Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Translating into Victorian

The original from my War of the Worlds reimagining, with Ashley and her friend Violet having warned about a heat weapon used by the Martian cylinder: 

The most horrible searing sound tore through the air.  I jerked my head at the Common, knowing what I would see.  The officer inspecting the grounds went down in flames. 

“Cor!”  The corporal stood bolt upright, but crouched when Jake waved him down.  He told the others to plunge into a nearby ditch.  Jake grabbed us and led us to a somewhat presentable part of it. 

Then, translating into Victorian: 

A sound tore through the air, terrifying, relentless.  The horror of it jerked my head towards the Common, my unwilling eyes forced to watch.  The officer inspecting the grounds went down in flames. 

“Cor!”  The corporal stood bolt upright, then crouched when Jake waved him down, the corporal bellowing for his men to plunge into a nearby ditch before following himself, and Jake grabbing us and pressing us down into a somewhat less soggy dogleg of the same ditch. 

Notice the long sentence following “Cor!”  If you look at typical websites and books giving advice on writing techniques, they’ll tell you to avoid such long sentences and stay with short, pithy types.  That’s true for the first one or two sentences of a novel, and perhaps each new chapter or section after that.  But if you look at novels you admire (that are more or less mainstream), you’ll notice a good amount of long sentences.  Pick those apart and see what the author was doing. 

My long sample sentence above has a form that we’re accustomed to seeing in older books, but can still be used today.  Do not be afraid of using the –ing words to lengthen sentences in certain ways, so long as relevant detail is added that carries the sentence forward, strengthening it and adding rhythm, a rhythm attractive and almost hypnotic, pleasing the readers as it carries them along.  

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