Touchstone’s copy edit (2)

Since I’m so immersed in the copy edit, I thought I’d inflict it on you, as well.

I’m going to give you three versions of a paragraph, one that follows Harris Stuyvesant, the American protagonist, as he wakes up in the guest house of a duke’s country estate following an evening of disturbing revelation, decides it’s too early to ask for coffee, and sets off for a walk instead. It’s a third of the way into the book, and begins a section of maybe 20 pages where the six main characters are all shown in their own points of view, some of them for the first time.

As with any such scene, the setting needs to underscore something about the action or the character. And I know you are looking at this without context, but I’d be very curious to know your reactions to the three versions of this paragraph–or rather, of the middle sentence of the paragraph, since that’s all that has changed. This is not, by the way, a test. There is no right or wrong answer. All three versions function grammatically, and the changes made were designed to serve the greater good of the story beyond this small slice of the action. But I’d be curious to know which you feel appeals more, which distracts less, which moves the action on better.

I’ll tell you tomorrow which of the three versions was the original, which my editor’s suggestion, why we both felt the way we did, and finally, which will stand in the book you’ll see in December.

1. Moving as silently as he could, he splashed cold water on his face and eased clothing from drawers, waiting until he was at the downstairs door before lacing on his boots. He pulled on a hat and buttoned up his coat, then let himself out into the cool, silent morning, luminous in a way he’d only ever seen in this country. It was like standing inside a pearl: not flashy, just glowing with perfection, an ultimate expression of natural beauty.

2. Moving as silently as he could, he splashed cold water on his face and eased clothing from drawers, waiting until he was at the downstairs door before lacing on his boots. He pulled on a hat and buttoned up his coat, then let himself out into the cool, silent morning, a morning of luminous potential such as he’d only ever seen in this country. It was like standing inside a pearl: not flashy, just glowing with perfection, an ultimate expression of natural beauty.

3. Moving as silently as he could, he splashed cold water on his face and eased clothing from drawers, waiting until he was at the downstairs door before lacing on his boots. He pulled on a hat and buttoned up his coat, then let himself out into a morning of luminous potential such as he’d only ever seen in this country. It was like standing inside a pearl: not flashy, just glowing with perfection, an ultimate expression of natural beauty.

Comments

  1. From my perspective: (1) is awful in that it leaves some uncertainty as to which antecendent is being described as luminous; (2) is cumbersome but ultimately the least distracting and the thereby the most effective in converying the sense of the country mornings; (3) is okay, but the change from describing his actions leading right into the morning description is too abrupt for my comfort. I would stick with number 2.

  2. I’m with Ray on #1 — it reads to me as if the guy were luminous rather than the morning. I like both #2 and #3; I think they’re both graceful and really lovely. My read? The phrasing in #2 shifts the emphasis away from the protagonist to the morning: the morning becomes the subject of the last part of the middle sentence and its description is the purpose of the third sentence. The phrasing in #3 keeps the emphasis on the protagonist’s perception of the morning. The second one tells me a lot about the morning and the countryside. The third one tells me a lot about the protagonist. Absent context, I like the third one for that reason. And I like him, too!

  3. azdolphin says:

    Even before reading Ray’s comment, I too, prefer version 2. The first change that drew me to version 2 over version 1 is simply the word “potential.” Being an eternal optimist, I love all the connotations inherent in the word. Then when I went to version 3, I found myself missing the “cool, silent” aspect of the morning. For me, it turns out, those words were almost as crucial as “potential.” Curious to see which version made the final cut!

  4. I like #3. The second one sounds like it’s trying too hard. #3 reads easier, and seems more fluid both in word choice and actions of character; like when a picture is painted in a way meant to seem languid, but in actuality was created with furious, studious intent.

    There’s my two cents, spent.

  5. I actually like the first one, with the addition of two words and a comma, as noted below:

    He pulled on a hat and buttoned up his coat, then let himself out into the cool, silent morning, which was luminous in a way he’d only ever seen in this country.

    That fixes the object-confusion in #1, but is much more sleek and smooth than either #2 or #3. My inner edtior also wants to simplify “he’d only ever seen in this country” to “he’d seen only in this country” or “he’d never seen but in this country,” but my inner editor is a neurotic pain in the neck, so never mind her.

    If I had to choose between #2 or #3, I’d go with #3, as it’s smoother. I agree that #2 does highlight the importance of the morning and Harris’s impression of it, but you’ve already got that bit nailed via the next sentence.

  6. I prefer the first one, just as it is…I have no problem knowing that it is the morning that is luminous, or that in context, we know where he is, so ‘only in this country’ is enough explanation.

  7. Version 3 works for me. The ‘cool, silent’ is working too hard. v3 is evocative without tangling with a more complicated sentence. (I have a little subconscious error checker; she was born during a stint as newspaper proofreader back when pasteup was done using wax, and she won’t go away. Some people have OCD; I have occasional grammar twitches.)

  8. riobonito says:

    I don’t know about waking up to early for coffee..whats wrong with Harris? Oh, that wasn’t the question..I am out numbered, but I vote for # 1.

  9. I think that version #3 has the clearest focus and smoothest progress. Although I think Vicki’s idea works, I’m one for the most image and fewest words that will be clear. #1 seemed a bit overdone to me and loses focus a bit (absent Vicki’s fix). In #2, ‘morning, a morning’ got me . . . it’s one of those “made you look” repetitions that one has to check back to be sure it was read correctly. That means you are not flowing ahead in following the images, but looking for facts, which distracts. That’s my thinking, anyway. Cheers, Laurie. Happy editing.

  10. While it may be grammatically correct, I agree that #1 was a bit confusing. I instinctively liked #2 the best, although I have a hunch the editor will go with #3 for its to-the-point-ness. While I agree with Laraine that ‘morning, a morning’ could make you do a double take, it feels right – it has a certain rhythm about it that flows for me. I also felt that #3 lost something by taking out the ‘cool, silent’ description of the morning.

    Thanks for opening your work up to be picked apart by the world at large – this is great fun! 😉

  11. buddiegirl says:

    I like the flow of version 3 the best, but I also think that it could be written “He pulled on a hat and buttoned up his coat, then let himself out into the cool, silent morning. It was a morning of luminous potential, such as he’d only ever seen in this country and was like standing inside a pearl: not flashy, just glowing with perfection, an ultimate expression of natural beauty.”

  12. #3. #1 has problems, #2 is a bit awkward, #3 refers to “potential” which could be leading toward something.

  13. I think #3 is the easiest to read, #2 is a little wordy but good. #1 confused me a little. I had to go back a few words.

    Overall, #3 or #2 is my favorite. I can go either way.

  14. I prefer #1, I don’t find it confusing at all (and English is not my first language).

  15. I liked #1–it was “lyrical”–not just prose.

  16. I’m with ribonito about the early/coffee thing. Blurg. Jessara, I was a copy-girl at my local paper in the wax/paste-up era! It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about those long sticky strips of print.

    For what it’s worth, I like the “cool, silent” thing being in there.

  17. ellephelps says:

    I’m with Vicki in both of her posts. My inner editor didn’t like “only ever”, either, and I think you hit the new wording just right. I like the first paragraph best, with her changes.

    However, since that isn’t one of the options, the third paragraph reads the most smoothly, even though I also miss “cool” and “silent”, which seem to me to heighten the comparison to the pearl. It keeps with MaryL’s comment of “lyrical”, as that was my first impression, too.

    Thanks for allowing us our input – can’t wait to find out which paragraph made it into the book.

    -Laura

  18. laura_de_leon says:

    I’m in the group that initially was confused with #1. It was only a very brief snag, but it interupted my reading flow.

    Both the second and the third work for me. #2 didn’t feel long, but I didn’t miss the extra words when I read #3.

    Laura

  19. #2 for me.

  20. Infliction! I love it! I pulled myself away from my dissertation to catch up on your blog this morning after a month of plugging at my academic work and what a treat! Version 2 or Version 3 do it for me. I tend to lean towards version 2 more because it seems bettered structured on how the morning impacts the character. I feel how the morning is impacting the character and the wording seems to have a more dramatic effect. That’s my opinion.. Version 3 does move more smoothly, but I felt like I lost the dramatic effect the morning had on your character.

    I didn’t feel this come across in version 1 as well and many people have already hit on why. I shalln’t reiterate.

  21. I like #1 the most, but #3 follows closely behind… #2 is too wordy.

  22. Alright, I think I came off as a complete toad in last post – so sorry, got to typing and stupidly hit “send” before stopping to read “tone” instead if “intent.” Duh. Will try to read prior to sending next time … semicolons are a pain anyways. 8-/

    So a puzzle – which is which? Ok, here’s my guess: One was the first go round, and sounded great, but which was luminous – the waker, or the morning? Two was the copy editor’s try, which seems to have meant well, but added too many words, sacrificed style for accuracy – feh! Three was the final version, in my humble opinion.

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