Thursday, October 18, 2012

What my edits look like

I'm a sparse writer when it comes to first-drafts. There's a couple reasons for this. First, I'm a pantser, so I'm just writing whatever I know in the moment. Second, I really like subtlety/layering. More than anything, I don't want to write a book that shakes the reader by the shoulder and screams, "Look, Jane, see Spot run!" I'd rather the reader get knocked over when Spot makes a flying leap at their throat and takes them down.

...and yeah, I'm aware that it's frustrating and annoying for my CP's.

Usually my edits consist of adding in more history/explanations, or clearing up the confusing ones that are already there. For 'Simon's Oath', my MS bulked up by 10,000 words between the first and second drafts.

One thing I knew had to change about 'Brake Fluid' was the unclear, choppy, awful, awkward beginning. Before I sent 'BF' out to my CP's, I tinkered with it a little (making it noticeably worse than the original) as I was trying to figure out what was wrong with it, but I had a sense that it was the right place to start.

Why? Hell if I know... I think I rely on my instincts most of the time and rationalize it later.

With no idea of where it was going, the very first words I wrote of this story were these:

I always forget that crazy is relative. That is, until someone new hitches a ride in the back of Triss’s car. 

Yesterday she offered to drop Dave and Sam at the mall, and when Triss spun the wheel and yanked up on the e-brake, Sam swore and clocked me in the head by mistake as he fought to stay upright. Maybe it knocked some sense into me, ‘cause at that moment I remembered it’s not normal to have to brace your elbow against the door of a car. My feet were automatically spread as far apart as they could go to keep me balanced, and then I noticed a slice of pain in my left hand. Turns out I’ve gripped the seat in the same spot through so many car rides that I’ve worn a hole clear through the seat-cover. My fingers had shoved through the stuffing and were clamped around a sharp piece of the metal frame as though it was the most natural thing in the world. I was surprised, but I still had enough sense not to let go until Triss stomped down on the brakes, hopped the curb, and the car lurched to a stop six inches from an old guy with a shopping cart. Hopefully he’d just stocked up on Depends.
Like I said, crazy is relative, but I always drive shotgun with Triss. Always have, always will. 
Even when there’s a dead body in the truck and Triss has slugged back enough vodka that she can’t shift properly and keeps grinding the gears of her old, yellow Volvo sedan.

There's a lot wrong with this beginning, but what's right about it?

These lines right here:

Like I said, crazy is relative, but I always drive shotgun with Triss. Always have, always will.

They reflect the core of this MC.

Being with Triss (and all that implies) is crazy, but the MC has chosen it. Why? Well, that's for the story to explain.

The point is, it's a choice. The ground-zero-choice, if you will.

I know there's so much advice online about beginnings, about first lines, and about the first 250 words. I'm not naive enough to think I've got it all figured out, but I can tell you why I chose to keep this particular starting-point as the beginning, and how I chose to edit it.

My re-worked beginning now looks like this:

It’s easy to forget that crazy is relative. Sometimes you need a punch-in-the-gut, other times a few thoughtless words can shake you straight and grind in how human and breakable you really are.
After a year of riding shotgun with Triss, it takes a pretty big hit to realize how weird it is to brace my elbow against the door and jam my knees into the dash. When she guns the engine, I shouldn’t notice how my hand instinctively burrows through a hole in the seat and clamps around a sharp piece of metal frame. My voice shouldn’t stall-out mid-sentence when she spins the wheel, hops the curb, and nearly takes out some old guy with a shopping cart full of Depends. 
I shouldn’t be thinking how easily we could crash, burn, and die, but today I am ‘cause something big hit me in the head. One-hundred-seventy-five-pounds-big.
Crazy really is relative.
Most of the time, I think we just don’t know better, but other times we make the choice to believe. Like Triss’ driving. No matter how fast and furious it gets, I’ll always ride shotgun. Always have, always will.
Even when things are more crazy than normal. When there’s a dead body stashed in the trunk. When Triss has slugged back so much vodka that she can’t shift properly and keeps grinding the gears of her old Volvo sedan.

It's different, but not a whole heck-of-a-lot different, right? Same actions, same thought process, same bad driving, and same (humorous) almost-hitting of a pedestrian.

What I said earlier was true. The line about choosing to ride shotgun with Triss is the core of the MC, but while I was on the right track with my undignified, messy vomiting-out-of-words, I wasn't focused in. I was talking around the point I wanted to get to.

I wasn't being clear.

The reason the MC is freaking out about Triss' driving isn't because s/he was literally clonked on the head by a screaming passenger. S/he is freaking out because of the situation, because of the corpse in the trunk, because Triss isn't acting normal, because there are bigger things at stake that are weighing on their minds, yet through it all, the MC is willingly riding shotgun.

Sure, it's multiple-layers-of-crazy all stacked on top of another, but it's one choice, and every choice we make that seems perfectly normal to us, can look totally crazy to someone else looking in.

And everyone knows that crazy is relative*.

For me, a beginning isn't about the setting, or even necessarily about the plot. What I want (as a reader, and a writer) is the taste of a complex character I can relate to, even if it's only a tiny bit, so that's what I put into my beginnings, and I strip away everything else.

With this MC, the way s/he lies to him/herself is something that runs all the way through the story. Call it a broken character, one with an extreme inferiority complex, or be blunt and say it's deliberate/willful ignorance. It really doesn't matter what exactly it is, but I wanted it to be clear on the first page. I wanted the abnormal-moral-compass to be apparent and the reader to know that self-preservation isn't the MC's top priority. I wanted a touch of dark humour, but most of all, I wanted the reader to connect, at least a little, with the MC and wonder why s/he is going along on this crazy ride.

Greedy**, aren't I? I want it all...

A few lines are still pretty clunky...but I did manage to trim a good chunk from what I had before.

Personally, I think the new beginning is better, but as always, I love to hear your opinions.

What do you think of the new opening?

Are there are 'rules' you keep clear in your head when starting a story? Have you ever written a beginning and though, "Nailed it!", or do you usually fumble around, unsure of where everything should start?

* Or that relatives are crazy. Yes I do have a lame sense of humour ...and yes, that's a bit of a sub-theme in the story. The relative thing, not my sense of humour.

** Or just hyper-over-analytical...

...and yes, I use a heck-of-a-lot of hyphenated words/phrases when I'm stuck in this character's head.


  1. Edits. Though they are needed, they just may as well be the death of me...

    1. Personally edits are more fun for me than writing a first draft because I can over-analyse-to-death and try to get the most milage from the words/sentences as I possibly can.

  2. i really enjoyed watching the subtle change in the edits. But, like you said, you kept the core of it and it's an engaging beginning.

    1. Glad you like it :) It's been a fun experiment posting snippets of this story as I work through it... and I think it's helped me think about my own process more, be aware of why I do things. Hopefully, that means my first drafts will get cleaner as I write them ;)

  3. LIIIIIIIKE! Really like. Very nice. I agree--it wasn't quite as clear before. I'm like you: I want the story to open with a character that grabs the throat and doesn't let go, and I think you achieve that right here. Great job!

    1. Thanks :) It still needs work, but at least it's closer to what I *think* it should be :)


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