Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Boiling a Policeman with Jake Elliot

This week we're going to boil the first 492 words of Jake Elliot's WIP, Joy-Ride. Jake is the author of Crossing Mother's Grave and The Wrong Way Down, as well as a variety of shorter fiction. You can find him at http://jakeelliotfiction.com/, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and just about anywhere else books are sold.

The Original:

Officer Mike Tampinaro read the sign over the door, ‘Sheinker and Goldmann, Attorneys at Law.’

It was an old office building in a neighborhood where the rent was cheap. These two attorneys could have afforded one of those high-rise office buildings at the center of town thanks to the money cow they’d been milking for over a decade. The building’s exterior would never spill the story of how much milk the money-cow had been giving, but with the money these two lawyers spent on late-night commercials, it had to be a small fortune. From the outside it looked more like an inner-city bail-bonds office––and in many ways––this wasn’t too far from the truth.

Officer Mike Tampinaro was the Metro Officer sent to handle a routine disturbance of the peace. It was the typical call about music being played too loud, but oddly, the complaint was made against the nursery next to the lawyers’ office. According to the dispatcher, it was Gene Goldmann who’d called in the complaint.

Thomas––the dispatcher––had confided, “You know, that guy on the commercials, promising to get people out of their DUIs?”

Yeah, that guy.

Officer Mike had pulled into the nursery’s parking lot next to the law office. Stepping out of the police cruiser, he stood tall. Looking sharp in his dark blues, his badge caught the sun’s light and sparkled. Taking off his sunglasses as if they were what prevented him from hearing the rock-concert that supposedly shook the foundation of this legal office, the dark lenses removed from over his eyes didn’t change a thing. Not one note of music could be heard playing anywhere. From a half-mile away, he could hear traffic on the interstate. Creepy was the lack of noise.

His eyes were greeted by a myriad of flowering plants set outside the nursery’s fence, strategically arranged to entice onlookers to beautify their own habitats. The garden center was open, but vacant of people. Empty. Almost a ghost town, but equally absent of ghosts as it was void of loud music.

Mike may have explored that oddity next if the front window of the law-office hadn’t exploded outward in a cascade of shattering glass. Through the falling glass flew angry bullets sent from a crackling gun. Bullet number one zinged through the air close enough to Mike’s head to be heard. In an attempt to dodge bullets, Mike leapt across the hood of his patrol car as slug number two punched a hole through the windshield, spider-webbing safety glass and clouding the view of his dash-mounted camera.

Ducking behind the tire of his police cruiser, Mike heard the metallic tearing-sound as another bullet pelted into the cruiser’s hood eight-inches away from where his head was ducked. The gun’s rapport followed a fraction later, loudly announcing its caliber. Mike knew it was a .38 by the distinct high crack. His trained ear noticed the difference from its stronger cousin the 9mm.

The Condensation:

The first thing I'm going to do is move the sixth paragraph up to the first, so the story starts with action. This also allows us to boil out some of the "it was"-type mechanical verbage.

Officer Mike had pulled into the nursery’s parking lot next to the law office. Stepping out of the police cruiser, he stood tall. Looking sharp in his dark blues, his badge caught the sun’s light and sparkled. Taking off his sunglasses as if they were what prevented him from hearing the rock-concert that supposedly shook the foundation of this legal office, the dark lenses removed from over his eyes didn’t change a thing. Not one note of music could be heard playing anywhere. From a half-mile away, he could hear traffic on the interstate. Creepy was the lack of noise.

First, we need to use his full name to account for the move. We'll make up for the addition by boiling down future names.

I got confused later, because I didn't realize that the nursery and the garden center were the same place. Maybe that's a regional difference, but I processed them as two businesses--one with plants, one with babies.

The fact that he's tall can wait until a later time in the story--it's not important to the unfolding scene, so I'd boil it out for now and bring it up later when it matters.

"caught the sun's light and sparkled" = "sparkling in the sun".

The sentence about the sunglasses is a run-on, and it's a little confusing. I boiled it down and bumped it forward one sentence.

The traffic line can boil down by describing it, instead of just saying that he heard it.

The last line is phrased in a rather Yoda-like way. (Well, almost. He'd say, "Creepy, the lack of noise was.") A more straightforward wording would be, "The lack of noise was creepy", but I'd be inclined to turn it into more of a show than a tell. It's longer rather than shorter, but in this case I'd say it's worth the loss of word economy.

Officer Mike Tampinaro pulled into the garden center's parking lot next to the law office. He stepped out of the police cruiser in his dark blues, his badge sparkling in the sun. He heard no music at all, much less the reported rock concert. He removed his sunglasses. Traffic roared on the interstate a half-mile away. Hair rose on the back of his neck at the lack of noise.

Officer Mike Tampinaro read the sign over the door, ‘Sheinker and Goldmann, Attorneys at Law.’

We don't have to say that he read it in his POV. The fact that he knows what it says means that he read it.

The sign over the door said, ‘Sheinker and Goldmann, Attorneys at Law.’

It was an old office building in a neighborhood where the rent was cheap. These two attorneys could have afforded one of those high-rise office buildings at the center of town thanks to the money cow they’d been milking for over a decade. The building’s exterior would never spill the story of how much milk the money-cow had been giving, but with the money these two lawyers spent on late-night commercials, it had to be a small fortune. From the outside it looked more like an inner-city bail-bonds office––and in many ways––this wasn’t too far from the truth.

Conjugations of "to be" are good indicators that not only can some words get boiled out, but that the description can be made more engaging. Instead of "being in" the neighborhood, it can sit, or squat, or brood--depending on the atmosphere we want to project. The "the" before rent is clutter.

The next sentence has a lot of little boilings. "These two" = "the", "could have afforded" = "could afford", "one of those" = "a", "office buildings" can be cut (and it's an echo from the first sentence anyway), "at the center of town" = "downtown" or "midtown", and "been milking" = "milked". I'm not a fan of emphasizing approximations... "for over a decade" can just as well be "for a decade", and nobody will assume that you mean exactly 10.00 years.

"The building's exterior" = "the exterior", or if you prefer, "the facade".
"the story of" is clutter, so is the "been" before "giving" if we change it to "given".
"these two lawyers" = "they"

"From the outside" is clutter. The "and in many ways" can join with the "this" to become "which". Let's boil out the "too" while we're at it.

The old office building squatted in a neighborhood where rent was cheap. The attorneys could afford a midtown high-rise thanks to the money cow they’d milked for a decade. The facade would never spill how much milk that cow had produced, but with the money they spent on late-night commercials, it had to be a small fortune. It looked more like an inner-city bail-bonds office, which wasn’t far from the truth.

Officer Mike Tampinaro was the Metro Officer sent to handle a routine disturbance of the peace. It was the typical call about music being played too loud, but oddly, the complaint was made against the nursery next to the lawyers’ office. According to the dispatcher, it was Gene Goldmann who’d called in the complaint.

It's obvious from context that he was sent there, so I don't think we have to say it.

I also think we can combine the information in the final two sentences and boil them down to their absolute essentials. "Music being played too loud" = "loud music".

Nothing sounded like a routine disturbance of the peace, though dispatch reported that Gene Goldmann had called to complain about loud music from the store next door.

Thomas––the dispatcher––had confided, “You know, that guy on the commercials, promising to get people out of their DUIs?”

Yeah, that guy.

I have no words to boil here, so let's move on.

His eyes were greeted by a myriad of flowering plants set outside the nursery’s fence, strategically arranged to entice onlookers to beautify their own habitats. The garden center was open, but vacant of people. Empty. Almost a ghost town, but equally absent of ghosts as it was void of loud music.

"His eyes were greeted by" is just a, ahem, flowery way to say "he saw", and as the rest of this isn't poetry, I think we can cut it back. Better, let's boil it out altogether, because we're in his POV and thus can dispense with the sensory verb. "Flowering plants" are "flowers" (especially in an American male POV).

We can remove "strategically", because arrangement is deliberate by nature, but I think we can do away with "arranged" as well--it's a store, so of course they're not just there willy-nilly.

"of people" is clutter.

"Almost" can go, as can "equally".
"absent" and "void" can be merged.

A myriad of flowers sat outside the garden center's fence to entice onlookers to beautify their own habitats. The neon sign read 'Open', but the store stood vacant. Empty. A ghost town as devoid of ghosts as it was loud music.

Mike may have explored that oddity next if the front window of the law-office hadn’t exploded outward in a cascade of shattering glass. Through the falling glass flew angry bullets sent from a crackling gun. Bullet number one zinged through the air close enough to Mike’s head to be heard. In an attempt to dodge bullets, Mike leapt across the hood of his patrol car as slug number two punched a hole through the windshield, spider-webbing safety glass and clouding the view of his dash-mounted camera.

Ducking behind the tire of his police cruiser, Mike heard the metallic tearing-sound as another bullet pelted into the cruiser’s hood eight-inches away from where his head was ducked. The gun’s rapport followed a fraction later, loudly announcing its caliber. Mike knew it was a .38 by the distinct high crack. His trained ear noticed the difference from its stronger cousin the 9mm.

I decided to take these two paragraphs together, because by rearranging some of the information we can boil things down a bit better, and combine them.

I wouldn't take the time to explain what might have happened, especially as prelude to something as abrupt as this. It's abrupt, so the words should be abrupt as well. I've changed "exploded" to "burst" because my initial thought was an actual explosion, and I had to revise my mental image on the fly. "Shattering glass" should be "shattered glass", as we humans can't experience it fast enough to see it shatter.

We can move the information about the .38 up, to replace the awkward sentence about angry bullets.

There's no way in his POV he'd be numbering or naming the bullets, and zinging through the ear close enough to be heard is the same as zinging by.

It's obvious that he's trying to dodge, so we can boil that out. Punching through leaves a hole, so we can boil out "a hole".

...and while spider-webbed safety glass may very well cloud the view of his dash-mounted camera, that's not something he's going to stop to notice (if he could even see it) while diving across the hood.

We know he's behind the police cruiser, so "tire" will suffice.

"a metallic tearing-sound" is a "shrieking impact", and "eight inches away from where his head was ducked" is "eight inches from his head"...but he's not going to whip out a tape measure and check, so while before I nitpicked about approximations, here I'm going to nitpick about specificity--in both cases, close enough is close enough.

The last three sentences I'm going to boil out altogether, for three reasons:

One, a .38 revolver will typically fire in the subsonic range, somewhere between 700 and 1100 fps, so the report wouldn't arrive second,

Two, it's going to be traveling somewhere awfully close to the speed of sound, and at the distance from storefront to curb (where I presume a policeman would have parked), the difference in travel time will probably not be noticeable, and

Three, we take care of the trained ear information by the simple fact that Mike recognized the report for what it was--most people wouldn't be able to do that.

The front window of the law-office burst outward in a cascade of shattered glass and the distinct, high-pitched reports of a .38. A bullet zinged by his head. He leapt across the hood of his patrol car as another slug punched through the windshield. He ducked behind the tire as a shrieking impact pelted the cruiser’s hood a foot from his head.


The Result:

The boiling done, on a re-read I think we can rearrange things a bit more. Without boiling out anything else, I shimmied some sentences from the now-first paragraph to the third.

Officer Mike Tampinaro pulled into the garden center's parking lot next to the law office. He stepped out of the police cruiser in his dark blues, his badge sparkling in the sun. He heard no music at all, much less the reported rock concert. He removed his sunglasses. 
The sign over the door said, ‘Sheinker and Goldmann, Attorneys at Law.’ 
Nothing sounded like a routine disturbance of the peace, though dispatch reported that Gene Goldmann had called to complain about loud music from the store next door. Traffic roared on the interstate a half-mile away. Hair rose on the back of his neck at the lack of noise. 
Thomas––the dispatcher––had confided, “You know, that guy on the commercials, promising to get people out of their DUIs?”
Yeah, that guy. 
The old office building squatted in a neighborhood where rent was cheap. The attorneys could afford a midtown high-rise thanks to the money cow they’d milked for a decade. The facade would never spill how much milk that cow had produced, but with the money they spent on late-night commercials, it had to be a small fortune. It looked more like an inner-city bail-bonds office, which wasn’t far from the truth. 
A myriad of flowers sat outside the garden center's fence to entice onlookers to beautify their own habitats. The neon sign read 'Open', but the store stood vacant. Empty. A ghost town as devoid of ghosts as it was loud music. 
The front window of the law-office burst outward in a cascade of shattered glass and the distinct, high-pitched reports of a .38. A bullet zinged by his head. He leapt across the hood of his patrol car as another slug punched through the windshield. He ducked behind the tire as a shrieking impact pelted the cruiser’s hood a foot from his head.

So there you have it, 305 words down from 492, a 38% reduction. I admit I did cheat just a little by omitting the bit about standing tall, but in the end I think it was the right call. Do you agree?