Confession: someone vomits in pretty much every book I’ve written, and will probably ever write. Why? Because it’s intense! Puking isn’t just for the stomach flu! It’s a sign you’re working out too hard, you’re freaking out, or you suffer from migraines.
In The Color of Betrayal, I have the requisite up-chuck scene. When I sent it to Joyce (Lamb), my line editor, it was three paragraphs. Here is the original
Since she hadn’t eaten anything in several hours, she was surprised by the volume of vomit. Jolene held her hair back with both hands. Her nostrils burned as the overflow poured out of there too. Most of her throwing up had been done while drunk or hung over, and she hadn’t missed this part of drinking.
She tried to gather her hair into one hand so she could wipe her face and blow her nose with the other, but her stomach wasn’t finished. Cass knelt next to her, and gently pulled her hair back. She gripped the bowl and twice more, her insides spewed. Then her belly clenched and clenched until a thick syrup of bile slid out of her mouth.
Her thoughts tried to run back to what Cass had said, the documents he’d shown her, but she yanked them back, concentrating on the agony in her gut, the rawness of her throat, the sticky heat of the tears swamping her eyes. Maybe death wasn’t such a bad thing.
Cass kept hold of her hair but leaned away from her. He returned close enough to brush her arm. “Here.”
Lotta good sensory details right there, that’s what I was thinking. Joyce, however, gave me this feedback:
“Kinda think this is all too much. It’s enough to just tell us she barfed and Cass is holding her hair. Something more like:
Jolene tried to hold her hair back with both hands, but then Cass was kneeling next to her and gently pulling her hair back for her. When she was done and gasping, he leaned away from her, only to return close enough to brush her arm. “Here.“
In retrospect, that’s a fair bit of advice. Okay, maybe my audience doesn’t want that much puke detail. Fine, fine. So, this is what ended up in the final draft:
Since she hadn’t eaten anything in several hours, she was surprised by the volume of vomit. She hadn’t missed this part of drinking.
Cass knelt next to her and gently pulled her hair back. When she finished, he leaned away then close enough to brush her arm with something soft. “Here.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with a three-paragraph description of tossing cookies, but, admittedly, it isn’t exactly sexy, and I’m happier with the revision.
If I’d been left to my own devices, this is evidence that I would have produced a less-professional book. Joyce also whipped the prose into shape by streamlining much of it. It was actually pretty embarrassing, but I’m not going to share examples of that! Not this time, anyway.