A stressful week on top of getting slammed with allergies convinced me to stay home from work today. Instead of staring at government words on paper I’m staring at my words on paper. Plodding through the editing process. I made a pot of tea, opened up the document, prepared to knuckle down and work all day. And the very first sentence I saw was this:

The fire was stoked and beating back the chill in the old house.

Okay, easy to fix. Even I could see that without looking at editor comments. Well, after the fact of course. I didn’t see it when originally writing it. The sentence quickly became:

The stoked fire beat back the chill in the old house.

And then I got stuck. The editor suggested ‘of’ rather than ‘in’. I spent so much time going back and forth that I came here  instead.

Really, is such a small word worth such indecision? It appears so.

‘Of’ makes me think of an old house that’s always cold, even in summer. Damp maybe, with that smell of something closed up too long. It speaks of a house not lived in, not loved, or maybe lived in once by a nasty old lady with binoculars.

When I think of ‘in’ I imagine there is an outside force making the house cold at this particular moment. Which is the case here as it’s winter, the protagonist is alone in a home she doesn’t belong to yet, and her mother is back making demands.

So I’m going to stick with ‘in’. It feels right to me.

And I’ve now spent half an hour debating between two-letter words. I do believe though, very strongly, that it’s this level of detail that makes a story. Just the right word in just the right place. Or at least what I perceive to be just the right word.

Dang, here’s another two letter word.

Cody opened up the journal. That just became, Cody opened the journal. Why didn’t I make that simple change while writing the story initially? Who knows. At least it was pointed out to me before going to print.

At this rate I’m going to spend all day on the first paragraph in this chapter. But at least I’m not at work, and the tea is still hot, and the next paragraph will be there tomorrow. For today, as they say, the devil is in the details.

I wonder how that expression came in to being. I refuse to google it and research it and delay my next two-letter word stumbling block.

Back to work.

My writing companion watching chickens

My writing companion watching chickens

3 thoughts on “Minutiae

  1. I know what you mean. I think sometimes the little words need to be precise — in order to convey exact meaning, an implication or voice. And then there’s those other times when it’s simply being nit-picky. Honestly, I think most of the time the reader won’t notice if you said “opened up” or “opened” unless it’s jarring to the flow/rhythm of the words — even still, they’ll likely forgive you because it’s such a good story.


  2. I know what you mean too, and I agree with Susan that sometimes we need precision and sometimes we don’t — but of course as creators we fine-tune as much as we can, because after all, they’re our creations.

    But oh man, I love your “of” versus “in” explanation. I’m happy to see you lay it out like that because not everyone even notices there’s a difference, and yet there obviously is — as my past ESL students knew to their frustration. “It’s the little words,” one of them moaned. It’s so true. In English as in so many other languages, one may know all the big words like the nouns and verbs, but without a fine grasp of words like prepositions, meaning still eludes.


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