78 rough draft pages have become 112 revised pages.
Road Trip! (Day 1 of 2)
This installment brings us a third of the way into the story. So far, Heroine has handled with relative ease (and insignificant injuries) everything thrown at her. We’ve demonstrated she can hold her own against a couple of types of foes who want her dead and that her reflexes and powers of observation will keep her out of most “accidents.” An element of weirdness has joined the chat, but what the situation demands of her has thus far been mostly within her comfort zone.
It’s time for things to start hurting!
In the cursed city, we saw some of the structural effects of 300 years of abandonment. Now Heroine gets to experience them firsthand—the leading edge of the challenges ahead becoming less easy. It’s going to sting immediately, and there will be lingering effects later, when it would be objectively better for her to be in top form.
There’s a nod to in-world birth control/menstruation blockers, specifically citing the latter in that Heroine doesn’t want to be running for her life while suffering cramping and bleeding in excess of that caused by running for her life.
One fun thing about revision is spotting opportunities to drop little crumbs of foreshadowing. I found a reason to add one sentence that sets up a) a character who will appear much later, b) the purpose of that future appearance, and c) the existence of a form of technology in this world I haven’t previously had occasion to mention (AKA casual worldbuilding). It’s not a sentence that jumps up and down and screams for attention, but it will do its job of preventing things from seeming to come out of nowhere later. As a reader, I love those “Ah, so that’s where that was going” moments, and it’s nice when writing to think “Oh hey, I can create one of those myself!”
Random sentence crafting tip:
[She] held her breath until he was several feet beyond the gap, as if exhaling dozens of yards away might dislodge the one piece of grit pinning the ledge together.
This sort of thing makes it into published work all the time, so it’s not hurting anybody’s writing career. But it’s a clunky sentence because we have an event (holding her breath) followed chronologically by another event (he gets past the gap), and then the end of the sentence time travels to explain the beginning of the sentence. It doesn’t flow, and it doesn’t subvert flow in an interesting and intentional way.
I’m not trying to be artfully edgy. I just want flow, and that can be accomplished by adhering to chronological order:
[She] held her breath, as if exhaling dozens of yards away might dislodge the one piece of grit pinning the ledge together, and released it only when he was several feet beyond the gap.
This happened, for this reason, and then this happened. Time flowing in a straight line. One less-clunky sentence for the next draft.
And as long as I’m nitpicking sentence-level craft:
The only part of the overseer’s shack not leaning ominously was the door.
Again, we see stuff like this in published work all the time, which is why it’s so easy to barf out in the first draft even though I get paid to beat the suck out of other people’s writing and know better. There are a number of problems with this sentence, but I want to focus on “was not leaning” being an unverb (the technical term is something like “negative conjugation”; I don’t get paid to look it up and cite here). It negates action. It never happened. It fails to convey what is happening.
Unverbs, like most writing “no-nos,” do have useful functions. In the case of unverbs, probably their most interesting function is creating deliberate ambiguity, e.g., “I didn’t chop up my husband and hide the body in the freezer,” a denial in which the husband may be intact alive, intact dead, or in chunks anywhere other than in the freezer OR the speaker wasn’t legally married to the missing person in question OR any human parts that happen to be in the freezer belonged to someone other than the husband OR whomsoever’s chunks are in the freezer are right on top and neatly labeled and thus not “hidden” by any definition of the word OR some other party was responsible for one or both of the actions of which the speaker has been accused—all within the technical truth of the sentence because the “not” taints every word of it.
However, “useful under certain circumstances” doesn’t mean “fantastic all the time.” Do I want ambiguity here? No! We here at Casa de Aphantasia suffer through writing visual descriptions that are of no use to us solely to give the reader a clear picture, and this sentence fails to do that. We know the door isn’t leaning ominously, but we have no idea what the door is doing. It could be swinging jauntily or shuddering ecstatically or even leaning auspiciously. You don’t know because all I’ve done is rule out one of infinite possibilities.
The first part of this fix is determining what’s actually important. A whole unstable building is descriptively more relevant than a part of it that, as far as we’ve been told, is doing nothing.
The overseer’s shack leaned ominously.
Now the subject of the sentence is both near the front of it and behaving in a definitive fashion. Do I even need to mention the door? I originally wanted to emphasize that forcing it open would destabilize the listing wall so the building collapsed, but that would probably be more effective as a “Should we check in there for more survivors?”/(look at the door holding the wall upright) “Only if you want to bring the roof down on them” exchange, possibly in a later scene—or possibly not at all.
I’ll leave a note about it sure to endear me to Future Me.
Meanwhile, Present Me will be moving on to Road Trip! (Day 2 of 2)