Her eyes were blue beyond blue, like the ocean. A blue he could swim into… Boy sees girl and the writer cannot decide how to best describe that blue beyond blue eye color. “Like nothing but blue,” says the editor. No need for marine life references.
This is a scene from Genius, a film about the relationship between Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) and writer Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law). It’s the 1930’s. Wolfe walks into Perkins’s office with a 5,000 (!) page handwritten manuscript, out of which Of Time and the River was carved ― and eventually cut to 900 pages.
In this scene, we see the editor hard at work while the writer keeps adding more pages, arguing that every word is vital. The 200+ words long boy-sees-girl paragraph was cut to 25 words.
I’ve transcribed the dialog in another post: An editor’s life: Cut. Cut. Cut?
Describing the scene where the boy Eugene sees the girl across the room, Wolfe starts with the girl’s arms: “…ivory arms, but now sun-kissed as a blush, as the incarnadine discovery inside a conch shell seen for the first time by a bewildered zoologist as he is undone by its rosy, promising pinkness; those were her arms.”
Then her eyes: “…her eyes were blue beyond blue, like the ocean. A blue he could swim into forever and never miss a fire engine red or a cornstalk yellow.”
Finally, the impact it all had on Eugene: “From that moment, Eugene understood what the poets had been writing about these many years, all the lost, wandering, lonely souls who were now his brothers. He knew a love that would never be his. So quickly did he fall for her that no one in the room even heard the sound, the whoosh as he fell, the clatter of his broken heart. It was a sure silence, but his life was shattered.”
The girl never notices him.
The result after cutting: “Eugene saw a woman. Her eyes were blue. So quickly did he fall for her that no one in the room even heard the sound.”
Who says editing is boring? And for the record, I love Thomas Wolfe’s writing.