Monday, January 28, 2019

Theme Mapping – Color Your World

I am sure that it must seem like Theme Month on this page, because most of the posts have been chasing that concept around. Well, it’s an important one, so it’s worth a few mentions. Themes create a cohesion that holds a story together even when the plot shifts around and dramatic changes send the characters in new directions. Themes holds the reader on course.

Now, when it comes to introducing themes, it’s fair to ask how many there should be. Good question. Thematic writing started off with one or maybe two important notes, as witnessed in the early ballads and sagas of long ago, then went theme-crazy and filled the pages with way too many sub-ideas. Somewhere in between is a good balance.

Enough with the history lesson. With an 80,000-word manuscript, I most often hear three to six thematic elements should be incorporated, as they are manageable and easy to map (we’ll get to that soon). These elements should be captured as ongoing feelings, thoughts, or moods that play a role in the main character’s decision-making process. They should be reasonably specific – broad themes such as “anxiety” cast too wide a net. However, a character with an ulcer that flares up when there’s too much anxiety narrows it down, and the theme becomes that character’s sensitivity to anxious situations. This is also a built-in tool for bringing that point out, as it can play a direct role in one character’s decision-making process. The mention of antacids, nausea, or simply saying “His stomach hurt” immediately calls up that theme, reminding the reader about everything that comes with it.

In my current work, Small-Town Monster, the main character, Richie, has had difficulty managing stress since high school (and has the ulcer mentioned earlier). This is clearly not enough for a plot, but it influences the character so I am labeling this theme, “The effects of stress.” Other themes include “Damaged relationship with his father,” “The ex-wife situation,” “Trying to be a good parent,” and “Living with the past.” It’s a handful, but they all tie in to each other, so that helps. Furthermore, they are easy to map (I told you we’d get to this).

Mapping themes is a way to ensure that no ideas get left behind and the pacing remains consistent. It can be done while you are writing or after you finish a draft, as long as it is consistent. The process is simple: Whenever you write a sentence that appeals to one of the themes, highlight it. I use a color-coded system for visual effect – red, green, blue, orange and yellow – to make it pop from the page. If a sentence hits on multiple themes, mark it multiple times. And do this for the entire work.

(Pro tip: Most word processors have a Find/Replace function. If a theme centers around a particular keyword – a proper name, a medical condition, or some catch phrase – you can replace all events of that word with a highlighted version, mapping 400 pages in a manner of seconds)

Once you’ve color-coded your themes and highlighted your manuscript, flip through the pages. Let every page flip past quickly and enjoy the breeze, but look at the highlights on the pages. The color-coding should go by in a blurry wash, but there should always be some red, some blue, some whatever passing by. If you notice gaps where that red doesn’t show up, it means that theme is not being brought up for a while, and the reader starts losing their touch with it. At that point, it’s worth looking over those red-free pages and asking yourself if there is any space to just offer a reminder about it. At that point, just one little sentence will stand out like red highlighting on a white page should stand out.

(Pro tip: Setting Page Preview to put two or four pages on the screen then paging through them does the same thing but saves a lot of trees.)

As a note, a theme doesn’t have to be present to be there. Sometimes even just the awareness of that element is enough. If Richie has a few good, relaxing chapters with low anxiety and no ulcer problems, will there be a gap because that theme isn’t referenced? Well, the problem might not be referenced, but that doesn’t mean the theme has to be left out. If Richie merely has a good meal then realizes he doesn’t need antacids afterward, that counts just as much. I mentioned earlier the value of a line such as “His stomach hurt” to reinforce a theme. IF that note is played enough, then look at how much energy comes from the one time that line becomes, “His stomach didn’t hurt.” Four words of awareness generate more interest than all the other times he whined about his stomach.

Some chapters might weigh heavily on a particular theme – the one about Richie’s ulcer surgery has that whole idea baked right in, and that’s fine. If our music is too loud, we know the stereo is on; the silence doesn’t tell us anything. And by mapping out our themes, we get a good visual representation of just how our themes play out.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Keep the Theme Alive

Personally, I have several themes running through my life. They are such constants that I rarely even notice them. Occasionally one will rear its head in an obvious way – a good friend’s birthday came up, which reminded me of how tough his death was on me and how my life will forever be painted over by that issue. However, that doesn’t mean that those feelings don’t exist for the other 51 weeks of the year. They are still there, lurking in the shadows, waiting for another anniversary.

For the characters and the stories we write, those themes should play a role in every section, or at least be noticed. Sometimes a subject won’t be important, other times it will, but some trace of it should always haunt the pages, even if that particular theme is not the dominant part of a particular chapter.

The problem, however, is that just like our real life, it is easy to overlook those elements when we are engrossed in the rest of our lives. When I am writing or reading or cycling, it is easy to let the rest of the world fade away. I no longer think about politics or economics while cycling through the countryside, I just ride with a blissful ignorance to the world around me. In life, that’s fine. In writing, it is an opportunity to show how those two worlds are never truly separate.

In the previous post, I discussed a character, Richie, and how various themes about his life could be expressed. This post will demonstrate how those same elements could be shown during non-related events to emphasize a particular mood.

As mentioned in the previous post, Richie owns a bar in his hometown. He worked there as a teenager, met plenty of friends on both sides of the bar, and eventually bought the place. The bar represents a stable, consistent joy in his life, and is an important theme to follow. Now, in chapters that take place in the bar, this theme is easy to track. However, once Richie is outside the bar, we should never let our readers forget just how important this place is to him. If the reader only experiences Richie’s joy while in the bar, it becomes less important in their mind.

Our first thought should be how to incorporate bar talk into his dialogue. This may sound odd, but think about how many terms we use for work purposes but carry into our regular life. People who work with Exacto blades and razors often refer to them as “sharps.” Mechanics use terms like “work area” and “bay” to refer to their garage. And anyone who has served in the military carries a whole kit of terms that we might not understand but they immediately tell us that person has served in the armed forces. A bar is no different, and whether Richie describes an iced tea as “on the rocks” or “taps” a milk carton rather than opens it, it shows how the bar has flowed into his life.

Another thing about bar owners – they work late, so they usually sleep late. This quickly plays into their idea of what morning really is, or waking up early, or a proper bedtime for their children. These traits linger, and whether the writer wants to have the character very much aware or totally oblivious to this different world, they need to tap the reader on the shoulder with a reminder of how this affects the character’s life.

Of course, none of these themes need to dominate your writing, just as none of the themes in your own life sit on your conscience 100% of the time. However, when they poke their heads up, they do more than fill in the character. They grab the reader’s attention, reinforcing an important part of the story. And as different thematic elements come together, they build up that character’s personal strengths, weaknesses, and tensions. That character will dominate the story simply because a few words were salted throughout the narrative.

But like salt, we need to mix it in carefully or it destroys the flavor. That’s what the next post is all about.

Monday, January 21, 2019

How Themes Flesh Out A Character

I love Chicago. Anyone who knows me knows that. I hate the politics, I despise the crime and corruption, but I love the grittiness and texture of its history, its stories, and its urban DNA. Whether it’s from when I first came screaming into this world in what is now the Medical Campus, lived by Rainbow Beach, worked in the Loop or managed an apartment building in Ukrainian Village, it all harmonizes with my life story. Even though I no longer live in the city proper, Chicago is still that friend I can call any time and grab a drink.

So to recap, I love Chicago.

If any of this sounds familiar, I did write an earlier post, Making an Environment Into A Character, where I professed my love for my city. This post will now focus on using some aspect of the environment to give a character structure and definition. If I was portrayed as a character, this whole Chicago thing would need to show up somewhere. But how?

The first step is finding habits or manners that signify this preference. Does the character wear a Cubs or White Sox cap everywhere, and if they do, are they sensitive to comments from someone wearing an opposing cap? Do they know their bus routes like a secret Chicago code? Do they drop terms like “The Lake Effect” or “Tornado Alley”? Do they actively correct a person who tries putting ketchup on their hot dog? These are Chicago things, and as they come into play, they fill in the character.

However, the more nuanced themes are the ones that are relatable to more than just the limited Chicago audience. Incorporating parts of a character’s background into their present-day actions can offer more depth to a character than geography ever could. Most every reader will be able to associate how the past stays with a person in the present, living in their every action, and the writer should take advantage of it.

Here’s a character to consider. Richie owns a bar in the little town of Billington, where he grew up. He’s divorced and has a son who he sees on the weekends. His parents still live in town, his sister is close by, and he had an older brother who died when Richie was in college. He is a character to work with, and can fit into one of any number of stories (He’s already taken – currently in my manuscript, Small-Town Monster, currently competing in the 2018 Illinois Manuscript Contest). But anyway, we know his basics, so how do we give him depth through thematic elements?

Well, let’s look at the details. First, he’s divorced – that’s worth exploring. Even if the subject never comes up in the story, the writer had better know exactly why he got divorced, and even how it sits with him. I’ve never seen a family break up without some scars, and since writing is supposed to be interesting, this should be an important issue. The writer now has the opportunity to turn Richie's relationship issues into an ongoing theme, allowing it to influence his decisions wherever appropriate. Whether it’s a simple thing like a derogatory nickname for his ex or as broad as how the divorce affected all his other relationships, incorporating this into the character’s life gives us a better understanding of the character.

Oh – his brother died. Death shapes everyone’s life, so make sure the reader knows just how Richie was affected. Is he more protective of his son? Did it strengthen Richie’s relationship with his sister? Was the relationship damaged? How did it affect his parents? Do they talk about it or ignore it? Does Richie think about it even at the oddest moments, or does he try to push it out of his mind even at family gatherings? The weight of such a tragedy would surely affect his life, so the writer should take that into consideration and find where it can be used.

One last big reminder about themes – consistency. Themes do not exist in isolation – they spread across everything. Since Richie is divorced, how does he feel about his friends’ marriages? Is he cynical or optimistic? Does he believe in soulmates? Has that changed since the divorce? This continuity is important for two reasons. First, since it deepens the character, it has to constantly go in the same direction, otherwise the reader gets mixed messages and loses their understanding of Richie. Also, an inconsistency can be seen as the character changing his position over time. This is a great way to show character growth, but if the change is incorporated accidentally, the reader gets very confused. Instead of a deep character, you have an aloof character. Not a big market for those.

There’s a very cool technique for working with themes, and well worth explaining. The next post will be about tracking themes and sketching out the narrative to make sure nothing gets lost and your character retains as much depth and beauty as the Chicago Skyline.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Purpose of Themes

When I was much younger, I said I would know when I truly succeeded in life when I had my own theme music. Let’s face it – the real successes in this world have theme music. If I just hum a few bars of Superman’s theme, you immediately think about him or the actor you enjoyed playing the Man of Steel. All the comic heroes are known for their theme songs in the movies or on television. Characters are even associated for music that isn’t their specific music – The Imperial March starts and we think about Darth Vader. Even non-heroes come to mind when a familiar chord is struck. You might not know who performed the theme song to Friends, but now that I’ve said it, the song is in your head.

I know this talk about music doesn’t really seem like a good fit for a writing blog, but it’s the subject that matters. In writing, a theme is the sound, lighting and background for the story. It does not have to leap off the page; it can be as unassuming as the background setting. The reader takes it in without a second thought, but as the story progresses, the elements of that theme are constantly reinforced. And when something about that theme changes – when that unassuming background shifts – the reader is moved without even knowing it happened.

The 19th century was full of literature with thematic elements. In my opinion, Emily Bronté’s Wuthering Heights does the best job of its era for incorporating environmental elements into the characters, but its subtleties might not be everyone’s style. Rather, it is easier to demonstrate how to tie in ideas with characters to create distinct reader cues.

Back in my youth, I had a supervisor who was a very nice guy, who we shall call Dave. Always smiling, good for a joke, and had a genuine respect for minimum-wage kids like me. We worked in a very noisy area, often yelling across the huge open rooms to get each other’s attention, but this was good. Noise meant things were busy. Noise meant work, and work meant I got paid. The association was simple – a hectic, active environment with a supervisor joking around while we worked our tails off.

This environment is how I got to know Dave. It became my frame of association. When I walked into the lab and heard that noise, I felt comfortable. At ease. I knew Dave would drift by, flowing right along with the controlled chaos of my work day. My blood pressure was probably ten points lower when I was in that element.

One day, I screwed things up. Not a major disaster, but definitely not my proudest moment. Big, smiling Dave came to my bench, but now everything fell silent. As Dave looked over the destruction I had created, he smiled, but he was no longer happy. Worse yet, I could no longer hear that loud workflow all around me. I could only hear Dave’s molars grinding together, his face reddening, jaw locked into this angry smile. The silence was all around me. No secure noises, no happy chaos. Everything familiar was gone, along with the Dave I knew and joked with.

Now, a story involving that incident has some great thematic elements to work with – in particular, the comforting noise of the workflow and the comfort it gave me at my workbench. When I write about me in other situations, I can then use the cue of surrounding noise to demonstrate being comfortable in that environment. A noisy environment suggests a happy character. Then, when something happens that puts the character on edge, the writing showcases the silence. The stillness in the air. The absence of all comforting things. When the writer describes a hush falling over a room, the reader should anticipate trouble like a storm on the horizon. The reader should know it before the character does, and then fear for what is about to happen. At that point, the simple background theme is dominating the scene without even being there.

Using a particular theme does not have to be done for dramatic effect. In the next post, I will discuss the other strength of thematic writing – providing character depth without breaking from the story.

(And to Dave – I seriously had no idea a workbench could catch fire that quickly. My apologies.)

Monday, January 14, 2019

But There's More...

A part of the interaction between the reader and the story is the question/answer process. As the story builds and the plot develops, the reader should have questions bouncing around in their head. “Does he think he’s alone in the house?” “Is she his long-lost mother?” “Who left the fingerprints on the wine glass?” Questions by the reader are the natural result of suspense. However, the best answers don't resolve the suspense, they build on it.

The other weekend I had the opportunity to enjoy some curry with a bunch of writers, playwrights, actors/actresses, and other creative types. As we discussed life, creativity, and all things story-related, the subject came up about those questions in the readers minds. For those questions, it seems like there are two answers to choose from -- yes or no. If the answer is no, then the reader continues to think and engage, seeking some kind of resolution. If the answer is yes, the problem is solved but the suspense and drama dies down. Not a big list to choose from.

That list, however, leaves out the best answers.

As we drank our Irish coffees, we discussed the ideal answer to any reader inquiry, which boiled down to, "Yes, and..." or "Yes, but..." Similar to scientific discovery, the best answers should create more questions. A simple "yes" brings a sense of closure to that situation, and while the reader might be satisfied in bringing that story arc to its conclusion, it takes away that drive to continue reading just one more page, one more chapter.

Think about this: For anything we read, any play or movie we watch, we should have some form of engagement with the story. At any point, there should be at least one question in our head. If there isn't, then why are we going through the entire process of reading the book or watching the play? Our engagement should be one of discovery. We should feel invested; we should want to move and grow with the narrative and the characters. Even during the scenes that tie one act to the next, we still need to wonder what is going on. If there isn't, then why are we a part of this?

It may sound like an exaggeration, but as writers, we should want our reader to feel compelled to read our work from cover to cover in one sitting. The reader should be hooked, dragged in. They should never want to put it down. They should always be telling themselves, "I just want to see how they find their way to the 95th Street bridge, and then I'll go to sleep." Of course, two hours later, the characters are long past 95th Street but the reader is saying, "I'll just read until they remember where they left the briefcase." And so it goes.

This is asking a lot from any reader, but underneath it all, the principle is the same. We always want our readers to be engaged, and it is our responsibility to make sure a few unknowns still linger even when a major plot arc is concluded. When a chapter gives a big reveal, and the reader asks, "So she is his long-lost sister?", the answer should be, "Yes, but..." The reader has an answer, yet wants to go further.

Some writers might challenge the importance of this. They may ask, "Isn't this just teasing the reader? Can stories be written without relying on this technique? Wouldn't it be easier to tell the story without all these games?"

I will always answer, "Yes, but..."




Friday, January 11, 2019

The Adventure Beyond the Story

Someone told me about the simplicity of stories. They explained it by telling me when Sir Edmund Hillary was asked why he wanted to scale Mount Everest, he famously answered, “Because it’s there.” Well, first, it was George Mallory who said that. More importantly, this was easily one of the most to-the-point explanations in the history of the Himalayas – it says everything that needs to be said with an economy of words, and also speaks volumes about the mindset of the intrepid explorer.

It is also a very boring story on its own.

When we think of a story, we think of an adventure that goes from A to B to C and so forth, eventually reaching the final point. This is very efficient and accurate, and it completes the journey. There is nothing wrong with that style of writing, but it misses out on the opportunity to expand on the character and their adventure. Mallory made his point in three words, but what else do we know about him? The character is very narrow, and the reader does not gain the opportunity to see the person beyond the mission.

This should be where the adventure for the writer begins. As we write the story, moving from A to B to C and explaining the challenges along the way, we should think about how the character sees these things. If there is a choice about which way to go when climbing Everest, this becomes an opportunity to show what pushes the character one way or the other. The writer can show the options, explain the character’s decision-making process, and even inform the reader about past events that shape today’s choices. This is where we step beyond the story and make it an adventure.

Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild, portrays a 26-year-old woman hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It’s not Mount Everest, but it’s over one-thousand miles worth of travel on foot. The story about such a long hike would be interesting on its own, but would it really leave a lasting impression in the readers’ minds? How would that hike differ from any other journey? Plenty of people hike the PCT every year, so what would make this particular story stand out from all those other people?

This is where we look at the route from A to B to C, and find the parts that can turn the story into an adventure. Even at point A – hiking the PCT – we discover that our main character has no experience hiking. The reader should immediately think, “Then why are you doing it?” This now demands an answer, and something more satisfying than “Because it’s there.” At that point, the writer has an opportunity to fill in the reader about the main character’s damaged life, bad choices, and questionable decisions. With this kind of information, we can now head to point B and beyond with some idea of where this character is coming from.

As we reach each new turn in the trail, we feel more informed about why our character makes certain choices. We see her do something that no experienced hiker would do, but we understand that she is not experienced, and also that she thinks in the short-term. Now we know the character more, and even if we don’t agree with them or even like them, we understand them.

With all of this extra information, the biggest benefit is that there can be a payoff at the end. When the reader first sees this woman heading out, unprepared and clueless, on a hike that might very well kill her, the question is how will she make it? (It’s a memoir, so we know she survives) As the story progresses and the reader learns about the character, they should also see how the journey has changed them. A long hike is a bit of an obvious metaphor for a life journey, but still very appropriate, and the story should show her personal growth along the way. This way, by the time the reader hits the last page, they have not only read the story about hiking the PCT, but one person’s adventure toward realization and growth.

If you want to read about Mallory's adventure up Everest, well, he died up there, so there was no memoir telling the tale. If you want to read about Sir Edmund Hillary, read High Adventure: The True Story of the First Ascent of Everest. Cheryl Strayed has a lot of fan followers and sites for Wild (and a surprising number of detractors). But for the most informative story, think of literally any personal journey you had from A to B, and explore who you were at point A and what changed when you got to point B. That is where the adventure lies.

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Imperfect Art of Dialogue

Just like anyone else, when I put on my editor's hat, I become a very detail-oriented, nit-picking master of all mistakes grammatical. I will gleefully point out where the writer missed using the subjunctive form, or where they left out the hyphen in a compound modifier. While I do this in a constructive manner, the end result should be a clean, error-free narrative.

But then comes dialogue.

As much as we love writing narrative, dialogue is in some ways the opposite of narrative. It can be clumsy and excessive, it can wander, the words are not perfect fits and the sentences can drag on. More importantly, this makes it sound natural. It sounds flawed, like something we hear anyone else say (but not ourselves. We are perfect). The weak structure of dialogue is often what makes it sound real.

One of the reasons I think workshops are crucial for polishing our writing is because we expose the words to the open air, dragging them out from that space between our ears. In a good workshop, the author reads their work aloud, putting as much personal feeling into their reading as they feel comfortable with. While this is a nice way to get a feel for how the words flow, it also helps us understand the dialogue.

A big revelations from reading the work out loud is that the audience gets to hear just how the author believes that character should sound. It is amazing to  see timid, soft-spoken writers suddenly become performers as they read their dialogue, unknowingly incorporating different dialects and styles during their presentation. This is great; this means they truly know their characters and their story. The task before them is now making sure the words on the page describe what the writer is saying aloud.

In narrative, editors hate words like "gonna," "ain't," "wanna," and other slangy words. In dialogue, they are priceless. As a writer, we need to sort through these situations and polish the narrative (where appropriate) but make sure the dialogue sounds natural. And once we hear the author read a piece of dialogue in that character's voice, we gain an understanding of just where that character's voice differs from clean grammar.

Consider the most common of grammar simplifications - the contraction. Didn't, wouldn't, shouldn't and so forth are very natural parts of spoken words, but frowned upon in clean narrative. However, when writers are told to write clean narrative, that voice can leak over to the character and give them totally out-of-place dialogue. The sentence, "I am not going to do that" is clean and tidy. However, when an eight-year-old screams that line when his parents make him clean his room, it no longer fits. Perfect grammar ruins the voice of the average eight-year-old, who would say something more like, "I ain't gonna do it!" Poor grammar, perfect character.

That example, however, can also be used in reverse. As a reader, what would you think of an eight-year-old who protested with perfect grammar? What would that say about the character? In some cases, perfect word use can say more about the character than anything else. Think about the control and discipline of perfect dialogue. Is the character highly educated? Very meticulous about detail? Annoyingly precise about everything? (In that case, they are probably an editor) The voice says it all.

Getting feedback about verbal cues is an important part of natural dialogue, and it makes your writing sound just like the voices in your head.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Staging Our Writing

I have been sick the past week, so this gave me a great opportunity to do some editing. More importantly, it was a chance to look at some of my writing not as a writer, but as an editor. During the past week on the couch, I edited a 118,000-word manuscript, and it ended up at about 98,000 words. Characters were eliminated, a couple of scenes were consolidated, but most of the 20,000 words I eliminated had more to do with stage management.

As writers, we are not only in charge of creating a world but also making it very real to our readers. In my mind, I can see the characters going about their activities, and I translate that all to the page to share this with the reader. This goes for describing the setting, visualizing the characters, and walking the reader through their actions. But once I do that, I then have to ask myself, "How much of that was necessary?"

The other day I was listening to the author Ravina Thakkar (The Adventure of A Lifetime) talk about her experiences with an editor. She offered a great insight that I think we can all learn from. She said, "I wrote a five-page description of a classroom, and then realized everyone already knew what a classroom looked like." This is a very concise way of pointing out that even the best writing might not be necessary. She didn't say her description was bad. Indeed, it might've been incredible. The question was what did it bring to the narrative? If it didn't contribute much, or give the reader something to work with, then it is worth taking up space?

I did a separate post about using description properly and for effect. This post is about how we stage-manage the characters, and what is and isn't necessary with their actions and mannerisms. These can also be very concise, very detailed, and often very unnecessary. And since there are more actions in a story than descriptions, there are more opportunities to tighten up our writing.

Let's take an example from the manuscript I edited from the comfort of my couch:

"Richie went into his bar, walked to the back room, opened his office door, moved to his desk and sat down."

This is the stripped-down version of a simple sentence -- descriptions taken out to get to the point. On the positive side, this does walk us through the entire route Richie takes in going to his office at the bar. It tells us the bar is his, that the office is in the back room, and he has a desk there. We walk his route, we arrive with him at his desk. There is nothing wrong with this sentence.

However, there is very little right with this sentence.

First, the structure. It's a chain of four- and five-word subject-verb-prepositional-phrase statements that reads without any interest. It has a monotonous pace. If we mix up the wording just a little at the beginning, the pacing becomes more interesting. "Richie entered his bar and went directly to the back room..." Now the pacing has changed, and it does not have the drum beat of a boring sentence. That doesn't save us any words, but it makes for a better sentence.

As far as word count goes, Richie takes twenty-one words to get to his office, but how many are necessary? When he enters his office, is it necessary to use two phrases to say he goes to his desk and sits down? Can't he just go sit at his desk? Do we need to talk about him opening the door? If it is important to the plot that the door is closed or open, then yes. Otherwise, most people understand how an office door works and it can be left out. If we know where his office is, do we need to mention that he goes through the back room to get there?  Maybe we can strip it down to taking Richie from A to B:

"Richie went to his bar and settled into his office."

That sentence is half the length and moves the reader along with the same effect. This kind of stage management usually clutters our first drafts, but is easy to filter out once we look at it again and decide how much is really necessary.

On a final note, that sentence can actually say a lot more if the writer draws attention to it. Look at what happens when our example is preceded by some verbal stage-setting:

"The routine never changed. Richie went into his bar, walked to the back room, opened his office door, moved to his desk and sat down."

By pointing out the monotony, the boring sentence structure now helps describe the scene.

This is all part of the joy of editing, but as our writing improves, we start catching these things as we write them.