On letting the first draft be chaotic

I’m reaching a point in my manuscript where things are starting to get messy. Which on one hand means I’m progressing. On the other hand it means that I’m becoming more and more aware of how vastly important a second draft is going to be once this first one is completed.

I stumbled across this gem while reviewing a chapter this morning:

Pockets of ments nestled into the mountain.

I have no idea what this sentence was ever supposed to mean. Did I mean “men”? If so, I can’t say the sentence makes any more sense. It’s not even really grammatically correct. Regardless of what it actually was intended to mean, it had me in laughing fits this morning, which is better than my normal reaction to blatant errors I find in my draft: self-loathing and panic, followed by the inevitable reverting back to chapters I’ve closed for further revision and agonizing over every sentence until I’ve overwritten everything into an unintelligible mess.

Maybe this means I’m starting to let go of my perfectionism. Nah, that character flaw is still very much in tact and just as debilitating as always. I think it’s something else: I’m beginning to understand the nature of a novel first draft a bit better. There are simply too many words written at this point; I can’t have as much control over each and every one like I’m used to having with short stories. At least not for this draft. I’ll have to save that for my second or even third. If I let my inner editor have free reign like I’ve allowed for the last seven years I’ve spent working on this particular project, no progress is actually going to be made. I can sit and stew over early chapters I’ve banged out for months and months, maybe even years, and make no strides within the story itself. That’s been my reality for the better part of a decade. Talk about frustrating.

My struggle all this time has been simply letting my first draft be chaotic and imperfect. It has been a massive adjustment. I’m still fighting myself on a daily basis. But there’s no way I am going to nail it right off the bat, and that’s okay. I have to keep telling myself that like a mantra. I know it’s true, but it’s just as difficult to swallow because that means a blow to my stubborn ego. That’s the problem with perfectionism.

But the coolest thing to come out of this gradual relinquishment of control is that I’m actually progressing the story’s plot! Character development is happening! I’m reaching points in my story I’ve only ever dreamed up in my mind or scribbled out vaguely on paper. This is a huge step in the right direction for me. I want to keep that momentum rolling. And if it means more “ments” in my first draft, so be it.

Novel update + new character sheet!

First off: an apology. I feel so awful that it’s been more than a year and a half since I’ve updated this blog. I’m really going to try harder to keep this updated, especially because somewhere deep inside I know it helps motivate me to keep writing Boot Hill. Maybe that’s why it’s gone cold for so long…

Nonetheless, I’m happy to announce that things are going very, very well for Boot Hill right now. I finally got around to writing up a character sheet for one of my favorite secondary characters named Vidame, so check that out (artwork courtesy Hunter Bonyun, of course)! I’ve also updated most of the existing character sheets with more accurate information if you want to have a gander, and I put up a synopsis of Boot Hill.

I have nearly 70,000 words of the first novel’s first draft written, and a general outline for the majority of the first novel itself. This is actually a huge leap forward for me; a lot of the story has been difficult for me to pin down for years, and I finally feel like it’s taking a tangible shape that I can organize and put down into words without getting frustrated or overwhelmed. A lot of major plot points have been decided just recently, one of which had me crying on the bus on my way to work. It’s just a matter of getting it all written down now.

I attempted National Novel Writing Month this November and failed extravagantly. I nearly burned out at about the halfway mark. Which is a massive splinter in my ego, but I know it was the right decision. I’m in no position to burn out, seize up, and stop writing for another six months to a year. I really need to keep moving forward, and I know that the best way to do that is at my own pace. So, I’m going to do that. Slowly but surely this thing is going to get finished.

When? Well, I initially thought that if I didn’t burn out from NaNoWriMo that I could have the first draft done by the end of the year. Since that didn’t happen, I’ve now decided a tentative date of February 29, 2016. Three months to get another 60,000 words written down. It’s a lot, but if I split it up into months, that’s only 20,000 words a month–5,000 less than what I did this month. I truly believe that I’m capable of managing this. Let’s just hope that the words don’t get away from me!

I want, more than anything, a complete first draft of this story. I can taste it. I can’t lose sight of it. And if I keep riding this wave of inspiration, I think it’s possible. It’s finally happening, AHHH!!!!! I’ll include a short snippet from the novel in my next update. Stay tuned, and thank you everyone for all the support you’ve given me over the years. Y’all keep me sane. <3

Novel-writing update of win and gold

I’m fairly certain I’m one of the most inconsistent bloggers ever. The last time I posted was in June–right before I decided to abruptly sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo and write 30,000 words over the month of July (aka 1k a day). I never followed up after July had ended–so sorry about that!–but in case anyone was wondering, I totally achieved my goal. And believe it or not: what I’d churned out was actually good. Not perfect, mind you, but salvageable content. At long last, I discovered the voice of my main character Lindsey. I was thrilled. So thrilled that I just kept writing and I’ve been writing fairly regularly since last summer.

As of last week, I’m happy to report that my manuscript is at 50,000 words, and a little more than half of that is edited and mostly polished. It feels so good to finally feel like I’m making progress in this book. The more I write, however, the more I realize just how much more I have left to write. It’s both intimidating and exciting and I can’t wait to continue my adventures with my favorite gang of thieves.

I’ve also had the opportunity to submit completely new chapters of Boot Hill to a creative fiction capstone I’m taking this spring semester, and the feedback I’ve been given so far has been overwhelmingly positive and helpful. (I actually just submitted my final chapter to the class for workshop next week, so maybe I’ll talk about that once that’s over.) I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a supportive professor who is willing to let his students submit genre fiction, which has actually been both great for me but awful in terms of some of the other stuff I’ve had to read this semester. Yeesh. Anyway, his comments during our individual conferences lead me to believe that Boot Hill might just have publishing potential once it’s finished. Nothing beats hearing that from the mouth of a published, experienced author. Ahhhh, I can hardly contain my excitement.

And now that the semester is coming to a close, I will have even more time to continue writing my novel. I’m probably going to do Camp NaNoWriMo again in July because that actually seemed to work for me last year, and maybe–just maybe–I’ll have a complete first draft of Boot Hill by the time I graduate college.

Fingers crossed!

One thousand words a day in July

In a desperate attempt to get on track with my writing this summer, I have decided to join Camp NaNoWrimo for July. There are two great things about Camp NaNoWriMo compared to regular NaNoWriMo: 1) It’s not smack dab in the middle of one of the craziest months of the year. You can join in April and/or July; fortunately, July is probably the best month out of the year for me to focus on writing because my schedule is the most open it’ll ever be while I’m in school. 2) Camp NaNoWriMo allows you to set your own goal. No longer do I have to feel enslaved by 50,000 word/month, which I often achieved, only to be burned out, depressed, and without any salvageable content by the end.

I have set my goal for 30,000 words/1,000 words a month plus a one-day buffer in case something comes up. I’ve been loosely plotting where I want the story to go in 30,000 words and have a pretty basic trajectory. By the end of July, I will be thrilled to have almost 50,000 words total of Boot Hill‘s rough draft. It would be nice if I could get another 15-20,000 in the month of August, but I’m going to be taking one step at a time.

In other news, I’ve been running into some motivation issues, frustration at work, and my favorite occasional visitor known as depression. All of these circumstances are making it extremely difficult for me to focus, get out of the house, or be productive in any capacity. I’m also having a bit of a style crisis as I realize that the two perspective character voices (Lindsey and Fortun) are essentially just my own voice being projected, and that it’s nearly impossible to differentiate one from the other. This is kind of a big deal and can be lethal to a first person story. It makes me want to scrap everything I already have, rip my hair out, and/or rewrite the whole damn thing, but I know that’s not really an option at this point.

I don’t have a snippet this week, unfortunately, mostly for the reasons above.

Plus, next month my blog will be crawling with snippets galore and you’ll be sick of hearing about these characters by July 31 if you aren’t already.

I write fantasy and I demand to be taken seriously

Whenever interested folks ask about Boot Hill--which is literally almost every single time I mention that I’m writing a novel–I tend to play up the western/American Old West elements of the story because that is outwardly what the story looks like: a bunch of cowboys and gunslingers in a desert setting, stirring up trouble and escaping a whole mess of predicaments by the skin of their teeth. How exciting!

But what I often fail to inform people is that, at its very core, Boot Hill is a fantasy novel.


How I often feel when trying to defend the fantasy genre.

For a while I was admittedly ashamed to tell people that I am writing a fantasy novel. Especially when said people were professors or otherwise associated with academia. After all, genre fiction is, by far and large, either looked down upon as a lesser form of writing or flat-out ignored in the academic world.

Fantasy seems to get the shortest end of the genre stick in my opinion, and I think a lot of it stems from this strange idea that writing fantasy is amateur hour because the author doesn’t have to abide by the rules of our universe. While some fantasy indeed might not have to abide by our rules, there still needs to be rules. As a fantasy author, you have to create those rules and then convince your reader that the rules are believable. If you are writing within the confines of our world, you have to find a way to suspend disbelief in such a way that readers can accept the changes you have made. If the world you are writing about is not of this universe, you are tasked with building the world and making sure it rings true with readers. Believe me when I tell you that world-building is one of the most difficult–but also one of the most fun–aspects of writing a fantasy novel.

I feel like another reason why fantasy isn’t taken seriously is because of the influx of young adult fantasy in recent years, most of which are centered around teenage angst, love triangles, and sexy supernaturals. This reason is precisely why I have expressed embarrassment in being associated with the fantasy genre: I don’t want people to assume that this is what I am writing. While there is nothing wrong with the story elements I’ve described, I fear that the vast majority of young adult fantasy relies too heavily on such tropes to succeed rather than focusing on a good story. As a result, the stories themselves suffer, the characters aren’t well-drawn, and you’re looking at underwhelming novel after underwhelming novel. This is not what I want to achieve with my writing.

But I know not all hope is lost for the genre. Not even close. After all, when I stumble upon a well-written fantasy novel, I am not only immersed–I am transported in a way other genres simply can’t measure up to. Essentially, that is my goal in writing Boot Hill. I know I have a long way to go before I get there, but if I aim high, I don’t see why I can’t get there in time.

I write fantasy and I demand to be taken seriously.

Here is a snippet of the first time the reader meets Bastian, perhaps the most fantastical/supernatural character in the novel. Let me know what your first impressions of him are! I apologize if there are any errors; this is my first draft of this particular scene. Enjoy!

As I round the corner, a tall, masculine form in the doorway brings me to an abrupt halt. My heart nearly leaps into my throat before I realize that it is none other than The Bastian himself who is standing in the open door, his Holy Coronet cradled under an arm.

He smiles when he sees me, brushing a strand of white hair away from his face and hooking it behind his ear with his spindly fingers.

“Fortun,” he says warmly, a trace of smoke trickling out from his open mouth. The smoke wafts upward into the light filtered through the clock face’s stained glass, taking the rough shape of a soaring bird. When I blink, the smoke vanishes. I rub my eyes and take a step back from the Bastian.

“My Liege,” I say with a shallow bow, placing a hand over my heart and leaning against the door frame, out of breath. “Are you all right?”

The Bastian tilts his head and his smile disappears. He presses a forefinger to the side of his lips and draws his pale eyebrows together in thought. “Yes,” he says, the modulation in his voice almost as if he is posing a question. He squints his red eyes at me and cranes his neck so that he can get a better look at me. I turn my head away before he can see the telltale sign of the vignoire apparent in my eyes. “Are you all right?” He points at my face. He must know by now.

“The doors are wide open,” I say, stepping aside and gesturing to the door I just walked through. “All thirteen of them. My Liege, you can’t leave the doors open like this. What if someone slipped past the guards and came for you?”

His eyebrows raise. “Then I suppose they could find me here,” he says. “But I suppose anyone who wants to see me could find a way, locked doors or no. Isn’t that right?”

“I will post a member of the noble guard at each door,” I say, “just to be safe.”

The Bastian nods slowly and looks away from me. “If that’s what you think is best, Fortun.”

“But right now, we need to prepare you for the festivities,” I say, pacing across the room to the armoire containing the Bastian’s formal regalia. I throw the wooden doors open and remove the white robes from a hanger, careful not to let the hem drag on the floor. The fabric is unbelievably heavy and ostentatious, embroidered with beads, lined with mink fur and gods know what else; It’s no wonder he tries to avoid wearing the garments when he can. He has always gotten a thrill out of that damned headpiece, however, perching it atop his head or running his fingers over the immaculate beading. I’ve never seen him hold it under his arm quite like this, though–like how mothers hold their children.

I offer the undergarments to him. “You’re not even close to ready, My Liege. And I thought we threw out those rags you’re wearing.”

The Bastian looks down and pinches the fabric of the threadbare tunic. “But I like these,” he says. “They were yours and now they’re mine. I will keep them, I think.”

Amid the sounds of the clock tower churning, I pinpoint a gentle twittering sound nearby. “What is that?” The sound stops. I hear it once more, a bit louder. The Bastian is trying to stifle a laugh but his eyes betray him, glowing a spirited bright red.

“I have a surprise for you,” he says. He looks inside the headpiece thoughtfully before holding it out to me. Inside, an adolescent bluebird flits its wings, its beak open and its chest heaving. It chirrups and preens itself.

“I found it on the floor this morning,” he says. More smoke pours from his nose. I’ve never seen him so pleased in all the years I’ve cared for him. “Do you like it?”

“It looks like it’s fledging,” I say, noticing its newly formed, long feathers. The bird blinks, its entirely black eyes gazing up at me, probably terrified. “It will probably fly away soon.”

“Yes,” says Bastian, tilting his hat back toward him so he can look down at the creature once more. “I would like that very much.”

My character is a drug addict. Now what?

About a year ago, I read through a popular thread in the Absolute Write Water Cooler forum entitled, “Characteristics You Hate in Main Characters.” As I read through the thread, it became pretty clear that every possible character trait is on someone’s hate list:

Personally, I don’t like underdogs.

I don’t like characters with low self-esteem.

I hate Holden Caulfield and any character who reminds me of him.

I strongly disagree with all three of the above opinions (especially all the hate for poor Holden), and they were ripped straight from the first two pages of comments. I understand that everyone has their likes and dislikes. But as I skimmed through the vast majority of comments, I noted a characteristic that at least five or six posters agreed on: addicts. Not many people like an addict for a main character–save for House and Sherlock Holmes. Why is this? Is it because people believe that, by writing a main character as an addict, he or she is simply too unappealing or too difficult to sympathize with? Are “moral sins” impossible to overlook for many readers because of the societal stigmas associated with them?

I’ve always been a huge advocate for (sometimes overly) flawed characters or characters with difficult character traits because perfect characters bore me to tears. People aren’t perfect, so why should your characters be the very best at whatever they do, the strongest, the most beautiful? Flaws bring characters down to a level that readers can sympathize with, not the other way around; just like any person, characters need to be fleshed out and given traits–the good along with the bad.

Though not the main character of the novel, the main antagonist of Boot Hill, Fortun, is a (mostly) functional addict. He is addicted to a fictitious drug in the world of the story called vignoire. I’ll spare the explanation, but suffice it to say that it’s kind of like a much less appealing combination of marijuana and acid because of its nightmarish addictive properties. While I understand that addiction may be unappealing to certain readership, it is an essential part of Fortun’s characterization: it affects the way he makes decisions and interacts with other characters, which heavily affects the outcome of the novel. I wouldn’t get rid of this character trait for anything in the world. However, I am not using his addiction as a means to vilify him. In fact, I would argue that the novel’s protagonists, Finch and Linds, are a bit more flawed than most of my antagonists overall. Imagine that!

To those of you who may be writing characters with difficult character traits: it’s okay. Actually, it’s more than okay. I personally recommend it. Focus on making your characters rounded rather than the simple black or white of “good” and “evil.” Tapping into what society considers morally or socially deplorable characteristics just to make a blanket statement about a character isn’t typically a good idea because it can be a sign of a lazy author. It’s easy to say, “So-and-so killed an entire race of peoples, so he’s evil.” But why does the character do this? There has to be a reason, and I guarantee you the reason will need to be more interesting than “because he’s evil” to make readers believe the character. By delving further into a character’s psyche, an author is able to uncover the gray area that exists there–the coexistence of “good” and “bad.” And I believe that that makes for a much more interesting character than the alternative.

Here is a small snippet of Boot Hill from the perspective of a drugged-up Fortun, the main antagonist:

“We have arrived, Talont Rustreil-lis-Signes,” Gratien says with a sigh, bringing the vehicle to an abrupt halt. He shakes his head slowly, keeping his gaze forward and his hands tight on the steering wheel. He hasn’t looked at me since he pulled up into the central station parkway and I slumped into the seat beside him, staring wide-eyed at the roof of the car in silence.

The door lever shrinks away from me as I fumble with the cool metal. I finally manage to grasp the lever and pull it down, pushing the door open, and I lift myself out of the seat. The vehicle’s metal frame creaks as I stumble off of the running board and onto the cobblestone walkway. I lean against the door and, despite my swirling sight, spot the golden glow of the distinguished clock tower a few blocks away, partially hidden behind a number of buildings.

“This isn’t where I asked to be taken,” I say through the half-open window, pointing at the clock tower. Gratien smooths his graying mustache and then leans across the width of the car, finally looking at me.

“Your parents were fortunate that they didn’t have to see you like this,” he says. “I can’t imagine what your sister thinks.”

I reach for the door handle to let myself back in but Gratien straightens and propels the car forward, parting the sea of people hastening toward the city square with a high-pitched honk of the horn. Crowds draped in vibrant reds, oranges and yellows trickle into the area once occupied by the car as if it was never there. I grit my teeth and watch the hood of my car quickly fall out of sight as it plummets down the steep roadway.

I begin to walk toward the clock tower, falling in line with the crowds. Street musicians strum guitars and rattle tambourines against their wrists while passersby shout and sing in wandering circles around me. Children wail for their parents. The sounds all culminate into the brief memory of waves crashing against a cliff. The watchtower, five years ago. The blistered bodies of my soldiers. Rhys.

Glancing down, the cobblestones bend and stretch beneath my feet–this isn’t right. I squeeze my eyes shut and then look up at the huge, glowing clock face looming above me and try to make out the time. The hour and minute hands wobble and drip into the numbers the longer I stare. Its golden glow ripples out into the sky. After a few deliberate blinks I can focus enough to determine that it’s a quarter past four. The effects of the vignoire should have subsided more than an hour ago. Anxiety spreads through my stomach as I trudge across the remaining length of the city square, fretting over the prospect of the Holy Bastian seeing me like this.

I breathe in deeply, shake my head, and shrug my way through the bustling crowds until I’m within the clock tower’s long, afternoon shadow. As I approach the base of the tower, the chaos around me collapses into the background and the familiar hum of wheels and cogs clanking from within the building swells to a low whir like a tumultuous beehive.

A whole mess of character cheat sheets (with artwork!)

Want to know more about the characters I’m writing about this summer?

As an attempt to organize my story and the characters that run the show, I have started to compile little fact sheets about the major (and minor) players of Boot Hill. These sheets give a brief overview of each character, a picture (drawn by the wonderful Hunter Bonyun), the character’s purpose in the story, and his or her relationships with other characters. Just for fun, I’ve also included each character’s likes, dislikes, and fears. I hope you find them all as interesting as I do! These are a lot of fun to make, and they are helping me solidify individual character details as the cast of characters grows.

Characters added so far:

Lindsey Madoc
Riley Finch
Cornelius “Neil” Chapman
Ev Morris
Raleigh “Rally” Jambeaux
Fortun Rustreil-lis-Sygnes

I will be updating the comprehensive character page throughout the summer, but I will be sure make note of any additional characters on my blog postings. Stay tuned!

Why I hurt my characters

It’s been a over a week since my last update, so I guess I’ll fill you in. Last week I decided to take a quick break from actual writing to create an outline for the first part of the book because I’m already running into some organizational problems. So far the outlining process has been extremely successful in helping figure out little plot holes I’ve been struggling with. So far, so good! I’m feeling less frustrated about the undertaking of writing a novel and more optimistic, so hopefully that feeling remains for the rest of the summer. I get excited when I open up my manuscript, which is the best sign I could ask for.

This afternoon, I was touching up and expanding upon a scene in the fourth chapter of Boot Hill in which my main character, Linds(ey), endures a lot of physical pain. Long story short, he ends up on the brink of heatstroke; falling down a cactus-ridden ravine; and getting shot in the arm. Now, I’ve always shared some laughs with my fellow writer friends over the idea of putting our characters through pain. We all do it, and I’ve always joked that it’s the sadistic part of me that likes to see my characters going through trials and tribulations. But the truth is that characters need to experience pain, adversity, and trials, oftentimes early on in a story.

I subscribe to “poor” treatment of characters because doing so helps establish character motives and resolve right off the bat. Do they crumble under pressures that are thrown their way or do they face them head-on? Do their goals change when the stakes are raised? When characters are pushed to their limits, readers are given a better idea as to who they are. Furthermore, the whole point of a novel is to explore conflict. Who wants to read about characters who aren’t struggling to meet their goals? Put your babies through hell, take away what they want most, and maybe, just maybe, something worthwhile will come out of it.

With that in mind, here is a little snippet of the pain Lindsey is going through. Maybe the sadistic part of you will enjoy it. ;)

I manage to keep my feet until my boot heel catches on a rock halfway from the bottom. I pitch forward and land on my already bruised thigh, unable to stop my ill-advised descent. Sand spatters into my eyes and mouth as I roll down the ravine. Cactus barbs rip into my skin, and despite pulling my head so tightly against my chest and gritting my teeth, I can’t help but cry out. I hit the drainage hard and fast. The wind is knocked from my lungs and I’m heaving, gasping for air. I curl up in pain, a breathless sob forcing its way from my mouth.

The hot sand pressing against my cheek reminds me of where I am. Snapping my mouth shut, I listen for sounds of pursuit over gunshots and chaos echoing above me across the canyon walls. I spit the dirt from my mouth and crawl onto my stomach, lifting my head to make sure I haven’t been followed; nothing but kicked-up dust settles in my wake. No one would be stupid enough to tail a two-bit outlaw with a death wish. Somewhat relieved but with panic still gripping me, I pull myself up but fall back down to the ground, my shaking arms and injured leg giving out beneath me. Long cactus spines pinprick my skin and press in deeper as I struggle to stand. I drag myself onto my elbows and knees, and then finally into a sitting position. My body tenses as I pluck out long thorns sticking into my elbow clear through my coat sleeve as fast as I can. Grazing my hand over my leg, I feel dozens more needling into my thighs and  calves, but I don’t have the time.

I force myself to stand, and begin to run.

What did I get myself into?

My summer novel-writing has commenced.

I have forgotten how taxing it is to write a novel–emotionally, mentally, and physically. Yesterday, I got together with Puer and Paper for a “write-in,” a good 2-3 hours of solid writing. I was totally wiped out and crawled into bed around 10 p.m. because my energies were so completely sapped. Hopefully this goes away and I’ll be able to write more efficiently throughout the summer. I guess I’m just miserably out of practice. I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t a little discouraged, but I’m going to stay optimistic. I’m determined to get through this, and my characters are coming to life like never before. I currently have 14,000 words of Boot Hill written, and only about half of that had previously been written/polished. So far so good! I’m pretty happy with how it is coming out, too.

The only context I’ve ever had for writing a novel is National Novel Writing Month, and I’m not convinced my seven attempts (and five wins!) at writing 50,000 words in a month have prepared me for undertaking an entire novel in three months–the word count for this particular installation is looking at around 100,000 words. I know it sounds like the three-month 100,000 word novel would be a lot easier than 50,000 words in one month, but the honest truth is that there’s not much I took away from my NaNoWriMo writing attempts. As much as I loved the experience, most of the drafts I “won” with ended up in an archived folder on my computer, never to be opened again. Much of my writing felt so sub-par, irrelevant, and unusable for me that NaNoWriMo became more of a writing exercise than a fast way to churn out a story. I know it works for a lot of people; I just don’t think I’m one of them, unfortunately. I’m trying to make Boot Hill something I can be proud of, and I don’t think rushing myself is the key. So the alternative is this three-month summer option, and I’m doing my damnedest to make things work.

Here are a couple paragraphs I wrote yesterday that I quite liked:

My eyes flutter open to a brilliant orange and yellow sky. Finch sits beside me, chewing on a long piece of grass as he looks out into the distance. My heart jumps into my throat and I scramble away from him, wincing as the pain in my shoulder flares. I grasp at the wound, shallow breaths trickling from my chapped lips as Finch and I look at each other. After a few seconds, he stands and shakes his head. Both of his guns are secured in their holsters.

“Get up,” Finch says, striding toward me and grabbing my uninjured arm. “You’ve stirred up a whole heap of trouble, Linds.” I don’t move. He crouches down next to me. “Now, you’re coming with me once and for all. Y’understand? Or do I have to tie your hands so you won’t swat at me and my boys?”

Expanding the 20 sentence scene: Boot Hill

My first post to “The Sorry Songbird” was a 20 sentence scene exercise that I enjoyed because it incorporated everything I wanted to have in the scene, even if it was just the bare bones. But because my main character, Lindsey, tends to have a fairly articulate voice, I decided that I would try to expand what I’d written for the 20 sentence scene to match Lindsey’s tone while adding in some necessary storytelling components. Overall I’m very happy with what I’ve come up with, and thus far it doesn’t even span the entirety of the scene as outlined by the 20 sentence scene exercise. I might adopt the skeleton -> expansion method during the editing process more frequently if I come out with results like this. Doing so might even help me get over my crippling edit-as-I-go mentality that has held me back from finishing this novel for so many years.

I retrace my steps back to the correct dead-end in the labyrinthine slot canyon, somewhat relieved by the sight of Finch’s piles of hoarded trinkets, books, water skins, and clothing. The pummeling heat outside hardly touches the bottom of the ravine, and I shudder as I sit down and lean my head back against the cool stone wall across from Finch. He removes the wrangling hat tipped forward over his face and sets it down on the top of his head, looking over at me.

“Thought you’d run off for good this time,” he says.

“How’s your arm?” I ask, noticing a trace of blood seeping through the strips of threadbare fabric.

“Could be better. Could be a whole hell of a lot worse.” He tests the movement of his arm, sucking in a sharp inhale between gritted teeth.

“You’re lucky.”

“Wouldn’t call it lucky,” Finch snaps. “First time I’ve been shot in years.” He pauses. “Six years, in fact.”

“You’re an outlaw. I’d say one gunshot wound in six years is a sign of good luck.”

Finch scoffs. “Not if you’re a good one.” He rolls his good shoulder backwards and stretches his legs out so that they touch the only patch of sunlight peeking between the canyon’s narrow, jagged cliffs.

“What happened six years ago?” I ask.

“Long story,” he says. I sigh and look away from him, plucking the top book from a crooked stack of leather-bound books beside me. With my jacket sleeve I wipe the dust off the blank cover. As I thumb through the book I recognize the names of characters from old fables and legends from childhood. Only one of the pages is dog-eared: a three-page story called “The Sorry Songbird.” I’ve never heard of it. I think of who Finch might’ve killed for this book; something tells me he’s not much of a reader.

I set the book beside me, yank my boots and sweat-stained socks off, and fling them aside, dipping my toes beneath the cold, smooth sand. The tiny grains stick to my feet, but I don’t bother to try and scrape them off. I pick up another book from the pile, and as I open it, the spine cracks with age and neglect. The words inside were written in pencil, and are now faint, barely legible. The small, rigid handwriting triggers a semblance of familiarity.

When I look up from the page, Finch is staring at the book in my hand. “Should’ve left you back there,” Finch mutters to himself, shaking his head. “You’ve got bad luck written on your heels.”

What do you guys think? Improved? Not so improved? As a writer, how do you approach scenes? All in one go, as a skeleton that you then return to in the editing phase to expand upon, or something in between? Do you struggle with the “editing bug” while you’re writing a first draft?

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