Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Short Story: Adventures in Editing

Before I get to the point of this post, I just wanted to point out that NANOWRIMO STARTS IN LESS THAN TWO DAYS! TOO SOON! NOT READY! NOT ENOUGH PLANS! GOING TO TRY PANTSING! AAAAH!


Anyway, as you may or may not know, I'm going to try my hand at writing some short stories this year for NaNo (and maybe some revising, and writing the history of the world my NaNo '12 is set in). NaNoRebel! Really I'll be working on whatever I want and adding up the words for various projects until I hit 50k.

The following story is one thing I'll be playing with this November. It's about a young writer who goes to an editing counselor and it's not what she expects. I don't remember where this idea came from, but it was lots of fun to write, and I plan on doing more of them. That is, if I can find ways to make the editing process fun to read about. Hmm.

I experimented quite a bit while writing this. It's in the present tense, which I don't use for novels and only recently became comfortable reading. It uses this weird perspective that looks like third person omniscient but is actually third person limited. And it has inordinate amounts of alliteration.

But, hey, it was still a lot of fun.

Please go ahead and critique if you want. As I said, I did a lot of experimenting, and I'd like to know what worked and what didn't.

(Please forgive the lack of indents. The right formatting didn't carry over from my Word doc, and I don't really want to spend the time fixing it.)

Adventures in Editing
Episode 1: The Reunion, The Counselor, and The Axe.

A young writer walks up the stairs of Chadrick’s First Draft Depository and Editing Counselors with a spring in her step. Six weeks before, she said a tearful goodbye to her first draft, written in the flurry of fingers and maelstrom of metaphor known as National Novel Writing Month.
Today, she gets it back.
This is her best work yet, she can feel it. A friend of hers told her of Chadrick’s, a place that provided first draft care while the writers took a six week break before editing.
She remembers the tears and smudged ink from that day six weeks ago. Here, on these fated steps, she said goodbye to her characters, bid farewell to her plot twists, and afterward purchased a plot bunny from a nearby street seller to ease the pain.
The motto of Chadrick’s stares down at her from the arched eyebrow of the entrance: “What has been written shall be rewritten.” Above it is a crest bearing two crossed axes.
A strange motto indeed. And why the axes? But, oddness aside, according to her friend, Chadrick’s is the best of the best.
As well it should be for the amount of money she’s paid.
She flings open the door, and the sweet smell of ink floods her nose. Oh, how she’s missed it!
The reception room looks just as she remembers it. Lines of prose still flit across the wall paper, and the soft sounds of pen scratching paper and clicking computer keys echo from nowhere.
She rushes to the front desk and spouts her name.
The pink-haired receptionist looks up from a manuscript. “Nice to meet you. May I help you?”
The writer blushes. “I’m here to pick up my manuscript.”
The receptionist nods and types something into her computer. A sad smile spreads across her face. “This is your first time using Chadrick’s?”
The writer nods. “Yes, a friend told me it’s the best.”
“Yes, it is that,” the receptionist says. “Let me see which editing counselor you…” Her smile flattens into a line. “It says you’re scheduled to talk with Rodge Slayer. That’s mean.”
The writer frowns, a little uncertain. “What do you mean?”
“Nothing,” the receptionist says, shaking herself a bit and smiling again. She points across the hall to a door. “Go through there. Mr. Slayer’s office is the door at the end.”
The writer thanks her and turns toward the door, which she now sees has more axes engraved on it.
As she grabs the handle, she hears the receptionist say “Oh, honey, bless your heart.”
Suddenly the axes look more menacing than odd. Why do they have axes as their logo?
She pushes the thought away and plows into the next room.
And stops.
A semi-dark hallway stretches before her, the only light coming from a string of swinging bulbs. It harpoons the darkness, but does not completely eradicate the shadows.
The door closes silently behind her. She takes a step, and it makes no noise.
The writer takes a deep breath—noting a lack of odors—and shakes her head. Her friend said that Chadrick’s was the best of the best, and that going there was one of the best choices he’d ever made.
 A wail slices the silence.
A door crashes open, and a middle-aged woman comes out, clutching sheets of paper to her chest. Inky tears run down her face.
“My darlings…dead!” she sobs, pushing her way past the writer and slamming the door to the reception area behind her.
The writer swallows. Not once had her friend said anything about dark hallways, abundant axes, or…death. He’d said the first day was hard, but surely it couldn’t be that bad.
Could it?
As much as she wants to turn around, the writer is not leaving without her manuscript, and the only way she’ll ever see it again is by going through the door at the end of the hall.
So she takes a step forward. Her journey down the eerie hallway is uneventful, though occasionally a sniffle slips or a cheer crescendos from behind one of the other closed doors.
The name Rodge Slayer stands out on the door, demanding to be noticed and underscored by yet another axe.
The writer raises her hand and knocks. The dull sound dies around her, failing to echo.
The door flies open to reveal a short man in a top hat. He beams. “You must be the writer of this tale,” he says in a English accent, waving a thick stack of papers in the air. The writer sees her name at the top of one page.
“Yes,” she says, forcing a smile and pulling her eyes off the stack of paper.
“Well, come in, come in! It’s so nice to see a new author in here.”
The writer steps in the room, which, unlike the monochrome reception area and creepy hallway, is painted in bright, flamboyant red.
The man in the top hat thrusts his hand out. “I’m Rodge, as you might have guessed.” His smile battles with the walls in a contest of brightness.
Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.
The writer shakes Rodge’s hand and introduces herself.
Rodge slips behind a desk and gestures to a comfy looking-chair in front of it. “Take a seat, take a seat.”
The writer does so.
“I believe you came for this.” He slaps the stack of paper on the desk.
But it is not just any stack of paper. That paper represents a month of sweat, tears, and tea. A month of late nights, chocolate, and disconnected internet.
It is the beloved manuscript.
“Tell me, how many stories have you written?” Rodge asks, putting on a pair of square glasses and glancing at the treasured paper.
“This was my second novel,” the writer says, forcing aside memories of the travesty to the world of literature that was her first. The editing fiasco that resulted was why her friend had recommended Chadrick’s.
Rodge nods. “Well, for a second novel you did very well.” He looked over the top of his glasses and smiles. “Now the fun begins.”
He reaches under the desk and brings out an axe. A gleaming, silver thing about a foot long, with words carved into the handle. It catches the light in a metallic wink.  “Here’s your axe.”
The writer looks at it. “Why do I need an axe?”
He sighs like he’s heard this many times before. “Look, I’m going to be straight with you. Not a single word you wrote in this draft is going to make it to the final draft.”
The writer gasps in horror. How can this be? She spent a month, a month, working on her masterpiece. It needs work, yes, but surely she won’t cut out every single word she wrote.
Mr. Slayer must be joking.
“The axe,” he continues, “Is a tool that will help you to fix metaphoric missteps, polish prose, and otherwise bring your novel to the masterpiece it is going to be. You’ll also want these.”
He slaps a package of red pens in front of her, the same shade of red as the walls. The word Chadrick’s is embossed on each, the letters vaguely standing out in the clear plastic, caught somewhere between visible and invisible.
Now those she knows how to use.
She glances back at the axe. “Will I really need something that large and sharp to edit?”
“It makes it less painful,” Mr. Slayer says, “I’ve done extensive testing, and my findings all conclude that using the axe in conjunction with the ubiquitous red pen achieves the best results. Why don’t you try it out?” He pushes the axe toward her. “The first time is a little shocking, but you’ll soon get the hang of it.”
The writer’s eyes widen until they hurt. She stares at the axe, its medieval charm dripping away with the imminent ink of an innocent manuscript.
“The longer you put it off, the harder it hurts. Cut something small first. A superfluous sentence or unnecessary scene.”
The writer looks at the weapon again. She could cut a sentence with a red pen easily. Scribble it over until it looks like a crime scene.
But use an axe? She doesn’t even know how to use the axe!
It is just one sentence, the practical part of her says. She could cut one sentence, even with this lethal device.
The writer flips through her beloved manuscript, looking for a sentence to cut, her fingers tingling with nostalgic joy.
She finds one, there. “The garden was brown.” That could be replaced with something better.
She picks up the axe. It is not cold, contrary to what she expected, and the half-written metaphor about steely frostbite dies in her mind. Rather, it is warm. Not too hot, not to cold, but a comfortable warm, like the perfect bowl of porridge.
Taking a deep breath, she raises the axe above her head and –
“STOP!” Mr. Slayer shoots to his feet, flinging his hands to the ceiling. He puts a hand on the writer’s. “That’s not how it works.” He lowers her hand to the desk. “Watch me.” He pulls another piece of paper from a drawer. A grocery list. He picks up the axe, and lowers the tip of it to rest on the word “rutabagas.” The ink ripples, blurs, and disappears, as though washed out with water. The handle of the axe catches the light again, but this time the flash is purple, not silver.
“No reckless hacking.” Mr. Slayer says. “Just precise removal. Now you try.”
The writer, embarrassed, takes the axe again, gently lowering the tip to her condemned sentence. The ink ripples. Less like a pond, more like a notebook left in the rain. She blinks, and the ink is gone.
The handle of the axe grows warmer, and once again flashes purple. Confused, she examines the handle more closely. The words inscribed on it are “To cut, to save, perchance to reuse.”
Mr. Slayer smiles. “Now, that’s the best part of Chadrick’s editing axes. They save all the words they cut, along with a backup of your entire manuscript, in the handle.”
The writer blinks, and takes another look at the axe. Surely not. “How is that possible?”
Mr. Slayer shakes his head. “Company secret, company secret. Couldn’t tell you if I wanted to.”
What madness is this? A magical axe that stores information? The writer flips it over and looks at it from every angle, as though examining something from another planet.
For all she knows, she could be.
“There is a USB port on the bottom, if you slide the medallion aside,” Mr. Slayer says, rummaging in his desk again.
The writer notices a slight depression on one side of the rounded handle end, and pushes. Sure enough, the round piece slides aside to reveal a familiar, indented rectangular box.
Mr. Slayer pushes a bundled cord across the desk. One end has a USB plug, and the other a flat bar with a paperclip-like protrusion in the center. “And this is our patented Notebook Reader. You clip it to the top of your notebook or printed manuscript, plug it into the axe, and anything you write down, the axe will record.”
The writer is pretty sure that her eyebrows will be lost in the roof, and her jaw in the basement. 
But Mr. Slayer isn’t done. “Then, if you have a double ended USB cable, you can download anything from the axe onto a computer. You cannot go directly from notebook to computer, however. You must use the axe in between.”
Mr. Slayer smiles and taps his nose. “Company secret.”
“And I suppose the red pens can record my thoughts automatically. Or they have some kind of magic ink that self-corrects typos.”
He frowns. “No, don’t be ridiculous. The red pens are simply red pens. One does not edit without red pens.”
Nodding, the writer picks up the pens and the Notebook Reader axe attachment, and slips them in her purse. The axe…well, she’ll just have to carry that. Oh, the looks she’s going to get walking down the street.
“Now you have the gadgets, you can start the editing.” Mr. Slayer neatens the pages of the manuscript, and hands them to her.
The writer frowns. “I thought you were to walk me through the editing process. Help me get started.”
“No. The best way to learn is by jumping in. I will be here to offer advice and help you figure out tricky spots, but I will not do your revising for you.”
The writer nods, but inside her stomach twists like a snake eating its own tail. The last time she edited on her own, she’d wound up hating her story.
She does not want to go there again.
“However, I will give you assignments,” says Mr. Slayer. “How much time will you spend editing a day?”
“Two to three hours. I work at a bookshop downtown the rest of the time. What do you mean by assignments?”
“When you come back next week, I expect you to have done a full read through with your red pens, made lots of notes, and chosen one thing large thing to be cut.”
Sounds reasonable. “And if I don’t?”
“If you do not complete the assignments, you will not be welcomed back at Chadrick’s. We understand that life gets in the way, but if you don’t take editing seriously, we won’t take you seriously. You will no longer be offered our services, and you will not be refunded. Some of the other counselors are softer on their writers, but I do not believe in baby feeding and cradling your ego. To work with me, you must be very dedicated and willing to do the work.”
No services. No refund. No help. Another round of solo edits that will cause her to go crazy.
“I’ll do whatever you ask.”
Mr. Slayer smiled. “Good. Then I will see you next week. Do Wednesday mornings generally work for you?”  

 There you have it. Quick question for non-writer readers (if there even are any): One of the folks who gave me feedback on this story said it might be a good idea if I develop the writer a bit more and show how she feels about her writing. I know how the writer feels, as will other writers (I hope), but non-writers might not. I think my critiquer makes a good point. Thoughts? Were you able to glean how she felt about her writing?

And with that, I'll wish you a fantastic afternoon/night/morning/whatever.


  1. That is amazing! I wish I could go to Chadrick's after NaNo.
    Sadly, I am a writer so I can't give you any insight into how non-writers might read it.
    Awesome job!

    1. Thank you!

      I'm not convinced I have any non-writer followers, to be honest.

    2. Wait, my relatives read this on occasion. So I do have non-writing occasional readers. Hopefully one of them will read this.

  2. Wow! This was amazing. And like the other guy, I wish there was a Chadrick's.

    I want to know what happens next. I want to see her fight with cutting something she loves from her manuscript. I want to see her edit this thing (but as Mr. Slayer said, the best way to learn how to edit is to just jump in).
    Good job!
    ~Robyn Hoode

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you want to know more. That's incentive to write more of them.

      I have a question for you regarding these stories: Can I use the plot jackalope? I'd like to work it into one of these.

    2. Oh, go ahead. I don't mind.

      ~Robyn Hoode