Sunday, October 14, 2012

Revising Myself

Many of you probably know I have a new story out, because I used it as one of the two "Other Fiction" pieces for the October newsletter. I want to show you parts of some early drafts of the story. I like seeing how other writers think when they're working out ideas in early drafts, and I hope you do too.

Here's an excerpt from the published version. Grunthos is king of the Ogres and Four-Toes is another ogre. Grunthos is explaining how he's going to get humans to give them pies.

“We need to show humans that ogres work together and be scary force for evil,” Grunthos said. “Then humans give us anything we want.”

“Like rabbits?” Four-Toes said.

“Sure,” Grunthos said. “But more about pies. We make them cook pies all day.”

Grunthos is the smartest ogre, and he's not all that smart. When I first wrote this scene, though, I wasn't sure just how not-all-that-smart he was. I had him talking in much less broken English. Below, I underline parts of the dialogue that are different in the first draft.

“We need to show humans that ogres can work together and be a scary force for evil,” Grunthos said. “Then they’ll give us anything we want and we’ll be rich.”

“Like rabbits?” one of the ogres said.

“Sure,” Grunthos said. “But especially pies. We’ll make them cook all day.”

As you can see, the original dialogue is more complex. It has a more advanced vocabulary and better grammar. But the subtlest difference is, to me, a key to how my understanding of the Ogre King changed as I revised the story. In the published version, he says humans will be forced to "cook pies" all day. In the original, he just says "cook." 

I think adding "pies" changes a lot. First, the audience already knows, by this point in the story, that he's after pies. Grunthos explains it again anyway because he's really excited by his plan, and because he senses the other ogres might not understand him completely. He's smart enough to know he's smarter than the other ogres, and smart enough to adjust his dialogue for them, yet he's still dumb enough to come up with ridiculously stupid plans without realizing how bad the plans are. 

But more than that, it doesn't sound so weird to say humans will be forced to "cook" all day. It does sound weird, at least to my ears, to say humans will "cook pies" all day. No native English speaker would talk about "cooking" a pie; you "bake" pies. Having Grunthos say "cook pies" makes Grunthos seem that much more like someone who doesn't really know what he's talking about.

Here's another example of how Grunthos changed during revision. Below is a piece of the original draft I deleted in the third draft (out of six). It takes place during the scene when Four-Toes is building a catapult for the Ogre King. Four-Toes has built a catapult that is too large to move through a critical cavern in their mountain. In this scene, Grunthos is trying to get Four-Toes to realize the passageway is too small for the catapult.

Four-Toes led Grunthos [through the passageway]. “Be careful here,” Four-Toes said at the entranceway’s tightest part. “It’s tight.”

“I know,” Grunthos said, waiting for Four-Toes to put two and two together and come up with the correct half of his own name.

I love that line about coming up with his own name. But I had to cut it because I decided Grunthos isn't smart enough to have a thought quite that complex. In fact, I'm not sure Grunthos even knows that two plus two is four. Also, in this deleted scene, Grunthos seems much smarter than Four-Toes, and I didn't want the gap between them to be that large. So as much as I liked that joke, once I developed Grunthos more, it had to go.

Next week I'll talk about how, for once, I used my own advice about short story writing to write this story in much less time than I usually need. I'm now absolutely sold on this technique and I'm not sure I'll ever write a short story without it. Here's a hint: I called my first draft "Ogre and Pie Man story pieces."

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