Pulp Exercise – Rewrite for Emotion

The goal here is to rewrite the following passage to conform to the F-H “wheel of now” cycle:  lead with future-oriented emotion, follow with intellectual, factual information.

The rule is:

There must be movement in two directions, a fact (looking and rolling backward) and a feeling (looking and rolling forward) in virtually every sentence of your story (Formulas, 50).

The goal here is not to create a good piece of writing, but an emotionally powerful piece of writing – even inappropriately powerful for the content.

An example of the “wheel of now.”  Notice how sentences tend to lead with emotion:

Angrily he whirled.  The dark figure behind him had not moved, had not made a sound.  But now the sullen lids were wide open and the dull eyes had a chill, basilisk stare to them, like the eyes of a great snake.  Something incredibly evil in that silent stare, something smirking, something filled with cold, nameless horrors.  A thin chill seeping through him, Don grinned back with his lips only, and swung toward the door (Formulas, 50-51).

The sample is taken from a “serious” sci-fi novel, which reads kind of slow:

The dust of the crowd welled up around her and she choked on it before being able to speak, then:  “How … how do you know how far I’ve come?”

It was an old woman’s cracked voice she heard issuing from her mouth.

“You are not hidden from me,” the injured one said.

One of the soldiers laughed at her and thrust his spear in her direction.  He did it almost playfully.  “Get along, old woman.  You may’ve traveled far but I can send you farther.”

His companions guffawed at the jest.

Hali recalled Ship’s reassurance:  No one bothers an old woman.  The injured man called out to her:  “Let them know it was done!”

Then the angry shouts of the crowd and the swirling, odorous dust engulfed her.  She almost choked as they moved past, caught by a coughing spasm which cleared her throat.  When she could, she turned to gaze after the crowd and a gasp was forced from her.  At the top of the hill beyond the crowd two men were hanging on tree constructions with crosspieces such as that being dragged along with the injured man (Herbert, Ransom, 138).

You can change the factual basis if you want.   The goal is just to practice the “Wheel of Now.”

Work on your own or post it in a comment.

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Published in: on June 18, 2009 at 10:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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  1. Choking bitterly on the dust sent up by the crowd, finally she spoke: “How can you know how far I’ve come?”

    Her voice had the froglike croak of an old woman, alien to her ears.

    “You are not hidden from me,” the wounded man told her.

    A soldier, laughing, barked her shins with his spear. “Go on, y’old hag. You think you came far? I’ll send you farther!”

    His companions snickered. But Hali remembered Ship’s promise: No one bothers an old woman. And she stepped forward.

    The wounded man whispered to her. She could feel his breath. He said: “Let them know it was done.”

    Then they knocked her to the ground, all of them, and all was choking dust and kicking feet. Racked by coughs, she struggled to her feet and, raising her eyes, saw with horror through the swirling stinking dust the treelike frames men were raising on the hill.

  2. Your version read much better.

    The only possible flaw was an apparent POV shift(But Hali remembered Ship’s promise: No one bothers an old woman. And she stepped forward.
    The wounded man whispered to her. She could feel his breath. He said: “Let them know it was done.”)

    Here is my highly flawed attempt at “the wheel of now.”

    A crowd kicked up a cloud of fine white dust. She coughed. Their stares choked her more. Her lips opened. “How,” the old woman croaked, “how do you know how far I’ve come?”

    The crowd stopped. A wounded man said “you are not hidden from me.”

    The woman wanted to strike out but it would make her stand out more.

    Her weary feet would not move. Suddenly, the point of a spear jabbed at her. A soldier laughed. “Get along, hag. You may’ve come far but this can send you farther!”

    His brave comrades roared.

    Defiant, she stepped forward.

    The soldier raised the spear. Just then, another soldier grabbed the shaft. “Remember Ship’s words. No one bothers an old woman.”

    They looked to the wounded one. He leaned in. “Let them know,” he said slowly, “that it was done.”

    Suddenly, the spear swirled and old woman felt her feet fly under her. Swoosh! She hit the ground, sending more dust into her lungs. Soldier’s feet kicked up more dust. Then something really made her gasp.

    On the hill, she saw men raising tree-like frames!

    I like exercises like this. I see how it is a practicable skill and how bad I am at it now. By rewriting someone else, at least I’m taking out self-criticism about what I’m writing and focusing on how.

    Thanks for a great exercise.


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