considers all the ways parents try to get their reluctant young children to open their mouths to take in food. The story examines some of the lasting effects of those tactics on the psychology of the grown up child (one of which is an eating disorder).

Here's the text in full:

“Broom broom. The car wants to come into the garage Cassie. Open wide. Beep beep! Let the car in… Broom broom broom”. 
Our garage was overrun by rats. There’s no way on earth I would readily be so accommodating as to open either the back door to gain ingress, or the electronic open sesame for cars to coast in. Even though once I turned seventeen, passed my driving test first time of asking, and had gone and bought my own runaround, still I never parked it inside. That garage is a place of nightmares. In the small hours I could hear them scurrying on its flat roof which lay adjacent to my bedroom wall. Even in my lowest teenage moments, that period of revved up consideration of putting an end to this miserable existence of mine, the garage though it supported the sturdiest ceiling beam of the residence, could never play host to suspending a noose. I could neither bring myself even to enter the demesne of the rodents, let alone offer lifeless carrion me up for a murine meal. And since my oral anxieties closed off any option of overdosing on medicine cabinet mucilaginous tablets, my nascent suicide drive quickly ran out of viable solutions. My parents called in pest control to liberate and restore the garage into human hands, but the rats were back by the next spring. The exterminator shrugged his shoulders and proclaimed we possessed the perfect conditions that rats favoured. He indicated the path of their rat run, which consequently closed off the garden to me as well". 

1) "Broom broom broom"This was a very late edit as I added the third 'broom', partly as a rhythmic thing after 2 "Broom, broom" and 2 "Beep, beeps". But also I decided it offered the sense of a car revving its engine while outside the garage and this idea of revving became important in parts of the paragraph that followed. I think it conveys a sense of impatience.

2) "or the electronic open sesame for cars to coast in" Originally this was clumsily expressed as 'or the electronic doors that open sesamed for the cars to drive in'. The perverting of open sesame into a verb wasn't a problem for me, I do this quite a lot. It was more that the whole sentence just felt a bit clunky, so I streamlined it. I replaced 'drive' with coast, because 'drive' is repeated later and I try and avoid repetition of words as much as possible (except for sound purposes). It was tricky coming on the right word to replace it, I settled on 'coast' because it is the opposite of the impatience elsewhere in the piece (such as with the 3 'brooms' as above). 'Coast' suggests a relief, a cutting of the engine's freneticism, an exhalation of breath as finally the car enters the garage and the food enters the child's mouth.

3)  "That garage is a place of nightmares". In the end I left this unchanged. I thought about other words for 'nightmares', but horrors and dreads just seemed a bit too tinged with the supernatural and I very much wanted this to feel in the real world. I was thinking of changing it, since the next sentence started 'At night' and I didn't like the jangle of 'nightmares./ At night', but in the end I opted to change the 'at night' to 'in the small hours' which sort of echoes the small scurrying sounds of rats. All of this only came about because one of my editing drafts is to read aloud the work, and that's when I noticed the jar of 'nightmare/ At night. Without reading it aloud, I don't think it would have come to light. Rats of course eat anything and everything.

4) "Even in my lowest teenage moments, that period of revved up consideration of putting an end to this miserable existence of mine" The addition here was the word 'revved'. I knew the word had to come into this paragraph, but wasn't quite sure where. The sentence when she describes passing her driving test, getting her own car... was consciously breathless in structure, as the reader has to navigate a long sentence with plenty of commas to get to its end. It was in itself quite revved up in its rhythm, but to use the word 'revved' in there somewhere would have duplicated what the rhythm itself was achieving. So I felt the best place for it was to suggest an acceleration of her thoughts towards suicide, since such thought processes involve a certain tipping point to really become a solution in the mind of a suicide.

5) "though it supported the sturdiest ceiling beam of the residence" a minor change this from 'of the house' to 'residence', since technically the garage as a separate building could be viewed as not being part of the house. You might feel the same could be said that a garage is not strictly part of the living quarters either.

6)"overdosing on medicine cabinet mucilaginous tablets" an example of alliteration for the sound of the sentence, lots of fricative 'c's', plosive 't's', with bilabial 'm's' and the assonance and rhyme of cabinet and tablet.

7) "my nascent suicide drive quickly ran out of viable solutions". Originally I had the word 'practical' solutions. I felt this was a dull word and the beauty of 'viable' is that it has an associative meaning of viability of life, used of early stage foetuses, or just fitness to survive and grow in general, which is the very opposite of the snuffing out of life she is talking about through suicide. I liked the contrast. I did also consider alternatives for 'solutions', but didn't really find anything better. 'Remedy' I rejected because I want to present the character as quite reasonable and normal, not ill or mentally unbalanced in need of a 'remedy'.

8) "My parents called in pest control" quite a simple decision this one, as originally it was 'exterminators' but then I go on to use the word in the next sentence and again wanted to avoid repetition. The word 'control' also sums up what this paragraph and the whole piece itself is about, who controlled the spoon with the food being put into her mouth.

I hope that's been of some interest in some of the things writers think about when they drill down into the detail within sentences and particularly those to do with word choices. So many words have slight differences within the shades of their meaning and I love to try and set up resonances of two or more of those meanings, in this case how 'viable' is sued to cut against its own grain by being used in the context of suicide.


Katherine Hajer said...

Re: the last one -- "pest" sort of spits out with that particular vowel combination. I wouldn't be surprised if it ultimately has an onomatopoeic origin.

This was refreshing to read, as most editing blog posts are about silly grammar slips one should have learnt in elementary school.

Katherine Hajer said...

Ugh, I meant "consonant combination". Just what I deserve for commenting before having any tea today.