ASIM pre-slush workshop post #9

Here is the ninth of the submissions, posted here in no particular order. Please remember that this is the opinion of one editor. There will be others who agree, but there will also be those who disagree. In the end, what you do with your story is up to you; it’s your call.

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Original text:

Pyre Fly Away

Namtar stood with one hand in his pocket and the other stroking his favorite charm: a small sundial he had owned since the beginning. Its intuitive function was useless to him at this time of night, with the moon approaching the zenith of its path. Regardless of the time, the markings around the gnomon didn’t indicate hours; they were much more important.

So many centuries had passed since his master had given it to him. Millennia on top of millennia. It was his last physical connection to his people–a tribe long forgotten by the chapters of history.
He ground his toe in the moist soil. Bits of grass lay flat under the force, stuck in the mud. It was good digging ground.

Thigh-high obelisks lined up neatly to his left and right, and in rows both before and behind. He stood dead center in the graveyard, staring down with a new sense of finality at the marker directly in front of him. Poor Doctor Kennor had been moved long ago, but the headstone knew no different.

A firefly landed on the front of Namtar’s button-up shirt and he shooed it away. The warm, humid air of late June, combined with the knoll’s tall grass, attracted a swarm of them. They blinked at each other slowly, like dying embers waiting for a bellows. They bobbed from knee height to shoulder height, illuminating the names on the tombstones far better than the sliver of moon overhead.

He looked at the sundial, keeping it cupped in his hand, as though hiding its face from the curious bugs. The engraved markings–unreadable to all but the scholarly few these days–glowed subtly with a yellow-green radiance. All but the last few were alight.

“Nearly there,” he said to the grave. “I’ve almost got them all.”

Editor’s comments:

I quite like the atmosphere described in this beginning. There is a sense of place, and a sense of mystery. There is a sense that the author has done some interesting worldbuilding. I had no idea what a gnomon was, so, like a pedantic editor, I googled it. It’s the triangular blade on a sundial. We’re in a graveyard and the character is doing mysterious things. All good.

That said, I think this piece needs severe trimming. Overwriting is a term that means using more words than necessary, often dramatically so. I think this piece is overwritten. This is very likely to be a problem in the entire piece.

I dislike re-writing other people’s prose, but I’ll give some pointers here as to what I think should be cut.

The first sentence should end after the word sundial. The rest is not important, because you’re not specific. Non-specific language is blah. Blah needs to be cut.

The second sentence: all you need is: It was useless to him at night. You don’t need intuitive (doesn’t mean anything here). You don’t need the bit about the moon. You might say something about moonlight, for setting’s sake, but I’d make it a visual image.

The third sentence is telling, and you probably need something about the markings, but I would make it visual. Could you tie it up with the moonlight perhaps, like describing the mysterious markings in moonlight. Maybe he was using the moonlight instead of the sun? The scene is powerful. Give us something visual.

I’d delete the entire second paragraph. You probably need this somewhere, but here isn’t the place. It clutters up the beginning.

Keep going with the visual cues. The obelisks, the graveyard. End the first sentence of the third paragraph after ‘rows’.

Words like ‘before him’, ‘from behind’ and other place markers are what’s sometimes called ‘stage directions’. Important if this was a screenplay. This is not. Delete that stuff unless it’s vital. This piece has a lot of those descriptors: dead center, the front of his shirt. Delete, delete. If he can see the fly, it’s obviously not on his back. It doesn’t matter where in the graveyard he is.

What matters:
He’s in a graveyard (describe it in a suitably spooky way)
He’s got a weird thing (describe it, never mind how he got it—that can wait)
He’s going to do something with it.

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