Battle Sounds: a Re-write

A few weeks ago I plucked up the courage to share my work at my IRL writers’ group for the first time. I’ve joined writers’ groups in the past, listened and commented on other people’s work, and then fled in panic at the thought of sharing my own scribbles, so this was a big step out of the comfort zone.

The piece I shared was this one which I wrote for #FridayFictioneers last month. Luckily for my fragile ego I got some really nice feedback from the rest of the group, and plenty of constructive comments on how it could be improved. Several people said that my use of the word ‘fell’ in the opening line created confusion, as soldiers ‘falling’ in battle is often used as a euphemism for death. And changing a past tense to a present tense in the second paragraph made the switch to present day much clearer too. So here’s my re-written version:

The roar of machine guns on the ridge dulled as he skidded, feet-first, down the slope. Suddenly he could hear other sounds again. Men’s distant screams. The trickle of a filthy stream, his boots crunching dead leaves as he struggled to his feet, heart pounding in time with his rasping breath. Damn nerves. He fumbled for a cigarette, as a shell wailed louder overhead.

The old front line is just beyond that ridge. People come now in summer, looking for names on memorials. They still find battle remnants – shell fragments mostly, and, once, a cigarette case, blown apart.

(98 words)

Can you spot the difference? The changes are very minor, but it was a really interesting experience for me to read something out loud to an audience, and to get their feedback and criticism. I knew there was something not quite right about my opening sentence, but couldn’t put my finger on it. And I would never have thought to change that past tense ‘was’ to ‘is’ in the final paragraph – but half a dozen people suggested it, and it’s so obviously better. How did I not see that?

I didn’t act on all the feedback I received though. One person suggested that wailing was the wrong word for shells. She may have been right, and thankfully I have no idea what a shell actually sounds like, but I couldn’t shake off Wilfred Owen’s ‘shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells’, so wailing stayed.

I’ve realised that coming out of my shell and sharing my work is actually a really useful way of improving my writing. (and a massive shout out to the lovely folk at Leeds Writers’ Circle for making it so painless!) It’s easy to just say we like each other’s work, but sometimes a fresh pair of eyes can see an obvious potential improvement that the original writer is just too close to spot. What do you think? Do you welcome constructive criticism, or is it all just too scary?

7 thoughts on “Battle Sounds: a Re-write

  1. Very interesting given that I’m trying to decide whether to take the plunge and start writing creatively. Jittery, too, about the thought of joining a group of any kind and submitting to crit… I remember your original version of the piece and yes, the changes do work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I am really enjoying the group, and it’s very different to the kind of feedback you get on WordPress, much more nuts and bolts ‘have you thought of deleting that comma and putting that word there instead?’ Which is a fascinating process to go through. Definitely worth overcoming the jitters I’d say!

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  2. I think constructive criticism is important, especially if it’s attainable. It helps the growth process. I’m happy you were able to connect with your writing group and gain a few pointers too. I like the change.

    I send a lot of my work for editing, review, and critiquing to two of my closest writing/editing friends. I trust their opinions and they always have something useful to share.

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  3. I loved it before, and the changes are subtle but very effective.
    Wailing is fine for shells. There are many different sounds, depending on where you are in relation to the trajectory, and what type of projectile it is. The landing sound also varies greatly. Probably FTMI.

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  4. Good on you! 🙂

    It can be daunting. I shared my work for the first time at two workshops last year & it can be a scary experience but everyone was lovely. Still have to get to the stage of reading my work at the arts night but small steps …

    Glad your experience went well. 🙂

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  5. How did I miss this story on FF? It’s really good, and I’m sure I would have remembered it! I agree that constructive criticism is very helpful. I’m glad you’re local writers’ group is helpful; some of them really aren’t.

    Liked by 1 person

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