Kathryn’s post today is part of the “All the King’s Editors” series, in which WU contributors will edit manuscript pages submitted by members of the larger WU community and discuss the proposed changes. This educational format is intended to generate useful comments on what changes work, which may not work as well, and in either case, why.
The posts will appear on WU ~twice monthly. Each participating editor will have a unique approach, and speak only for him or herself. If you’re interested in submitting a sample for consideration, click HERE for instructions.
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Editing a piece as well-written as today’s submission poses a challenge. Confident prose can make the reader sit back and float along on its rhythmic waves, never realizing that when the trip is done, the ride has left little impact.
This submission, told from the point of view of a dying woman, is about the circumstances of her youngest child’s birth. Death and birth are two of the most inherently dramatic events known to mankind, but also the most common. Not one of us escapes them. In order to make this story worth reading, the writer is charged with bringing fresh perspective to their mysteries.
Put that fresh perspective up front, and it will color everything we read (and the writer writes) from there forward.
There is one line in this submission that perked me right up and raised a question—in other words, it created a hook—but that sentence was placed too late, at the end of the third page. The only thing the writer will lose by moving that line toward the front of the story is the generic nature of her descriptions and a few sideways meanderings. The question it raises, on the other hand, will command this writer’s sentences to rise to the level of story—a specific story, told for a specific reason, from the specific perspective of the only person who can tell it.
As written, it’s unclear to me where this story is going. For our purposes here, I’ve decided to aim toward the torture of withholding a confession until it’s too late, and the freeing effects of thinking it through, nonetheless.
Note: Sentences in blue have been moved intact from their original, struck-through locations.
There’s so much I want to tell you. The others have said their goodbyes, and now you and Imogene have the last watch. My Against shut eyelids, are pressed shut, but I can see the panorama ic view of my eighty years flashing stretches around me, dappled with leading toward the promise s of a vibrant life to come. , and I undulate between these two worlds. My older brother [see addendum to 7] beckons me from beyond and — I tell him, “Confound it, I’m not finished here yet”—and yet my spirit rises.  I hover several feet above the hospital bed and look down on you and Imogene standing over What tethers my withered body to this world is . The knobby fingers of my right hand grasp the flannel of my light blue flowered nightgown. My other hand clutches yours. Y your pinky is crooked like through mine, and a story I should have told you long ago. and your fingers are nimble from playing many tear-filled games of Tetris.  In a few seconds, a moment or several hours, I will pass away. I want to tell you everything There’s so much I want to tell you, but my lips are unable to form the words. My mouth hangs open and crooked, dropping a milky drool of cherry nut ice cream onto the pillowcase.  Air presses through my lungs in rhythmic guttural tones. As you hold my hand, I will share, through each intermittent squeeze, what is now being revealed to me. I fear I’ve waited too long. Like a film in rapid motion I can see the moment of your conception, the dividing of cells, how you grew and swam in the silent ocean of my womb. Waves of flesh, water and blood cradled and cushioned you. Your long flute-playing fingers, your prancing feet—every joint that later gave you hell , were was created and recorded in divine history. You were planned from the very beginning, not just by God, but by me and your father.  Gradually, you became aware of activity beyond yourself ,: the gurgling of my digestion system, the muffled beat of your dad’s polka music. Walter Cronkite’s voice on the news. The faint murmuring of the other children fighting over the last dish of tapioca. During the moon landing s, Imogene sat next to me on the floor and reached up to touch my rounded belly and you felt the shape of her hand on your backside and kicked it with your heel. In the middle of the night when you tap danced against my bladder. , my lower extremities throbbed and I had to get up to take a pee.  On the day y You were born it was on a dark morning and all the kids when your eleven brothers and sisters were home from school for winter break. It was a day that you won’t remember, but it will haunt you for the rest of your life. [hook]