There I’ve done it. I have selected “File -> New” on Word rather than “File -> Open -> Malcolm Cornfields to Codfish beta reader version.” I had fully intended on opening that rather than writing this to you. However, procrastination flows freely on the path to perfection.
And that’s the leg of the manuscript journey I’m in now… to perfect it with the last pieces of reader feedback. Search every “here” and “hear” because my fingers use the two of those spellings interchangeably, despite what my brain directs. Similarly, “there,” “their,” and “they’re” appear at will with no respect to the context of the paragraph.
With my readers’ feedback, I’m on a search and rescue mission for dangling participles. “Born in Iowa, the cornfields shot feet above my head as a kid.” The meaning of that sentence as it’s written is that the cornfields were born in Iowa, for there is no clear reference to me other that at the end of the sentence, and that is not close enough to the participle “Born in Iowa” to create a clear connection.
Sometimes I do these things intentionally. Particularly fragments. Love fragments. They convey the motion of the brain so articulately sometimes. They’re much more effective that saying, “I’m thinking in bits and pieces as most of us occasionally do.” Fragments show that, rather than tell it. When I taught Developmental English to college freshman, I drilled grammar so my students would be ready to take freshman comp their second year of college. Students argued with me on my authoritarian direction for writing complete and correctly punctuated sentences. I told them that they needed to learn the rules first, then they could intentionally break them. Only when you know the rules can you take artistic license in breaking them at just the right time. Only then.
Since I joined my first writers’ critique group in Boston three years ago, I have wrestled one essay to the ground over and stood up victorious time and again – or so I thought. It’s the piece of work that has put me to the test in translating from Midwest to New England colloquialisms. This was in a group of essays that I presented to that very first critique group. Their cocked heads, inquisitive looks, and blank stares made me rethink my writing style – to write such that anyone would understand what I was saying.
The problem that arose that day? Consider this: In a game of Pictionary, put a Midwest farmer at the drawing board with teammates of New England city folk doing the guessing. Then give the farmer the word “hydrant” to draw. The farmer’s team will lose. For the farmer will draw a water hydrant used to fill his cattle’s water tank, and the city folk will never guess it, for the only hydrant they know is the fire hydrant on their paved street.
Fortunately, a beta reader brought this hydrant section to my attention — again — with a few suggestions. After fifteen years of watering cattle as a child, I was so familiar with “my” hydrant that I couldn’t tell anyone who hadn’t seen one how it worked or what it looked like. In my mind, it simply was. However, after grappling with that two-page description for three years, I think I’ve finally drawn a word-picture that both Midwesterners and New Englanders will understand. Of course, you’ll be the final judge of that, particularly if you are not a Midwestern or a New Englander.
The bulk of what I have remaining to edit are clarifications like this and some minor grammar usage issues. That reminds me that I need to search for “its” and “it’s” as well. The biggest mental challenge was taking care of that hydrant section, and that is done. Oh, but I do now recall that a Midwesterner rightly wondered what the heck a quahog is.
When my book, Cornfields to Codfish, comes out this fall, you might want a dictionary at hand. Just in case.
Onward to research “quahog” so I can writely define what that is – other than a great big clam.