Editing in action – part two

A few days ago I promised to illustrate my editing process with an actual example, so you can now see how my prologue has evolved from its first draft version to the second-draft-after-the-nitpick-edit version. The status is therefore that it might still change, but probably not drastically. I’ll tackle things a paragraph or a sentence at a time, to give a good idea of where it started and where it’s ended so far.

The first paragraph went as follows:

We stood on the crest of the hill, my father and I, and looked down on the city spread out below us. Beyond it, still on the shores of the lake but further to the west and outside the city walls, the fabled crystal dome of the Academy sparkled in the sunlight, and my heart soared in anticipation. I tried not to let it show too much – I knew I’d hurt my father’s feelings if I seemed too eager to be going there – but I had been looking forward to this moment for weeks, ever since mum had finally convinced him to let me have the time I needed to be trained.

I never really liked that first sentence very much, but left it to the rewrite to sort it. I always struggle with beginnings, since you have to pick a random point to start a story, and even if you know the exact point, to then describe it always makes my head hurt.

In the end, the rewritten version went like this:

“Well, here we are, I guess.”

I drew up beside my father and absently patted Sparrow’s neck as I looked down at the vista spread out before us: the gleaming white marble gate to Mazar, with the city itself sprawling out behind the walls, all the way up to the shores of the lake beyond it, which sparkled in the sunlight. Further to the west, outside the walls but still at the water’s edge, the fabled crystal dome of the Academy seemed to try and outshine the lake.

I had seen it all before, but never with as much anticipation as I felt today. I tried not to let it show too much – dad was annoyed enough as it was without me adding to it – but I had been waiting for this day for weeks, ever since my mother had finally convinced my father to let me have the time I needed to be trained.

I’m not really sure why this time I started with a single line of dialogue, other than it just felt better to me.

In her nitpick edit, Hillary said the second sentence was too long and I ought to split it, which I dutifully did. The final (so far) version looks like this:

I drew up beside my father and absently patted Sparrow’s neck as I looked down at the vista spread out before us: the gleaming white city of Mazar. We were not too far from the white marble gates and could see the city itself sprawled out beyond it, all the way up to the shores of the sun-lit, sparkling lake. Further to the west, outside the walls but still at the water’s edge, the fabled crystal dome of the Academy seemed to try to outshine the lake.

I’m still not entirely happy with the repetition of the word ‘white’ in two consecutive sentences, but for now I’ll let it go. The second paragraph was not changed in the nitpick.

Then on to the next section, original draft:

Trained in something else than what my father thought I needed training in, anyway.

“Did you pack your practice balls? All seven of them?” he asked, and I surreptitiously rolled my eyes.

“Yes, dad, I did. I was using them this morning, wasn’t I?”

“Right. And the knives? The rings, the torches? Don’t forget your scarves either… They can be tricky, especially when it’s windy, so you’ll need more practice with those. You’ve got it all, right?”

I gestured at Kestrel, who was placidly cropping the grass behind us while we stood here and procrastinated. “Do you want to check my saddlebags? Didn’t you see me pack everything away again before we got going? Do you think I dumped them all into the river while you weren’t looking? Don’t keep asking me the same damn questions!”

“Mind your tongue!” he snapped at me. “That’s no way to talk to your father.”

On the whole I was happy with that section, so in the rewrite I mainly tweaked it and adapted it to the one line of dialogue at the start:

Well, trained in something other than what he thought I needed training in, anyway.

“I guess,” I replied, keeping my voice neutral, and he sighed.

“You’ve still got your juggling balls? All seven of them?” he asked.

“I was using them this morning, wasn’t I?”

“So you were. But you didn’t forget the knives, and the rings? Did you bring your scarves? They can be tricky, especially when it’s windy, so you’ll need more practice with those. You packed it all, right?”

“Do you want to check my saddlebags?” I gestured at Kestrel, placidly cropping the grass behind us while we procrastinated. “I packed it all before we left Arlis. Do you think I dumped the whole damn lot in the river while you weren’t looking?”

“Mind your tongue!” he snapped. “That’s no way to talk to your father.”

Hillary suggested I change the first sentence, since it is a little repetitive with the training in there twice, and moved the father sighing to the next paragraph where he speaks, which makes sense. The first bit now looks like this:

Well, trained in something other than what he wanted, anyway.

“I guess,” I replied, keeping my voice neutral.

He sighed. “You’ve still got your juggling balls? All seven of them?”

No change in the rest, hurray! Moving on:

“Well then stop nagging at me,” I muttered. “I’ve got all my stuff and I promised that I would practice. What more do you want me to do?”

“Forget about this, and come back with me. We can be back in Arlis in two days, and then we won’t have lost out on too much revenue.” He sounded petulant, but this was also something I’d heard far too often by now.

“You know I can’t, dad,” I said quietly. “I have to do this. I’ve waited too long already, and it’s all starting to spill out again. Do you want to wait until it gets dangerous before you let me go without griping about it?”

All I did in the rewrite was tweak it, again:

“Then don’t keep asking me the same stupid questions,” I muttered. “I’ve got all my stuff and I promised to practice. What more do you want me to do?”

“Forget about this, and come back with me. We can be back in Arlis in two days, and then we won’t have lost out on too much revenue.” He tried to sound reasonable, but I heard the petulance lurking underneath, and fought the urge to shout.

“You know I can’t, dad,” I said. “I have to do this. I’ve waited too long, and it’s all starting to spill out again. Do you want to wait until I really can’t control it anymore before you let me go without griping about it?”

Hillary comma-fucked and told me to remove the first comma in the second paragraph, and to tighten that last sentence, which has ended up like this:

“You know I can’t, dad,” I said. “I have to do this. I’ve waited too long, and it’s all starting to spill out again. Do you want to wait until I lose control of it before you let me go without griping about it?”

She’ll still tell me to lose the bit about the griping, but I’m defying her! Let’s move on!

“No. No, of course not,” he sighed. “I’m sorry, it’s just… You’re such an integral part of the act, and it’s going to take so much adjustment, so much adaptation to make it work without you… I’ll really miss you, you know.”

No, you won’t, I thought. Not really. You’ll miss my skilful hands and my pretty face, and you resent the fourteen years of training you may have wasted on me. He could have seen the hurt on my face, had he chosen to look at me then, but as always he was lost in his own thoughts, absorbed in his own sorrows.

I knew he loved me, in his own way, but to my father I would always be the face to draw in the crowds, the juggling act to follow my mother’s firebreathing, the riding act that closed the whole performance.

The one who had spoilt everything by waking up one morning, just after I had turned twelve, with my blankets on fire.

This was more wordy than it needed to be, so in the rewrite I tightened it up a little:

“No. No, of course not,” he sighed. “I’m sorry, it’s just… You’re such an integral part of the act, and it’s going to take a lot of adjustment to make it work without you. I’ll really miss you.”

No, you won’t, I thought. You’ll miss my skilful hands and my good looks, and you resent the money I won’t be bringing in. I couldn’t hide the hurt this time, but he didn’t see it anyway, absorbed as he was in his own thoughts and sorrows.

Deep down I knew he did love me, in his own way, but to him I would always be the face to draw in the crowds, the juggler to follow my mother’s firebreathing, the riding act that closed the performance.

The one who had spoilt it all by waking up one morning, just after I’d turned twelve, with my blankets on fire.

In essence the same, just worded better, and Hillary agreed – no nitpicks!

Next section (watch it – they’re getting longer).

He had spent five days ranting. At mum, at me, at my sisters, at the Gods, at anyone else who had the misfortune to come anywhere near, even if he had also dragged me to the nearest sorcerer to be taught the basics of how to control my magic. He’d done it quickly too, but even that was probably only so I wouldn’t set fire to the equipment.

And that had been it – he’d finally dismissed it as just one of those things, it was sorted now, and I could get back to the day to day routine of training and performing. Fine, I was a sorcerer, but so what? First and foremost I was his child, and therefore an indispensible part of his plan to become the best entertainment troupe ever to have travelled Arlennis.

It might have worked, if the magic hadn’t started to spill out again, and this time I could no longer keep it under control. Not without intense concentration, which left no time for juggling practice.

So here I was, seven years later, just outside Mazar, ready to learn how to be a sorcerer, and dad would have to do without me for as long as the master sorcerers deemed necessary. They had recommended a minimum of four years in my case.

My edit, again, did nothing more than re-word this and tighten it up:

Five days he had spent ranting; at mum, at me, at my sisters, at the Gods, and at anyone else who had the misfortune to come within earshot. Oh, he had also dragged me to the nearest sorcerer to be taught the basics of how to control my magic, but he had complained all the way, and I suspected that the speed with which he did it was less to do with how terrified I was than with the fear that I would set fire to all the equipment.

And then he had dismissed it as just one of those things. Fine, I had magic, but so what? First and foremost I was his child, and therefore an indispensible part of his plan to become the best entertainment troupe ever to have travelled Arlennis. We’d gone back to the routine of training that same afternoon, and he never spoke of it again, determined to forget that I’d ever sparked.

It might have worked too, if the magic hadn’t started spilling out all over again, and this time I could no longer keep it under control. Not without almost constant, intense concentration, which left no time for juggling practice.

Seven years it had taken to get to this point, but now I was here in Mazar, ready to enrol at the Academy of Sorcerers, and my father would have to do without me for as long as the Masters deemed necessary. Most seemed to think I’d need at least four years.

Hillary pointed out that it’s spelled ‘indispensable’, which my spellchecker missed for some bizarre reason. But she also pointed out that things were getting very introspective here (read: boring) and that I’d do better to stick some more dialogue in.

More on that in the next post.

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