My second-to-last quarter as an MFA student ends next week, which means I’m in a crazy end of quarter crunch right now. Particularly stressful is the portfolio due for my nonfiction class. (As an aside I used to think I was pretty equally talented in essay and fiction writing, but I now know better. Much better.) I’ve really been struggling with the revision on my essay that I’m including in the portfolio. It’s about bras, and it was super fun to write, but I’ve been having serious trouble coming up with a focus. So it’s about the bra, I’ve got that much figured out, but I still have to figure out what the bra is about…if that makes any sense.
Anyway, other than that the deadline for our fiction contest passed, which has meant hours of logging and reading for me, as well as coordinating the team I put together, I’ve also been doing a lot of reading, both for my thesis and class. But the last few nights I’ve been making sure to take at least a few minutes before bed to read something completely unrelated to school stuff. The past two nights the book I’ve picked up has been A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome, which appeals to the history buff in me (I was sick on Tuesday and watched the History channel all day; I can tell you lots about the last Ice Age now). However, this book, while interesting, hasn’t exactly been the stress-free read I was hoping for. Let me give you an example.
From a chapter on the Imperial Forums: “We go in. We are penetrating the perimeter of the largest basilica the Romans have built thus far. We feel disoriented by its dimensions, and by the height of the ceilings” (229).
The above, in my opinion, is nothing short of bad writing. Even allowing the author the use of the second-person, there are better ways to write those three sentences. Such as
We go in, penetrating the perimeter of the largest basilica the Romans have built thus far. Its dimensions are disorienting, as is the height of the ceiling.
And that was quick; it took me maybe thirty seconds. With a few minutes I think I could clean that up even further. But what’s important to notice is that the exact same information is conveyed. Even the emotions that the author wants to evoke in the reader, though my delivery is less insulting to the reader’s intelligence. It still tells the reader what to feel, but it’s not so blunt.
Have you seen this type of delivery in books before? Did you notice the problem when you first looked at the quote from the book? How would you rewrite those few sentences?