draft

Seithr the Kahn Rocks the House

In my last piece, I introduced you to Seithr the Kahn, my Inner Editor.

You may have thought him unpleasant. And you’d have been right.

But you also may have thought that he does nothing but tear me down. And, well, you’d have been nearly right. He does have a penchant for excessive verbal abuse, and his compliments are few and far between, but in all that he does, he bears one important thing in mind:

He works for me.

However rude and offensive this perfectionist may be, everything he does is for the good of his employer and for his highest ideal– the integrity of The Story.

This is why he cannot abide the messiness of my first drafts, and I do have to lock him out for that bit.

But once the first draft is out on the table, I turn it over to my Inner Editor, for his sensitive perception and brutal judgment. The icy detachment of this internal outsider is invaluable to my work.

His eyes seize on what mine do not; plot weaknesses, scene incohesion, lack of sentence flow and jerky dialogue. And then he cuts.

He once took his machete to a full 20+ page chunk, cutting a good seventh of my manuscript. He ran his fillet knife over the whole novel, slicing out a race of dragons and a central character. He ever whittles at my prose, letting words and sentences and whole paragraphs fall away like so many wood chips.

And then he adds. Write fifteen pages of replacement scenes, he ordered. Insert more of that girl’s family memories throughout, making the climax more poignant, he told me. Add more description of your main character, and I think “modify” is the word you were looking for in the first sentence of that last paragraph.

And you know what? My book is approximately exactly 7.452 times better than it was before he got his meticulously clean beefy hands on them.

It may be hard to listen to your Inner Editor once something is all written up, because they may ask you to do tough things; cut a piece of witty dialogue, kill a favorite character, or re-write the ending with a different climax. Or even re-write the beginning with a different motive (true story.)

But try to remember that they work for you– and then let them do their job. And if, once you’ve finished that first draft, you let your Inner Editor back inside, they’ll rock the house.

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Story Sculpting

Sure, I enjoy the first draft– botching whatever I like, breaking down the fourth wall, chatting with my characters, amusing myself. For example:

“Upon entering the city, Sy and Mysst made for the best recommended inn.
Since their author was, most unfortunately, failing in her authorial pursuits, they found themselves walking inside the tavern below the inn with nothing to observe about their surroundings or interactions to that point.”

Because anything goes, the imagination is released from its straitjacket, and the soul spills out in incredible plot twists and inspired prose. These geysers of ink are unmatched by the editor’s stern red pen.

However, that wonderful, freeing Anything Goes is also the worst thing about the first draft. Within all the loveliness of this great release-of-soul, there bursts a dungheap.

This is where the red pen shines.

This is where dead prose is resurrected, where rants and brambles are cut away to reveal the fairy glade. This is where every stray thread of plot is wound up, or snipped, or new threads woven throughout, till they stretch across your loom to form a tale…

From the cold-hearted, cold-minded task of the red pen leaps the glory that the first draft only dreamt of.

The first draft is a miracle. From nothing to something. From blank page, to ink. It is the pure creation of a block of finest marble– fine, shapeless marble.

The editor sculpts, taking hammer and chisel to this unrealized dream, shattering the creation in horrifying sprays of stone. And then, beneath the careful pen, the dream begins to emerge. With every cautious, destructive stroke, the editor frees the story from its first draft, then smooths and polishes till every sentence gleams.

Then, art.