From: Catherine Rankovic, BookEval.com
To: Cora C., Re: The book manuscript titled Adventures in Nursing
Hi, Cora. I think this collection of the challenges you met with as an adult in nursing school is wonderfully readable. Your prose is clear and this draft manuscript’s contents are exceptionally clean and clear and chronological--a treat for me.
Besides being your own memoir, the stories together create a portrait of nursing in the U.S. in the 21st century--a sort of Orwellian universe of overwork, frustration, bureaucracy, rigidity and senseless behavior on the part of patients and employers and everybody--except yourself, it seems. I suggest including in this collection a story about a mistake you made, or when your compassion failed. Readers will admire your overall heroism and fortitude, but if the first-person narrator does not make even one mild mistake or do anything (even a small thing such as knowingly being late, or sneaking a smoke) he or she won’t seem human to your readers.
It will probably be easy to work one “I messed up” anecdote into what you have here, and please don’t have it be a story consisting of you beating yourself up about not being perfect. Let me be very specific about why: The rule for characters, if you want them to seem like good and real human beings--and you are a “character” in your own memoir and must write yourself like one--is 80 percent good and 20 percent bad. None of us is perfect. For villains the percentage is the reverse. The first chapter and final chapter admitting that nursing is not fun and the computer work is horrible I like very much because it takes the “romance” out of the job. Honeymoon is over! Now comes life. We can all identify with that.
Your revision of what is here will be easy, if I have anything to say about it. Here are the major suggestions:
In “Seventy-Four Years” the nurse Stef with no fingerprints who lets you into the locked room never appears again in the story. Who is she? Why does she have “no fingerprints” and how did you find that out? Having no fingerprints is pretty darned weird. If you don’t know you might consider leaving her out of the story because readers will be distracted wondering about Stef.
In “Bell of Brass,” the ending needs a little work, and it’s only a matter of telling more. Who told Shirley she was cancer-free? The oncologist? And why was her husband there with her on that day when he usually was absent? Please write that scene or how you found out about it.
Prose Style Adjustment: Passive Voice
The prose was full of “passive voice” constructions which I changed into active constructions. A “passive” construction usually means replacing a “was” or “were” or “been” with an active verb and clearly identifying the source of the action. That means in simple language being straightforward about who did what. Examples:
Passive: The village was bombed.
Active: John’s unit bombed the village.
Passive: He was asked by Jen.
Active: Jen asked him.
Passive: After meds were passed out that evening. . .
Active: After the nurses passed out distributed meds that evening. . . (can you see why I made a vocabulary change?). We do say “passed out,” meaning distributed, but in this case, when we can be misunderstood, we prefer precision in verbs.
Business, military, government and professional language all use the passive voice for a good reason and the health professions too are steeped in it, and as a first-time writer about the health profession of course you’d use the passive voice. It is not a failing. All you need is to be conscious of is that storytelling should use the active voice.
As a new writer--you’re a good one! What future do you see for your book?
It is normal for a writer to concentrate first on learning how to tell the story and then how to write it, and only then concern herself with issues about a higher level of prose quality. It should be one level higher than the way we speak. I emphasize that this is a second step in your writing journey. Always complete your manuscript first and THEN concern yourself with prose issues.
I occasionally varied sentence structure when the overuse of “I was,” “There were,” “It was,” “The place was” at the beginnings of sentences became noticeable. Again, that is not a failing, only an issue to be aware of.
As I told you in an email, I deleted dozens of “Yeah,” “Well” “But” “So,” “Okay,” and other unfelt words fronting lines of dialogue. This strengthens the dialogue. Yes, we talk that way, but for the reader, stronger dialogue trumps “but we really talk that way.” I left the rest of the dialogue as it was. You have a good “ear” for dialogue.
The issue then became overuse of certain words. This overuse feels so natural that is almost beneath the level of the writer’s perception, but the reader will notice while reading; print makes repetitions stand out. I find it in my own work. In your manuscript the word was “just.”
The word in fact means “fair” and that is all it ever truly means. Yet we use it in speech all the time as an intensifier, and in speech it doesn’t matter, but I once read a manuscript of 300 pages that used “just” as an intensifier 441 times and the author had no idea. I think in my edit I managed to reduce the number by 50 percent. I repeat, this is utterly normal and a secondary issue AFTER the manuscript is otherwise complete. Many of the “justs” were not necessary. Some had to stay. To keep the number of “justs” down I sometimes substituted “simply,” “merely,” or other intensifiers.
I corrected the spellings of “Nurse Ratched,” HIPAA, “Jerry Maguire” and a few other such, fixed the “a.m.” and “p.m.”s and dashes, made clock time appearance consistent, put all the “thoughts” in italics rather than quotation marks, all for consistency. Consistency makes the reader feel secure. It is below the reader’s level of perception, in the way that gravity is sort of below our level of perception. We simply expect to feel secure and grounded.
So the manuscript is edited and the prose upstyled a bit, although I wouldn’t call it print-ready until you have given the book a better title. You cannot use the title Adventures in Nursing because “nursing” has two separate meanings.
I think this honest account of nursing school as a second career would interest mainly readers who are considering that move. Everyone should read it, but everyone won’t. What I can see you doing, and making money at, is publishing these stories as stand-alone articles in magazines for 1) health professionals, especially those in Catholic hospitals 2) nursing students 3) mid-life women 4) career-changers, 5) Catholics; and finally, in magazines that feature stories of courage or compassion, such as Guideposts (which publishes many true-life stories about health care). My guess is that about 10 of the 22 stories could be submitted “as is” (with the edits) and the others would require a bit of “tailoring” or “slant” to be more sellable. Sure, you can publish just the book, but I think you’d be better off publishing some of the stories first and then publishing the book after you have built an audience or following. Yes, I think you can build a following as a writer.
Very good work, Cora! Brave work, too. The world needs health professionals who can write well and movingly about their experiences. Let me know what you plan to do.