Rewriting F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’ve always liked the following sentence from the Great Gatsby but I’m bothered by how  “careless” and “carelessness” are found so close together. Fitzgerald is making an important point in this sentence but the second use doesn’t expand on what he’s trying to say. It’s repetitious for no purpose, detracting from his meaning rather than adding to it.

The Great Gatsby could do with better clarity around its timeline but Fitzgerald’s writing style is untouchable. This is the only sentence I would fuss with.

Fitzgerald: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

Revision Idea #1 “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or the holes in their souls that let them make other people clean up the mess they had made.”

Comment.  Holes in their souls. Sounds like their shoes have a problem. Don’t like the rhyme. It’s cute. Cute never justifies inclusion. I left out “whatever kept them together.” Doesn’t seem to add to the sentence. Let me see if I can include that part later.

Revision Idea #2 “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or the emptiness in their souls that let them make other people clean up the mess they had made.”

Comment. Make? How about forced? This speaks to the duties wrongfully imposed on other people.

Revision Idea #3 “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or the emptiness in their souls that forced other people to clean up the mess they had made.”

Comment. Still not there. I don’t like the heaviness of the word forced when carelessness is also used, the dark with the light. Let’s go back to the previous try.

Revision Idea # 4 “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or the emptiness in their souls that let them make other people clean up the mess they had made.”

Comment. At this point I am walking away. Unless I was under a tight deadline, this kind of problem needs some thought while other editing and revisions are addressed.

BREAK

That was a good break. I got far away in the revisions above from my original intent to avoid repeating “careless” in the same sentence. Editors can get fixated on the wrong things as much as writers. Let me get back to what I first wanted.

Revision Idea #5 “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their thoughtless nature, whatever shared flaw that kept them together, leaving others to clean up the mess they had made.”

Comment. Happy enough with this that I would leave this revision for the author to weigh in on. Here’s what I like about Idea #5:

Changed “emptiness of their souls” to “empty souls.” Brief is better.
Put back “whatever it was that kept them together.” That thought might be important to the author, consequently, there is now Less for the author to bitch about.

F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre. Photo: Courtesy of BETTMANN/CORBIS

About thomasfarley01

Freelance writer specializing in outdoor subjects, particularly rocks, gems and minerals.
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