The chapter we’re about to edit comes from a story by Mackenzie Lusby, who won the short story contest I ran last year.

If you like, you can see the full chapter, along with my edits and suggestions, here.

Here’s how the story opens:

“In here! Quickly!” Artemis Hoxley yelled, his strong arms bleeding from deep wounds sustained through lengthy battle.

I think this sentence tries to cram too much information into the opening. We find out his name, that he's bleeding, that his wounds are deep, and that there was some lengthy battle. Some of this information is inconsequential, and I suggest we remove it.

When readers open a story, they’re looking to find their bearing. The trio of Character, Conflict, Premise needs to be established first as that’s what keeps readers hooked.

A side note on style. We don’t need two exclamation points. The dialogue tag yelling already takes care of the volume of this exclamation. Most writers and editors today agree that exclamation points are a lazy way of conveying emotion, and should be kept to a minimum (1-3 per book).

The wounds bled more than they should have – worsened from the pressure of carrying his wife – but he ignored this as a butterfly ignores a breeze.

Him carrying his wife would be the first thing any observer would notice, so it should be moved to the front.

Also, be careful with your similes. "Like a butterfly ignores a breeze" has the effect of inserting the image of a butterfly struggling against the breeze into the mind of the reader. Can butterflies ignore a breeze? I don't know, they seem to struggle to stay in the air all the time.

A better simile, though I suggest cutting this one out, would be "like an ox ignores the weather."

His wife winced at the slightest jolt – and there were many of those for Artemis moved swiftly and with great purpose.

I think we can replace “the slightest” with “every” and get rid of the “great” as “swiftly and with purpose” is punchy enough.

Assymialet responded with deep meditative breathing as she struggled to tolerate her condition – now would not be the time to worry the other wounded or unsettle the dying.

That condition is pregnancy, and since her being pregnant is something that would be glaringly obvious to any observer present on the scene, I suggest not hiding it from the reader.

But what needs more attention is the Point of View slip also called head skipping. The narrative slips into the POV of the wife for this sentence. Since Artemis was already established as the POV character in a Third Person Limited type of a narrative (Not 3rd Person Omniscient), this will only confuse the readers because they will have a hard time figuring out which thoughts and emotions belong to which character. Consider sticking with one POV character. Also, Third Person Omniscient narratives have gone out of fashion, and are a hard sell nowadays.

Artemis Hoxley knew no such restraint.

With a deafening clatter that threatened to drown out the thunder of the great war raging outside this makeshift medical tent, he kicked a gurney burdened with bloody surgical implements out of the way and laid his wife down tenderly on one of the infirmary beds.

I think we can both agree that the “drown out the thunder of the great war” is overdone. The question is: does it achieve the desired effect? To me, it gives the narrative an ultra-heroic feel, something I would expect to find in one of the Warhammer 40,0000 Glory for the Emperor Space Marines novels. For this story, though, realism should work well enough. The sound effect of clattering medical supplements is top-notch writing.

And I know I’ve been picking on details but the overall imagery in the scene is fantastic. It’s why this story won the contest.

An After and a Before

Here’s the edited version. I added an opening paragraph, too. It establishes the image of their surroundings and the stakes. We now know what the hero is trying to achieve and we can cheer him on.

The edits were pretty extensive, but I tried to preserve the voice and the imagery.

    Artemis Hoxley staggered but did not fall when a bomb exploded nearby. He couldn’t fall, not while carrying his pregnant wife.

    “With me, quickly,” he yelled to the nurse over the thunder cracks of shelling. Blood from his wounds soaked his uniform, the bleeding made worse by the pressure of carrying his wife, but there was little he could do about it now, so he pushed the worry aside and focused on getting them to the nearest medical tent.

    In his arms, Assymialet was attempting to steady her breathing with little success since every jolt made her wince.

    Artemis pushed the tent flaps aside with his back. Inside, he kicked a gurney burdened with bloody surgical implements out of the way and laid his wife down on one of the empty infirmary beds.

The before for comparison:

    “In here! Quickly!” Artemis Hoxley yelled, his strong arms bleeding from deep wounds sustained through lengthy battle. The wounds bled more than they should have – worsened from the pressure of carrying his wife – but he ignored this as a butterfly ignores a breeze. His wife winced at the slightest jolt – and there were many of those for Artemis moved swiftly and with great purpose. Assymialet responded with deep meditative breathing as she struggled to tolerate her condition – now would not be the time to worry the other wounded or unsettle the dying.

    Artemis Hoxley knew no such restraint.

    With a deafening clatter that threatened to drown out the thunder of the great war raging outside this makeshift medical tent, he kicked a gurney burdened with bloody surgical implements out of the way and laid his wife down tenderly on one of the infirmary beds.

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