So I killed the first six paragraphs of "Spark" tonight. I gathered them up, took them out back to the chopping block, strapped their pecking heads down, and with one fail swoop of the delete key, ended their once productive lives.
The lives they lived were good ones, good enough to get it published in Stanislaus' "Penumbra," and mend my shattered writer's ego, but they had far outgrown their usefulness. They scratched the story beneath their feet until not a single grub could be found, yet they yielded no golden eggs of wisdom.
Paragraphs One through Six are survived by three new paragraphs that have started later and end earlier. These spring chickens are filled to the brim with questions and intrigue daring those that come across them to look deep into their eyes and try to say that they have no souls.
Yeah, I needed another break from writing. The first two paragraphs of the "Spark" rewrite took me well over one-and-a-half hours to come up with. Actually, it was an hour last night of thinking and thinking and writing out first line after first line, and then starting in again with the same thing tonight for an additional hour-and-a-half until I found something that sung. I'll post them at the end of this blog so that folks can stop by and tell me what they think. I have a few people whose input I would greatly appreciate.
Our real chickens who won't be having
their heads lopped any time soon, if ever.
And yes, that is a chicken ramp, someday
I'll post photos of the ultimate chicken coop
that I built to house our girls.
But this entire notion of cutting the beginning got me to thinking about the notion of killing off sections of our stories. There are a number of people that I know who just can't bring themselves to do it. I've heard it put as "killing your darlings." The parts that you really think are great that no one else gets. The end goal, of course, is to make sure that everyone else "gets it", so away they must go.
When I first started writing, indeed, when I first started drawing, I absolutely could not bring myself to get rid of anything. Each scene, every line drawn were all the best that I could do at that moment in time and therefore the best work I could ever hope to produce. Only time has taught me that this is far from true. If anything, I find that the more time that passes, the more of my old work I would love to erase from the memories of those who have seen it.
It is with this in mind that I now look at revisions of my work. Of course I believe it to be my best work when I submit it for critique, and indeed there is a bit of a knee jerk reaction to the initial criticisms, but I always come back around to this simple truth, "I will do better."
I would also like to put forth the notion of practice words. I think that if we look at our writing that is never published or the scenes that lie in waste on the cutting room floor as practice as opposed to something wasted, the process of trimming away the fat and tightening up our plots becomes so much easier.
Writing is one of those things that gets better with age.
So always keep that in mind, "practice words," when you go to cull the excess, and I think you'll do just fine. I have four attempts at first novels taking up zeros and ones in my hard drive that have never seen the light of day and who knows how many short stories. At one point I saw this as a waste, and therefore I would not write any further. I refused to continue writing if I could not put for the absolute best, and what it got me was years of delay in my progress towards producing something great. Don't let the fear of less than perfect keep you from ever getting there.
Time for a little compare and contrast, the first paragraph of "Spark" written over a year ago:Silas’ thirty-second attempt in the past three weeks ended in utter failure. One more and Cara would make sure that the name ‘Silas Penzack’ appeared on the roles down at the homeless shelter. He could not blame her really, it was simple, all he had to do was reach out and touch someone. Not like the phone commercial, but literally reach out and touch someone, human contact, flesh to quivering flesh. That oversimplified it a bit, but only a bit. But that was by no means the end of it, it was what happened when he touched people that was the problem. Not that it had been a problem before he knew what he was doing. Now that he knew, not only what he was doing, but also the potential consequences of it, human contact had not only become difficult it was almost impossible.
And now the latest revision:Silas Penzack found himself searching for every imaginable reason to fail, even though he had spent his entire life trying to do just the opposite. For Silas, success was not only hard to come by, it was near impossible. But on that gray morning, so far away from the disdain swelling beneath a father’s eyes that had long ago ceased looking for a point of pride in his son, hidden amongst the high-rise buildings that blocked out the wheat fields of his childhood, he found himself trying to do exactly that: fail. Only one thing stood between him and that failure, Silas Penzack was the best at what he was sent to do and Cara knew it.