Weekend Writing Warriors: Odd Duck (White Knuckles and Wine)

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After the burn of Tom’s words to Leda last Sunday, the conversation settled for a few paragraphs until Leda insists that the reason she’d tricked arranged to have lunch with him is simply that she’d like to hear what he’s been doing since she dumped him in high school.

Tom has doubts.

Wine Glass

She nodded through a sip from her glass.

I didn’t think the gesture was as casual as she made it—something about the way her fingers held the stem. White knuckles and fine crystal don’t match.

“Leda,” I said, closing the menu, “today isn’t a good day to play games with me. Most days aren’t, sad to say, but this one didn’t start well and probably isn’t going to end that way. And since I won’t be able to write off lunch as a business expense, I’m going to go catch a bite someplace where I can afford to touch my fork without taking out a loan.”

I started to stand up and her hand shot out and grabbed my sleeve. “Wait,” she said.


I’m thinking of taking out “something about the way her fingers held the stem,” because the next sentence shows what that something is.  But then again, Tom has a certain rhythm in the way he speaks and this is part of that.  So unless it’s annoying, I might leave it.

Anyone have anything to say about tight prose versus voice?


49 thoughts on “Weekend Writing Warriors: Odd Duck (White Knuckles and Wine)

  1. I’d leave it as is. (Well, no, I’d probably put a colon in there instead of making it two sentences.) In my humble and entirely non-professional opinion, voice trumps tight prose. (And also in my humble and entirely non-professional opinion there’s nothing annoying or “un-tight” in that.)

    • I’ve always thought voice was the trump card, as long as it doesn’t stall the story, right?

      I used every punctuation mark i could devise for those sentences, ending with $#!%, but it still doesn’t look quite right to me, Paula . . . I’m more of an em-dasher than a semicoloner, I guess, but it still wasn’t quite right…

  2. I love Tom’s voice! In my opinion, voice trumps everything. Though I find myself wavering when I see my own clunky sentences sometimes. I especially liked the white-knuckle bit!

  3. Great scene and Tom’s inner voice paints a perfect visual. I wouldn’t change it. 🙂

    However… This was pointed out to me recently. For this sentence: “I started to stand up…” You don’t have to add ‘up’. To stand implies the ‘up’. Well, unless you’re issuing an order to ‘stand down’. lol
    Here’s the sentence without ‘up’.
    “I started to stand and her hand shot out and grabbed my sleeve.”

    Other tidbits: avoid using down if possible.
    She sat down on the sofa.
    She sat on the sofa.

    Her heart pounded in her chest, as if trying to escape.
    Her heart pounded as if trying to escape.

    (Unless her heart is in your knee, the added ‘in her chest’ are wasted word. Of course her heart is in her chest. lol)

    Again, only passing on what was told to me. lol Take it or leave it. I personally don’t mind the extra words, but I’m no word guru. lol

    Have a great day!!

  4. That’s one expensive restaurant!

    It doesn’t sound like excess verbiage to me, but then again, I’m influenced by all the older books I’ve read throughout my life. If prose is tightened for the mere sake of tightening, and not for any real reason beyond that, the voice and overall story can suffer.

    • And Tom’s not solvent at the moment, either. 😉

      I think I agree with you, Carrie-Anne. Tightening something because of current prose styles is a gray area, but editing out unnecessary words is, well, necessary. 🙂

  5. Does he really plan to leave, or was he just prompting her with the threat of it, I wonder.

    I’ve had the “stand up” “sit down” discussion with a few people, and to some cutting it just sounds wrong. So I’m of the opinion that you have to balance tight prose with voice. Take out some that you don’t need, leave enough to be unique. No one wants cookie cutter books, anyway.

    • I think his temper is frayed a bit—he did get attacked just that morning and is worried about his brother, too, so he really doesn’t have time to play ring around the rosy. 🙂

      I’m going to decide on prepositions on a case-by-case basis, I think. I still want to go down corridors. Or up them. It’s a directional thing, right? 🙂

  6. I might be the odd man out here…I’d take it out. Glad to be back this week reading your awesome work. Missed you guys : )

    • I’m still fence-sitting. Milie. But I do know i wrote it because I was trying to figure out what she was doing that made him think she wasn’t calm, because Tom’s the kind of guy who notices details. So I just wrote out the question, hoping an answer would come to mind. And it did. 😀

  7. If you’re going to change anything, look at the next line.
    “White knuckles and fine crystal don’t match.”
    Make it positive with a clever comparison, ie: “White knuckles and fine crystal match only (if/when), ___________.

    • Hi, Chip!

      I’ll take that under advisement . . . maybe “White knuckles and fine crystal were usually a sign I’d have to dodge, but I didn’t think I’d insulted her that badly.”

      I’ll work on it. 😀

  8. I like it. I love the white knuckles/fine crystal, and this : “…where I can afford to touch my fork without taking out a loan.” Tom’s voice rocks! And that last line? “Wait.” Oy! That begs the reader to keep reading. 🙂

    BTW, I love all of the comments. That makes Sunday postings all worthwhile. Adding an obvious preposition is considered overwriting, I think. I think it comes down to preference, what your editor thinks, and how your own writing voice spills out onto the pages.

    For me, I think I’m going to take a look at my ms. and search stood, stand, sit, set, etc to see how many I’ve included the preposition. I might remove a few of them.

    Great 8, Sarah! 🙂

  9. She seems a tad desperate. Great snippet that makes me like Tom even more. (I’m checking out my excess preposition baggage as well.)

  10. Keep but rephrase. It’s the “something about” that doesn’t work. My impression of Tom is that he’s a pretty straightforward, no-nonsense guy. It needs to be more…active? decisive? confident? I can’t think of the word I want (stupid migraines are back again) but I think you know what I’m getting at.

    I really like Tom, by the way.

    • I do, Kate. He’s not that wishy-washy about stuff, so I think I know what you mean. I do think that sentence started out as my question to myself. 😀

      Thanks! He’s one of my favorites, if I’m allowed them. 🙂

  11. I say leave both phrases. I don’t see them as overly redundant. You’re in his POV and he’s made a joke of sorts with the white knuckles part being the punchline. However, my head prefers past tense to present tense in the white knuckles phrase–“white knuckles and crystal didn’t match” or something else if you don’t want to use “didn’t” twice in proximity. Love the way Tom’s mind works.

    • Thanks, Claire! 🙂

      I’m having an odd time figuring out tenses in first person—it seems natural to write things that are still true in present tense, even if the story is set in the past. I think I asked that a month or two ago and there was no real consensus; but I could probably avoid it with a rewrite of some kind.

      Tom’s mind works twice as fast as mine, thank heavens. 😀

  12. I’d leave the part about the stem alone but that first sentence is a little awkward. Maybe you can describe the nod as nonchalant & cut the part about nodding through the sip.
    Otherwise– I love his speech, especially the bit about expensing lunch. That’s terrific dialouge.

    • I see what you mean, Jeff. A simple change like, “She nodded and took a sip” would read a little better–and she’d be less likely to get wine up her nose. 😀

      I’m glad that speech worked—thank you!

  13. I liked it but that’s because i’m half in love with Tom anyway, so I just pay attention to him LOL. Seems as if the other commenters had lots of good advice…..keep this story coming! Please.

  14. Cool snippet!

    I’m for taking out the sentence or rewording it to close the narrative distance. I’d also avoid filtering with “I didn’t think”; we’re in his POV so that’s unnecessary.

    Something like: “If she aimed for “casual”, the gesture seemed off the mark. Maybe it was her fingers. White knuckles and fine crystal don’t match.”

    I think the voice is wrong in my rewrite (I don’t know your character well enough), but it gives an example of the goal: bringing the reader smack in the middle of Tom’s thoughts.

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