Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Boiling Marianne Sheldon

This week's boiling comes from Marianne Sheldon, and it's 499 words of her WIP, Every Little Thing. You can find her at www.mtsheldon.wordpress.com. Let's see what we can do with it.

The Original:

            On the first day of eighth grade, Carly’s best friend, Sharon Haluza, morphed into Shari. Jenny Daly became Jen, and Laurie-Anne Pasternak was now Lori. Plus the three of them all carried their school supplies in matching blue Adidas gym bags. And everyone in the whole grade had turned all huggy. None of them hugged in seventh grade.
Even though they only lived two blocks apart, Sharon and Carly hadn’t hung out much over the summer. But as soon as Carly rounded the corner onto Sharon’s street, she spotted her friend up ahead waiting on the fence post like always. Maybe that’s why Carly never saw the changes coming. She started running. “Sharon, hi!”
Sharon jumped up and held her arms wide as if for a hug. She squealed. “Carly Bear!”
Carly stopped short of Sharon’s arms. “Wow, you got taller!” Sharon’s legs in their tight denim had lengthened. She was a full head above Carly. And beneath a tight blue top she was wearing a bra. That she needed. Carly suddenly felt off-balance.
Sharon patted Carly on the head. “You didn’t. You’re the same little squirt from last year.” She sounded like she was talking to a little kid. She leaned down and swung her gym bag onto her back, and the girls fell into step, side-by-side.
Carly tried to lengthen her stride to match Sharon’s. She glanced down at her flat, braless chest, pulled her jean jacket closed, and hoped it would stay cool enough so she could keep it on all day.
“How was your summer?” Sharon asked.
“Good. I camped out at Gran’s lots.” Gran lived in the best place in the whole wide world. Near the YMCA camp on the north side of Spirit Lake, practically at the foot of Mount St. Helens.
“Camping. Oh, cool. Did you see ‘Meatballs’?”
“No, but I saw The Muppet Movie. It was great.”
Shari snorted. “You’re so cute. Did you have to take your little brother?”
“Uh, yeah.”
“I saw ‘Alien’ and ‘The Amityville Horror’ too. They were so scary. And ‘Moonraker’. Roger Moore’s so yummy for an old guy.”
“Oh, yeah. He’s, uh, yummy.”
“Did you see it?”
“Uh, no.” Mom only let them see G-rated movies.
Carly spotted an interesting pebble in the grass. She picked it up. Basalt. Igneous. While tucking it into a pocket, she stole a glance at Shari. She seemed so different. “Hey! Are you wearing makeup?”
“No.” Two spots of red appeared on Shari’s cheeks. “Just a little.” Her lids were blue and her eyes lightly ringed with black.
Carly wore her favorite army-style khakis and a faded jean jacket. She’d swiped both from her big brother Chris the second he outgrew them. She had to roll the bottoms of the khakis and belt them or they would have slid right off her skinny hips, but they were perfect for climbing around on the Rock. They were loose and comfortable, they didn’t rip easily, and they had tons of pockets.

The Condensation:

            On the first day of eighth grade, Carly’s best friend, Sharon Haluza, morphed into Shari. Jenny Daly became Jen, and Laurie-Anne Pasternak was now Lori. Plus the three of them all carried their school supplies in matching blue Adidas gym bags. And everyone in the whole grade had turned all huggy. None of them hugged in seventh grade.

This first paragraph is psychic: it tells us everything Carly is going to discover over the next chapter or so, before she discovers it. As such, it's a POV glitch—a violation of the third person limited POV used in the rest of the chapter—and is thus also a "tell" instead of a "show", and redundant with what comes after it.

Thus, it can be cut in its entirety.

Even though they only lived two blocks apart, Sharon and Carly hadn’t hung out much over the summer. But as soon as Carly rounded the corner onto Sharon’s street, she spotted her friend up ahead waiting on the fence post like always. Maybe that’s why Carly never saw the changes coming. She started running. “Sharon, hi!”

"Even" isn't needed, nor is "only".

"But as soon as" can be boiled out if we replace "she spotted" with "and spotted". "Up ahead" is unnecessary.

The next sentence is again a psychic POV glitch—she didn't see them coming, and doesn't even know about them at this point. So let's boil it out.

In the last sentence, we have "started [verb]ing", which (along with "began [verb]ing") should only be used if it's important that the action is interrupted.

Though they lived two blocks apart, Sharon and Carly hadn’t hung out much over the summer. Carly rounded the corner onto Sharon’s street, and spotted her friend waiting on the fence post like always. She ran. “Sharon, hi!”

Sharon jumped up and held her arms wide as if for a hug. She squealed. “Carly Bear!”
Carly stopped short of Sharon’s arms. “Wow, you got taller!” Sharon’s legs in their tight denim had lengthened. She was a full head above Carly. And beneath a tight blue top she was wearing a bra. That she needed. Carly suddenly felt off-balance.

We can combine the "arms held wide as if for a hug" and the "stopped short", and then merge the now-shortened sentence with the one after it.

I'm adverse to disembodied parts; in general I don't think legs or hands or heads should own or do things. To rectify that and boil out some "was"es, let's merge the next two sentences.

"was [verb]ing" can almost always boil down to "[verb]ed" (or in the case of "to be" or some other irregular verb, whatever's appropriate.)

The last sentence is a tell, and an unnecessary one. The towering, the needed bra, and the pat on the head all convey that Carly is off-balance, out of her element, without having to tell the reader that. So let's boil it out.

Sharon jumped up, held her arms wide, and squealed. “Carly Bear!”
Carly stopped short of the hug. “Wow, you got taller!” Sharon towered on long legs in tight denim a full head above Carly. And beneath a tight blue top she wore a bra. That she needed.

Sharon patted Carly on the head. “You didn’t. You’re the same little squirt from last year.” She sounded like she was talking to a little kid. She leaned down and swung her gym bag onto her back, and the girls fell into step, side-by-side.
Carly tried to lengthen her stride to match Sharon’s. She glanced down at her flat, braless chest, pulled her jean jacket closed, and hoped it would stay cool enough so she could keep it on all day.

If we trust the dialogue to carry itself, we don't need to say that Sharon "sounded like she was talking to a little kid."

As with most double-actions, we can get away with just one, so let's boil out, "leaned down".

"tried to" is clutter, as they manage to stay side-by-side.

"it would say cool enough so" can boil out, too, as there are a variety of reasons why one might be able to keep a jean jacket on, especially when inclined through embarassment.

Sharon patted Carly on the head. “You didn’t. You’re the same little squirt from last year.” She swung her gym bag onto her back, and the girls fell into step, side-by-side.
Carly lengthened her stride to match Sharon’s. She glanced down at her flat, braless chest, pulled her jean jacket closed, and planned to keep it on all day.

 “How was your summer?” Sharon asked.
“Good. I camped out at Gran’s lots.” Gran lived in the best place in the whole wide world. Near the YMCA camp on the north side of Spirit Lake, practically at the foot of Mount St. Helens.
“Camping. Oh, cool. Did you see ‘Meatballs’?”
“No, but I saw The Muppet Movie. It was great.”
Shari snorted. “You’re so cute. Did you have to take your little brother?”
“Uh, yeah.”
“I saw ‘Alien’ and ‘The Amityville Horror’ too. They were so scary. And ‘Moonraker’. Roger Moore’s so yummy for an old guy.”
“Oh, yeah. He’s, uh, yummy.”
“Did you see it?”
“Uh, no.” Mom only let them see G-rated movies.

I'm not a fan of speech tags, when you can use the same number of words to convey more information. We know Sharon asked, so we can turn that into something that gives us additional characterization—did she grin? Smirk? Frown? Based on the attempted hug, I'm going to give Sharon the benefit of the doubt and make her grin.

We can boil one whole word by merging the information about the camp into one sentence, and one more by removing "wide" in "whole wide world"—though I see why one might keep it. In the process we can boil out the "practically", because close enough is close enough.

Dialogue being what it is, I tend to leave it alone unless something egregious pops up. This dialogue looks great—authentic and brimming with information on both the setting and the family life of the girls, without pushing either one.

(As a side note, nothing has actually happened to tell us that Sharon is now Shari, so if this is a new development, we should hear about it. My suggestion would be to have other kids call her "Shari" when it comes up, and for Carly to react accordingly.)

Sharon grinned. “How was your summer?”
“Good. I camped out at Gran’s lots.” Gran lived near the best place in the whole world, the YMCA camp on the north side of Spirit Lake at the foot of Mount St. Helens.
“Camping. Oh, cool. Did you see ‘Meatballs’?”
“No, but I saw The Muppet Movie. It was great.”
Sharon snorted. “You’re so cute. Did you have to take your little brother?”
“Uh, yeah.”
“I saw ‘Alien’ and ‘The Amityville Horror’ too. They were so scary. And ‘Moonraker’. Roger Moore’s so yummy for an old guy.”
“Oh, yeah. He’s, uh, yummy.”
“Did you see it?”
“Uh, no.” Mom only let them see G-rated movies.

Carly spotted an interesting pebble in the grass. She picked it up. Basalt. Igneous. While tucking it into a pocket, she stole a glance at Shari. She seemed so different. “Hey! Are you wearing makeup?”
“No.” Two spots of red appeared on Shari’s cheeks. “Just a little.” Her lids were blue and her eyes lightly ringed with black.

Carly could hardly pick up a pebble she hadn't spotted, so let's merge these sentences.

We know Shari has two cheeks, so we can boil "Two spots of red" to "Red spots"...but for that matter, red spots appearing on someone's cheeks is a blush, so let's call it that.

The last sentence can be made more active by boiling out the "were".

Carly plucked an interesting pebble from the grass. Basalt. Igneous. While tucking it into a pocket, she stole a glance at Sharon. She seemed so different. “Hey! Are you wearing makeup?”
“No.” Sharon blushed. “Just a little.” Light black lines ringed her blue eyelids.

Carly wore her favorite army-style khakis and a faded jean jacket. She’d swiped both from her big brother Chris the second he outgrew them. She had to roll the bottoms of the khakis and belt them or they would have slid right off her skinny hips, but they were perfect for climbing around on the Rock. They were loose and comfortable, they didn’t rip easily, and they had tons of pockets.

Clothes swiped from an older sibling are hand-me-downs, so let's call them that—which incidentally allows us to boil out the "big" in "big brother", as one doesn't get hand-me-downs from younger siblings.

The next sentence combines two ideas that should be separate: rolling up the bottoms (cuffing) doesn't keep them from sliding off her hips—which they'd only do were her hips skinny, so we can boil that out.

"climbing around" = "climbing", which we can merge with the next sentence.

Carly wore her favorite army-style khakis and a faded jean jacket, hand-me-downs from her brother Chris. She cuffed the khakis, and a belt kept them from sliding off her hips. Loose and comfortable, they didn’t rip easily and had tons of pockets, perfect for climbing on the Rock.

The Result:

Though they lived two blocks apart, Sharon and Carly hadn’t hung out much over the summer. Carly rounded the corner onto Sharon’s street, and spotted her friend waiting on the fence post like always. She ran. “Sharon, hi!”
Sharon jumped up, held her arms wide, and squealed. “Carly Bear!”
Carly stopped short of the hug. “Wow, you got taller!” Sharon towered on long legs in tight denim a full head above Carly. And beneath a tight blue top she wore a bra. That she needed.
Sharon patted Carly on the head. “You didn’t. You’re the same little squirt from last year.” She swung her gym bag onto her back, and the girls fell into step, side-by-side.
Carly lengthened her stride to match Sharon’s. She glanced down at her flat, braless chest, pulled her jean jacket closed, and planned to keep it on all day.
Sharon grinned. “How was your summer?”
“Good. I camped out at Gran’s lots.” Gran lived near the best place in the whole world, the YMCA camp on the north side of Spirit Lake at the foot of Mount St. Helens.
“Camping. Oh, cool. Did you see ‘Meatballs’?”
“No, but I saw The Muppet Movie. It was great.”
Sharon snorted. “You’re so cute. Did you have to take your little brother?”
“Uh, yeah.”
“I saw ‘Alien’ and ‘The Amityville Horror’ too. They were so scary. And ‘Moonraker’. Roger Moore’s so yummy for an old guy.”
“Oh, yeah. He’s, uh, yummy.”
“Did you see it?”
“Uh, no.” Mom only let them see G-rated movies.
Carly plucked an interesting pebble from the grass. Basalt. Igneous. While tucking it into a pocket, she stole a glance at Sharon. She seemed so different. “Hey! Are you wearing makeup?”
“No.” Sharon blushed. “Just a little.” Light black lines ringed her blue eyelids.
Carly wore her favorite army-style khakis and a faded jean jacket, hand-me-downs from her brother Chris. She cuffed the khakis, and a belt kept them from sliding off her hips. Loose and comfortable, they didn’t rip easily and had tons of pockets, perfect for climbing on the Rock.

That's 348 words down from 499, a reduction of 30%. I think I managed to keep Marianne's excellent portrayal of sudden, unexpected awkwardness, perhaps even enhance it a bit, in the process. What do you think?