Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Soup from a Student with Ben Case

Ben Case is a former physics student of mine who's now venturing into writing in the fantasy/science fiction genres. He's offered up 503 words of his short story, Grym, for us to boil down.

The Original:

Hours dragged by and the day's sun was beginning to set. Chief Garuun had shown off his son in front of all the Hunters in the Black Sun camp. Many admonished how strong he was and shared the belief that he would become a strong and mighty warrior, like his fathers before him.

The mammoth was roasted up along with other savory meats that had been prepared by the tribeswomen. Naalah looked as though most of her strength had returned, as she was dressed and present at her mates side at the feast.

Bloodwine flowed out of the drinking horns almost as soon as it was poured. Some of the hunters beat their war drums to make music for the celebration. Dancers spun around each other in front of the bonfire. They danced for the son of the Chief.

Garuun and Naalah kissed, his mate biting down viciously on his lower lip, and drawing black blood, which only enticed the Chieftain for more. The small family was overjoyed and in the best of spirits, until the celebration was interrupted.

A scream coming from a female member of the tribe. The music and dancing cut out as the celebration came to a hault. The red skinned Orc came stumbling forward, she was holding her stomach which was bleeding with an arrow protruding from her abdomen. She stumbled to the center of the crowd of Orcs who made way for. The female uttered something incomprehensible and looked around hysterically. She looked up at Chief Garuun who bolted upright from his seat.

The female collapsed on her side and faded away into death's grip, her violet eyes glassing over as her last breath escaped her. Another loud roar came from within the crowd. It was the females mate. He picked up her limp body and tapped her cold cheek with his palm to wake her. Nothing happened. Her mate began to shake her crazily, still nothing happened. He gave up and buried his face in the females stomach. He yanked the arrow out and wiped away the black blood to expose a silver point. Steel. He turned to Garuun, held up the weapon and let out a blood curdling scream. Steel was used by Humans over the Reach. This was a deliberate attack against the tribe.

More arrows began to fall out of the sky. Orcs fled for shelter and weapons. Garuun was struck in the shoulder with a steel arrow. The chieftain pulled it out and snapped it between his fingers, a small trickle of blood running down his arm. He used his body as a shield to allow Naalah and the child to run.

The three of them made it back to their long tent. Garuun went into his battle chest and quickly threw on his light armor and picked up his axes. He got his tiger saddled and placed Naalah in the seat. The Mistress had her child in a sling across her chest. Garuun looked up one last time at his mate.

The Condensation:

Hours dragged by and the day's sun was beginning to set. Chief Garuun had displayed his son to the Hunters in the Black Sun camp. Many admonished how strong he was and shared the belief that he would become a strong and mighty warrior, like his fathers before him.

The first sentence can combine with the second. My usual objection to "beginning to" applies here--unless it's important that the action in question is interrupted, the fact that it began is no more informative than the fact that it's happening.

"had shown off" = "displayed", "in front of all" = "to"...and "Hunters" shouldn't be capitalized. (Unless it's a proper name for the group.)

I have to admonish you here, because you meant "admired", not "admonished".
"Many" = "They", "how strong he was" = "the boy's strength"...which is redundant with "strong and mighty". We should change "the belief" to "their belief", to better solidify that they are sharing this belief with the chief.

Finally, as we learn later that the members of the Black Sun camp aren't human, I think we need to say so right away.

As the sun set, Chief Garuun displayed his son to the orc hunters in the Black Sun camp. They admired the boy's strength and shared their belief that he would become a mighty warrior like his fathers before him.

The mammoth was roasted up along with other savory meats that had been prepared by the tribeswomen. Naalah looked as though most of her strength had returned, as she was dressed and present at her mates side at the feast.

"was roasted" fails the "by zombies" test for passive voice--put the actors first, before the action.
"up" is clutter.
"along with" = "and", and unless for some reason it's sugared, all meat is savory.

We know (or can easily infer that) it's a feast, so "at the feast" is clutter. This sentence is a tell instead of a show, though, and we can fix that.
"mates" needs an apostrophe.

I'm going to add "dark red" here, so that I can remove the "red-skinned" from later, because the detail at that point detracts from the action.

Tribeswomen roasted mammoth and other meats. Dressed and present at her mate's side, Naalah's dark red skin had regained some of its color.

Bloodwine flowed out of the drinking horns almost as soon as it was poured. Some of the hunters beat their war drums to make music for the celebration. Dancers spun around each other in front of the bonfire. They danced for the son of the Chief.

"out of the" = "from", "almost" is clutter, and for that matter, "as soon as it was poured" is redundant because we've already got a great verb, "flowed", to describe the action.

"Some of the hunters" = "Hunters" (as we can assume the "some"), "their" is clutter, and "to make music for the" = "in".

We can combine the last two sentences with the one before them.
"the son of the Chief" = "his son", because we're in Garuun's POV.

Bloodwine flowed from drinking horns. Hunters beat war drums and dancers spun in front of the bonfire in celebration of his son.

Garuun and Naalah kissed, his mate biting down viciously on his lower lip, and drawing black blood, which only enticed the Chieftain for more. The small family was overjoyed and in the best of spirits, until the celebration was interrupted.

The first clause can be made more active. "viciously", aside from being an adverb (Boo! Hiss!), is redundant with "drawing black blood".
"down on" is clutter, as is "only".
"the Chieftain" = "him"
"enticed him for more" = "stoking his desire" (or something like that...I originally went with "arousing him", but that's a bit more explicit).

The second sentence here is both a tell and utterly redundant with the rest of the piece. We don't need to tell the reader what they already know from the action.

At this point I see no reason not to combine this sentence with the paragraph above, which we'll do in the final edit.

Naalah kissed him, biting his lower lip and drawing black blood, stoking his desire.

A scream coming from a female member of the tribe. The music and dancing cut out as the celebration came to a hault. The red skinned Orc came stumbling forward, she was holding her stomach which was bleeding with an arrow protruding from her abdomen. She stumbled to the center of the crowd of Orcs who made way for. The female uttered something incomprehensible and looked around hysterically. She looked up at Chief Garuun who bolted upright from his seat.

The first sentence is a sudden action, so it should be sudden prose.

The music and dancing are the celebration, so we can pick one or at most two of those words and rewrite the second sentence with it. "came to a hault[sic]" = "died".

While we're at it, let's combine that short sentence with the one after it, where:
"The red skinned Orc" = "she",
"came stumbling forward" = "stumbled forward",
"she was holding" = "clutching"
And we can move "bleeding" forward to boil out the last clause.

We have an echo on "stumbled", but the sentence (which ends abruptly and ungrammatically) is redundant enough with the one before it that we can eliminate it altogether.

"The female" = "she", "something incomprehensible" = "gibberish". To eliminate the adverb "hysterically" and the echo on "looked", we can combine the next two sentences, then spin off Garuun's action into its own paragraph where it belongs.

A tribeswoman screamed. The celebration died as she stumbled forward, clutching her bleeding stomach and the arrow protruding from it. She uttered gibberish and beseeched Garuun, eyes mad with pain.

Garuun bolted from his seat.

The female collapsed on her side and faded away into death's grip, her violet eyes glassing over as her last breath escaped her. Another loud roar came from within the crowd. It was the females mate. He picked up her limp body and tapped her cold cheek with his palm to wake her. Nothing happened. Her mate began to shake her crazily, still nothing happened. He gave up and buried his face in the females stomach. He yanked the arrow out and wiped away the black blood to expose a silver point. Steel. He turned to Garuun, held up the weapon and let out a blood curdling scream. Steel was used by Humans over the Reach. This was a deliberate attack against the tribe.

The first sentence combines a show with a redunant tell. As do the next two. Let's make them one!

I don't know how one taps with a palm, so I changed that to "patted". "to wake her" is redundant.

It's rare that an author should tell the reader what didn't happen, as opposed to what did. To that effect, we can boil out both "nothing happened"s.

"Her mate" = "he".
"began to" is clutter, as he isn't interrupted.
"crazily" is clutter.

The action in this paragraph doesn't make sense. The arrow is protruding from her stomach, so he can't bury his head there without it being in the way. Thus, I'm changing stomach to "breast". This has the advantage of putting him in a great position to wrest out the arrow--which should happen in its own paragraph.

Steel isn't silver, and the fact that it's steel can be emphasized by breaking the echo rule and using the word twice in close succession.

Let's combine the actions of turning and holding up the weapon.

At this point, the information that the humans (which should not be capitalized) are over the Reach interferes with the narrative--there will be a better place for it somewhere else in the story. That it's a deliberate attack is redundant with what happens next.

Her mate roared as she collapsed, her violet eyes glassing over as her last breath escaped her. He picked up her limp body and patted her cold cheek with his palm. He shook her, then gave up and buried his face in her breast.

He yanked the arrow out and wiped away the black blood to expose a steel point. Steel. He held it up to Garuun and let out a blood curdling scream. Humans.

More arrows began to fall out of the sky. Orcs fled for shelter and weapons. Garuun was struck in the shoulder with a steel arrow. The chieftain pulled it out and snapped it between his fingers, a small trickle of blood running down his arm. He used his body as a shield to allow Naalah and the child to run.

"More" and "began to" are clutter, and "fall out of the sky" = "fell."

"was struck in the shoulder" fails the "by zombies" test, and while he can guess it's got a steel head, he wouldn't have time to know that for sure while it's burying itself in his shoulder.

"The chieftain" = "he", because we haven't left his POV (as we shouldn't in a single scene)...and while there's nothing wrong with "pulled", I think we can pick a verb that's more active (in the pizzazz sense, not the grammatical sense). Trickles are small, and the phrase can boil down by making it more active (in the grammatical sense).

The last sentence doesn't work with the one that starts the next paragraph. He didn't just shield them, he ran with them.

Arrows fell. Orcs fled for shelter and weapons. An arrow struck Garuun in the shoulder. He jerked it out and snapped it between his fingers, blood trickling down his arm. He shielded Naalah and their child with his body as they ran.

The three of them made it back to their long tent. Garuun went into his battle chest and quickly threw on his light armor and picked up his axes. He got his tiger saddled and placed Naalah in the seat. The Mistress had her child in a sling across her chest. Garuun looked up one last time at his mate.

So now "The three of them" = "They.

This is one of those cases where I'm going to advocate adding some words. "Light armor" doesn't mean anything in this context--it could be most anything, and gives the reader nothing whatsoever to go on. I'm going to guess that it's leathers and furs, but of course this is something that would be discussed with the author were I editing for the author instead of boiling as an exercise.

"went into" = "opened", "quickly threw on" = "pulled on"

"got his tiger saddled" fails the "by zombie" test, and is the tiger really in their tent?

Combining these sentences will boil out a few more words.

"one last time" is a POV glitch, sometimes called "author intrusion". Unless he's psychic, he can't know that it's the last time. ...and instead of using something kind of bland like "looked up at", we can boil things down by using something punchier.

They made it back to their long tent. Garuun opened his battle chest, pulled on his leather and fur armor, and picked up his axes. Outside, he saddled his tiger and placed Naalah in the seat, their child in a sling across her chest. They locked eyes.

The Result:

In the final read, I think that Garuun bolting from his seat belongs with the woman screaming, at the cost of an added "as". The line about meat belongs in the paragraph about wine and celebration.

As the sun set, Chief Garuun displayed his son to the orc hunters in the Black Sun camp. They admired the boy's strength and shared their belief that he would become a mighty warrior like his fathers before him. Dressed and present at her mate's side, Naalah's dark red skin had regained some of its color.  
Tribeswomen roasted mammoth and other meats. Bloodwine flowed from drinking horns. Hunters beat war drums and dancers spun in front of the bonfire in celebration of his son. Naalah kissed him, biting his lower lip and drawing black blood, stoking his desire. 
He bolted from his seat as a tribeswoman screamed. The celebration died as she stumbled forward, clutching her bleeding stomach and the arrow protruding from it. She uttered gibberish and beseeched Garuun, eyes mad with pain. 
Her mate roared as she collapsed, her violet eyes glassing over as her last breath escaped her. He picked up her limp body and patted her cold cheek with his palm. He shook her, then gave up and buried his face in her breast. 
He yanked the arrow out and wiped away the black blood to expose a steel point. Steel. He held it up to Garuun and let out a blood curdling scream. Humans. 
Arrows fell. Orcs fled for shelter and weapons. An arrow struck Garuun in the shoulder. He jerked it out and snapped it between his fingers, blood trickling down his arm. He shielded Naalah and their child with his body as they ran. 
They made it back to their long tent. Garuun opened his battle chest, pulled on his leather and fur armor, and picked up his axes. Outside, he saddled his tiger and placed Naalah in the seat, their child in a sling across her chest. They locked eyes.


298 words from 503 is a 40.7% reduction, though there is the slight cheat of omitting the Reach. Other than that, how'd I do?