To Universe or not to Universe

Friday, January 11th, 2008

Brimmer and Death began with these few sentences.

On the first evening of a two-day hike through the desert, Brimmer met Death seated on a flat-topped stone. On her head she wore a black bandanna. Silver rivets studded her belt, and she cooled herself with a paper fan imprinted with the shape of the universe.

This little bit is supposed to do a couple of simple things: set the scene, establish POV, provide some information about who’s around to do something, and provide context.

After all, the two requirements of fiction are easy: tell a story and make it interesting. In that first round above, something is suggested, there’s a start to context, place, and character, but yuck what’s with that fan?

Right. Here’s the revision:

On the first evening of a two-day hike through the desert, Brimmer met Death seated on a flat-topped stone. She wore a plain black bandanna on her head. Silver rivets studded her belt, and she waved the heat away with a bone-handled fan.

Let’s say that Death indeed has a picture of the universe on her fan. I like that idea. Brimmer and Death, after all, is a story that deals with the fantastic. If Neil Gaiman could invent a pleasant character named Death, who’s to say that a hand fan she may be carrying couldn’t have a painting of the universe on it. But it just doesn’t work. The syntax is tortured to force the image into place, and it doesn’t sound right either. Another issue has to do with the relationship between sentence lengths, which has a lot to do with noun verb structure. “with a paper fan imprinted” makes for a dull, over-technical sentence. So, why not just lose the problematic image (it could come back in somewhere else, maybe, or not all) and just give the fan a bone handle. It makes the encounter more concrete and doesn’t turn Brimmer or the narrator into these incredibly observant people who, when confronted with an image, immediately recognize it as the universe.

In addition, “cooled herself” is abstract, so “waved” was added to provide a little movement and the suggestion of humor. There are a lot of “a” sounds to exploit just for kicks.

To finish, I don’t like the word fan in relation to “rivets studded.” Fan is just not a very good word.

. . . and she waved at the heat with a bone-webbed flyswatter/paper airplane/running shoe.


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