So…I threw out about fifteen thousand words of work. Even for a wordy bastard like me, that’s an awful lot of words and work to sacrifice on the altar of the delete key.
That is one of the hardest lessons to learn, by the way: honest self-criticism. Oh, it’s easy to be critical about word-choice and phrasing and all the normal style crap that gets hit in the later editing/revision passes…but to be self-critical about the entire direction of a story?
Yeah, that’s freaking hard.
My strong belief is that it is worlds better that I find the flaws and dead-ends in a story before any reader or editor. The results of that self-criticism, however…
The results of that kinda suck. There’s nothing like realizing that the plan for the entire second half of a hundred thousand word story has to be replanned and replotted. Even worse, there’s nothing like staring again at a blank page where once you thought there was a plan and a direction.
Still, some of those old, “bad” notes and dynamics can hold true. More importantly, the direction and focus of a character can still hold true. Years and years ago, I read a great piece on writing from a favorite writer of mine. One of the things he advocated was getting inside your characters’ heads. What I translate as making your characters real. An extension of that, he went on to add, was that from time to time, when the characters complained about the direction you were taking the story, you had to give up on your own plans and go with what they wanted.
Below is a random scene I wrote a year or so ago. I never finished it. There is an entire second half — another thousand words or so — that determines which way the scene, and the story itself, actually goes. I’m still working on that second half…
Warm days on Redux were a rarity. It was a planet cold and unforgiving for its new human settlers. A planet that seemingly wanted to punish the temerity of those daring to build and live on its half-frozen surface. When the brief weeks of warmth came, then, it was cause for celebration; for weeks spent outdoors, soaking up that most treasured of commodities: warm sunshine.
The small field outside of Peebers was packed. Filled with far more than just the bar’s regulars, there were families and individuals from all over the Camp. A handful, even, from the neighborhoods on the city’s posh west side. All were outside, seated at small tables, or simply sprawled on the sparse grass, savoring the entertainment and the sun’s warmth in equal measure.
The bar’s servers were running at top speed to deliver drinks and food while the celebrants enjoyed the long hours of music from the small stage Dalton had set up at the heart of the field.
The crowd was still small, compared to what it would be later. The headline acts — the ones folks were paying to see — wouldn’t start for several more hours. And yet…
And yet, it was no small, timid roar when Connor stepped onto that stage and started to play. The applause and the cheers — the raw energy of a crowd larger than any he’d ever before experienced — made the first notes out of his guitar something very special. It was a new song that he started with. A new song, but one well received by the enthusiastic revelers. It was more than the crowd, though. It was a great deal more.
It was the sun…and the music…and the energy…it was, when you got right down to it, something far more than the sum of its parts: it was the moment itself. Connor was something, up on that stage, that he never was at any other time. Something he had not been since that terrible day when he’d held the body of his dying brother; Connor was himself. The many masks and false identities were gone. The pretense was gone. In their place instead was all the feeling, and all the intensity, that life had taught to Connor.
The regulars in the crowd reacted — wildly — to the first notes of those songs that had become much-requested favorites on his nights playing inside the bar. To his surprise, however, the newcomers reacted to his music, and his personality, just as enthusiastically. More than anything, it was the new songs, the songs that continued to explore and expand on his opinion of the entire miserable universe, that really drew the response he wanted.
Not for a day like that — not for a day in the warmth of the sun — were the semi-acoustic songs of pain and loss he had played in the past. No, his brief time in front of that crowd called for energy, and for lyrics that confronted and judged, rather than for songs that spoke to the internal, personal pain of his past.
Ten songs, that was his allotted time. Ten songs to sing his throat sore, and to play his fingers bloody on the strings. And on the final song? On the final song, everything came together: the sun, the music, the enthusiastic participation of the crowd. It was a moment — a moment of stone-cold sobriety — that left far behind the best highs he could remember from the countless days of drugs and booze that had so-far defined his young life.
He was sweating and exhausted when the notes began to fade behind the cheers. Unlike his first nights playing in the bar, however, he was very aware of the crowd. Far more aware, in fact, than he was of his own state.
Most were faces he knew in passing, knew from those long nights playing for others. Most, but not all. At the corner of the stage, Matt’s face carried every bit of the speechlessness that Connor had known would afflict his friend. Speechlessness, and more than a hint of the surprise and pleasure that Connor had hoped to create when he had offered the ticket.
To exit the wings of the stage was not what Connor wanted, not at that moment. Instead, once his precious guitar was safely stored and his thanks given to Mattie and the others helping him to play, he hopped directly into the milling revelers.
It took several minutes to make his way the few feet to Matt, but the congratulations and enthusiasm of those who had enjoyed the music held a power he had never before experienced. Sheepish and embarrassed his smile might be, but that moment meant…everything to him.
Random musical addition because…well…it’s a great song, so why the hell not?