Editing a western romance novel “Dust, Unsettle” 08

Dust, UnsettledThis is a series of posts appearing each Saturday morning, sharing the story and the editing of Dust, Unsettled, a western romance written in the 1980s by the teenage version of myself. To learn more about this exercise, check out the original post.

The first section is the original writing. It’s filled with poor dialogue tags, unnecessary words and poor story telling. In the brackets [ ] I’ll point out issues with the writing. I won’t point out every issue, only three or four per Saturday.

Before We Get Started

There’s a heap of swearing in this segment—lots of F-bombs. This word is a billion-dollar word for me now because I know overuse of it weakens it.

This fact was proven when I read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; the first time she used it, it caught me off guard, and it was so funny I laughed out loud. The second time wasn’t so funny. After the third time, I wondered why she stooped so low…you get the picture.

Writing feeds the SoulBy the way, I don’t recommend the book to writers with fragile minds unless they want to die a miserable death by writing after anguishing for decades. Her version of writing is comparable to suffering from syphilis in the late 1400s.

I feel the complete opposite about writing. It’s a joy, it breathes life and I love it. If I was Lamott’s therapist, I’d tell her to work at Tim Hortons instead; less stress on her brain.

I considered removing the F-bombs from the original version to save innocent eyes, but then I wouldn’t be true to this exercise. So bear with me.

Word Count Comparison

Original: 436

Edited: 301

Difference: 135

Dust, Unsettled

Chapter 02 continued

Original Story

“Yup. They have the guitarist with the pink boots. Remember?”

“Oh, yeah, that’s right. They were pretty good. They play a good Dumas Walker.”

“Everyone plays a good Walker. No one could fuck up that song. I’d dance to it if they played it on beer bottles,” Joey exclaimed. They entered the Blue Whale Tavern and Joey paid the two dollar cover charge for the both of them. The Blue Whale was packed with about three hundred early bar-hoppers and mall employees who had worked the evening shift. Jessica listened to the band as she followed Joey’s guiding hand through the crowd as he looked for a table. The dance floor directly in front of the them overflowed into the table area with half-drunken patrons. A trail of cigarette smoke drifted from the many tables to the dance floor and into the bandstand. To the right, on the bar, the Canucks and Maple Leafs played on television, but it was impossible to hear the action. Single drinkers lined the wooden bar watching the action from their leaning post. On the ceiling, placed with precision, were colourful lights and mirrors, creating an intimate place in the day or night. [The paragraph was trimmed of over-stated details and cut in two to give Joey his words and Jessica her observations. The taverns I’ve visited in the past year are the same as those in the 80s with one big exception: no smoke. It’s illegal in Nova Scotia to smoke in public places, including taverns. Years ago I’d arrive home smelling like a chimney though I never smoked. For anyone unfamiliar with the Canadian game of hockey, the Leafs (Toronto) and Canucks (Vancouver) were teams in the National Hockey League, and Saturday was Hockey Night in Canada. Yup, I grew up with Ron MacLean and Don Cherry on the tube every Saturday night. With seven brothers, I had a stick in my hand at an early age.]

The atmosphere eased Jessica’s tension and made her forget the worries of the day. She began swaying to the honkytonk beat of “Guitars and Cadillacs” and she squeezed Joey’s hand.

He turned to see her bopping, smiling face search the tavern for people she knew.

“See anyone?” Joey leant forward, shouting in her ear.

“No,” she mouthed under the music.

He tugged on her arm to get her attention and said, “There’s a table over there!”

Jessica nodded and followed him to the corner, next to the washrooms. A small table with three chairs were scattered about, empty.

They organised the table and two chairs for a view of the tavern dance floor and the rest of the tavern.

“Hi, guys,” a husky waiter arrived.

“Hi, Pete. What’s up?”

“Wild, man! Fucking wild!” Peter began as he pulled the third chair up to the table, setting his tray down. “Earlier tonight we had a cat fight on the fuckin’ dance floor! Some guy was up there dancin’ with some woman and his fuckin’ wife came in! She beat the guy over the head with her fuckin’ purse and then started on the girl! Things were flyin’ all over the fuckin’ place! Tim hauled the bitch out the door! Fuck, she scratched him from here to there!” He pointed from his left eye to his ear as he described how the woman scratched the bouncer’s face with her fingernails. [I removed all the F-bombs but one. In the taverns I frequent, that word is on almost every patron’s lips, so it would be weird not to hear it. I also reduced the details Pete provides. His sentences should be short and quick as he’s speaking over the music.]


“They play a good Dumas Walker.”

“No one could screw up that song,” said Joey. “I’d dance to it played on beer bottles.”

They entered the Blue Whale Tavern, and he paid the two-dollar cover charge for the both of them. Early bar-hoppers and mall employees who had worked the evening shift packed the tavern.

Jessica listened to the band as Joey guided her through the crowd looking for a table. Half-drunken patrons overflowed the dance floor, squirming beneath a thick trail of cigarette smoke. The Canucks and Maple Leafs game played on the television above the bar. Single drinkers lined up to watch the action from their leaning post. Colourful lights and mirrors consumed the ceiling, creating an intimate place in the day and night.

The atmosphere made Jessica forget the worries of the day. She began swaying to the honkytonk beat of Guitars and Cadillacs, and she squeezed Joey’s hand.

He turned and smiled. “See anyone?” he said, shouting in her ear.

She shook her head.

“There’s a table over there!” He led her to the corner near the washrooms, and they grabbed seats around a small, round table. From here, they could see the dance floor.

“Hi, guys.” A husky waiter arrived.

“Hi, Pete. What’s up?” said Joey.

“Tim’s blood pressure, man! You should have been here earlier; it was wild!” Pete plopped into a chair and set down his tray. “We had a cat fight on the dance floor! Some guy was dancin’ and his wife came in! She was fuming and beat the guy over the head with her purse, then started on the girl! Things were flyin’ all over the fuckin’ place! Tim hauled the bitch out the door! She scratched him from here to there!” He pointed from his left eye to his ear.

…until next Saturday

6 thoughts on “Editing a western romance novel “Dust, Unsettle” 08

  1. A writer, who shall remain nameless, in a book whose title will be withheld, said this about profanity: “in the end, the important question has nothing to do with whether the talk in your story is sacred or profane; the only question is how it rings on the page and in the ear. If you expect it to ring true, then you must talk yourself. Even more important, you must shut up and listen to others talk.”
    This is his conclusion at the end of four pages on the subject. Sometimes it is necessary for the character to appear true.


    • I understand the necessity of strong language. Some stories come by it naturally. A tavern scene is a perfect place for one to express themselves with colourful language. However, it’s a real turn off for some readers.

      It also depends on your audience. This book is aimed at adults (over age 14), so I’m not too worried about using the F-bomb. But I’ve watched drunks at bars, pirates and construction workers in movies who didn’t curse, and it didn’t throw me out of the story. These stories geared towards children can go curseless and still work.

      So the writer has to ask themselves: 1) Is the cursing necessary to the story? 2) Who will be their audience? 3) Although cursing in a story may feel natural, do they want to lose readers because they are offended, or do they want the broadest readership possible?

      Thanks for your comments, Art. As always, it’s appreciated.


  2. Profanity can sometimes have it’s place in a situation/scene, and I think a tavern is probably one of them. It can be appreciated when used in dialogue to show some of the personality in a character. I think you used the ‘f’ word wisely in this scene–at least in the rewrite of it. I detest profanity in narrative passages though. It shows little to no creativity from the author.


    • I doubt if I’ve ever visited a tavern on a Friday or Saturday night and didn’t hear the F-bomb being dropped in several places. So I agree, here it would be appropriate. I have a brother who can use it as a verb, noun, adjective and an adverb in every sentence. By the time my nephew was four, he had used it more than I had.

      I don’t like a lot of profanity in fiction either, mostly because it loses it’s power. I really hate it in non-fiction, and will stop reading a blog post if I see it used for no good reason. People try to use it for shock and awe, and all they get is me leaving out the back door. It devalues what they really want to say.

      Thanks for visiting and for commenting.


  3. I agree, so much better. I might add the Canucks and Maple Leafs hockey game played on…… for those readers outside of Canada who are not familiar with the teams. It annoys me when I read a book with American football or baseball teams mentioned with no reference to what game they are playing. (because I don´t know) or British soccer teams! Like you I grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night as we only had one channel on our TV and it was CBC. Gordy Howe was my favourite!


    • That’s a good point, Darlene. We live and breathe hockey here, so it would be rare to meet someone who didn’t know who the Maple Leafs were–actually, I think even people who don’t watch hockey have heard a Maple Leaf joke. 🙂

      I’ll add the hockey bit to my edits, not on this page, but in my files.

      Gordie Howe was a favourite of my father’s too. Stevie Yzerman was one of my favourite players, and he didn’t even play on my favourite team. He was an awesome player on and off the ice.

      Thanks for visiting, Darlene, and for leaving a comment.


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