I’ve never been well-acquainted with Oscar Wilde, but there’s a quote attributed to him that floats around the Internet that says, “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”
I’d like to find where he said that, because it matches my own experience with The Kingdom Trilogy to a “t”. Just look at a few phrases I obsessed over during the last few weeks of writing The Stand. My writing is in quotes; my thoughts while writing them are in italics. The sentences don’t come from the same passage, FYI, so don’t try to link them together.
“The thought had come to him before.”
Hmmm… there’s something about “come to him” that just doesn’t work with the sentence. It doesn’t sound right. I want it to sound different. How can I make it sound different? What exactly should it sound like, instead of this? I’m not sure, but I know I want a change.
What about “occurred to him”? No way! I see that everywhere! I want to make it sound more original than that! No, brain, this is not an insignificant details! If I want to write good prose, I’ve got to focus on the details!
Wait a minute… how did an hour just pass by? It was 10 AM just a minute ago… oh, forget this. I have a chapter to finish.
“50,000 armored men stood in endless iron rows.”
Hold it! I need to spend some time with this sentence. Do I absolutely need the adjective “armored”? The readers already know that this is an army. Wouldn’t “armored” be redundant, then?
Maybe I should get rid of “endless iron rows”. I mean, now that I’m running that through my head, it doesn’t sound quite right. It sounds great, but it might sound better elsewhere. What do I think of when I see the phrase “endless iron rows”? Not a medieval army so much as a robot army. Heck, I could even see a steampunk politican using this to rile his audience against some authority- hey, that might be a story worth writing…
Ack! No! Don’t brainstorm! Make a note and move on! But wait- we gonna keep “armored” or not? Ummm… let’s scratch it. And we’ll circle “endless iron rows”. If I can think of something more fitting during editing, I’ll use that. Wait, what was my problem with that phrase in the first place?
“Eyes were locked forward.”
That doesn’t look grammatically correct. I know, I know; it will be clear I’m referring to the soldiers Arman’s looking at. But still. Maybe I should play by the rules and say, “Their eyes were locked forward.” That doesn’t take anything away from the sentence, though having a word that starts with “e” at the start of the sentence looks kind of cool.
I wonder if I should just get rid of the whole sentence? I’m trying to show that the soldiers look tense. But it’s hard for Arman to notice that from a difference. Maybe instead of this sentence (how is he gonna see their eyes from where he is, anyway!) I should have a sentence emphasizing why he thinks they look tense.
Come to think of it, maybe the fact that he’s noticing emotion on the faces of soldiers at attention is a stretch. I might not even keep this passage. Well, let’s think about that…
… and there goes another hour. Okay. Decision-time. We’ll add a different sentence, and save the rest of the passage for edits. Let’s move, Sean! You have got to get this chapter done!
And that’s only three sentences. Remind me why I’m doing this again?