Anatomy of an edit

I don’t know about you, but I love watching DVD extras.  I love the behind the scenes features where you get a glimpse into what went into the production and I love bloopers. I love to see a before and after when special effects are added, and the details that go into the effects.  This is my ‘behind the scenes’ moment.  

Anatomy of an edit  – or-  3 drafts with commentary

Visual effects lend themselves to this kind of study.  It’s harder with words, especially when you’re editing an electronic document.  Sure, you can undo and redo, but you still have to read the words each time, and yet I’m curious.

Having just finished a flash fiction, I have a story that is less than 500 words, so it’s not as bad as it could be and this might be my only chance to work with something I’ve written that is that short (other than a poem).  With this in mind, as I was writing I saved each major revision so I could look back and review what I changed.

First Draft:

“It’s not a potato,” the little boy said stubbornly as he held the stuffed animal close to him.

Sitting on the edge of ruin, when everything around him had been destroyed, he clung to the familiar.  HIs sister teased him about it again and again, taking comfort in an argument they had had since the boy had found the stuffed donkey at the market over a year ago.

Now, with its head and neck missing the stuffed toy looked even more like a potato than it had before.

The men of the village gathered to see what could be salvaged, sorting through lumber and stone.  They would rebuild, they always would, but the losses were too many to count.

Stephen, drawn in by his children’s argument walked over; tears and anger fighting for control as they fought over something so trivial.  After all they’d been through; he was ready to yell at both of them when he saw his beloved Martha reflected in his daughter’s eyes as she impishly teased her little brother.

He saw the love and the tenderness—and realized that his daughter knew exactly what she was doing.  With their ‘fight’ his son was focused on that rather than the loss of everything else.

He saw himself in the way his son refused to hear anything Lily said about his beloved toy, seeing only what it could be, rather than what was.  They were the best of everything he and his wife had, and out of everything they could have lost, the most important endured, and God help him they were fighting over a stuffed animal.

Lovingly he picked up his son and held him close offering his hand to his daughter.

“It is not a potato,” he agreed as he focused on what he had, rather than what they had lost.  “And this is not the end.”

He turned to the others and gave a determined nod.  “We will rebuild.”

A rather hopeful story, focusing more on the way children cope.  It had a good message and I didn’t want to lose that, but it needed more detail.  I realized I needed to describe the scene because even though it was inspired by a picture, that picture may not stay attached to the story, and so the second draft involved adding descriptive narrative to the story.

Stephen looked up from the mangled frame of what had most likely been a bicycle before the bombing.  There was so much damage around them that it was hard to know where to start, let alone what they could salvage.  Rock dust hung in the air as the trucks came to haul away what couldn’t be saved so they could clear the area and begin again.

(and I wasn’t worrying about spelling yet, that would come later)

He wiped the sweat from his forehead and let out a slow even breath as he took it all in.  Everywhere he looked there were piles of wood, and stone that needed to be sorted.  And even now the men of the village began the work of sorting through the wreckage.

They would rebuild.  They always did, but the losses were too many to count.  He turned, hearing an angry cry from his son,  and saw his son sitting on one of the ruined walls, his daughter Lily nearby teasing the lad.  

The biggest change here was adding in the descriptive narrative, something I almost have to add after the fact because, I am a people person.  I focus on the people and characters first, action second… and somewhere down there I throw in the descriptions, but I have to be reminded to do it.  

“It’s not a potato!” He heard his son declare angrily as he held his stuffed animal close to him.  It was one of the few salvageable things they’d found in his wife’s parlour.  He was one again thankful she was not there to have seen it, thankful that she had been visiting her sister in the country when the planes had come.  

Again, I added a little more.  I wanted to let the audience know that there was a mother in the picture.

Sitting on the edge of wall, when everything around him had been destroyed, Ethan clung to the familiar while his sister teased him about it, something she had done since the boy had found the stuffed donkey at the market over a year ago.

I changed ruin to wall (although I forgot the ‘the’) and added the boy’s name and ‘his sister.’

Now, with its head and neck missing, Stephen had to admit,  the stuffed toy looked even more like a potato than it had before.

Drawn in by his children’s argument, Stephen walked over; tears and anger fighting for control as they fought over something so trivial.  After all they’d been through; he was ready to yell at both of them when he saw his beloved Martha reflected in his daughter’s eyes as she impishly teased her little brother.

He saw the love and the tenderness—and realized that his daughter knew exactly what she was doing.  With their ‘fight’ his son was focused on that rather than the loss of everything else.

He saw himself in the way his son refused to hear anything Lily said about his beloved toy, seeing only what it could be, rather than what was.  They were the best of everything he and his wife had, and out of everything they could have lost, the most important endured, and God help him they were fighting over a stuffed animal.

Lovingly he picked up his son and held him close offering his hand to his daughter.

“It is not a potato,” he agreed as he focused on what he had, rather than what they had lost.  “And this is not the end.”

He turned to the others and gave a determined nod.  “We will rebuild.”

As you can see, the first bit of changes involved describing the scene in this picture:

That was the biggest change, but there were a few more nuances added:  I added  information about the children’s mother, and the story focused more on the damage done, hopefully adding… grit.

The final version (which was about 4 drafts later):

Stephen looked up from the mangled frame of what had most likely been a bicycle before the bombing.  There was so much damage around them that it was hard to know where to start, let alone what, if anything, could be salvaged saved.  Rock dust hung in the air as the trucks came to haul away the debriswhat couldn’t be saved. 

here the changes were made to smooth things out and cut out unnecessary words and the repetition of salvage and saved, and add a bit of uncertainty as to whether there was anything worth saving. 

He wiped the sweat from his forehead and let out a slow even breath as he took it all in.  Everywhere he looked there were piles of wood, and stone that needed to be sorted.  And Even now the men of the village gathered, unsure where to begin. began the work of sorting through the wreckage. 

By having the men unsure how or where to start, it adds a sense of the shock they must have been in.  They’re still at the stage of trying to decide what to do, and that, I think makes the ending more dramatic.  Stephen is more determined and he’s telling them, in a way, that things will be all right.  Life does indeed go on.

They would rebuild, .  They always did  Stephen was sure of that, but the losses were too many to count.  He turned, hearing an angry cry from his son,  Ethan and saw his son him sitting on one of the ruined walls, his daughter Lily nearby teasing the lad.glaring at his sister, Lily.

Again, I didn’t want to make rebuilding a foregone conclusion.  I wanted to hint at the fact that Stephen is strong willed.  I changed the ending parts of the paragraph to make the children more active than just… being there.

“It’s not a potato!” He heard his son declare angrily as he held his stuffed animal close to him.  It was one of the few salvageable things they’d found in his wife’s parlour.  He was once again thankful she was not there to have seen it, thankful that she had been visiting her sister in the country when the planes had come.

(typo – one vs once) Also, since the story is taking place in England, I used the English spelling of parlor vs the American Version.

Sitting on the edge of wall ruin, when everything around him had been destroyed, Ethan clung to the familiar while his sister teased him about it; something she had done since the boy had found the stuffed donkey at the market over a year ago.

(typo – edge of THE wall or edge or ruin- one of those you edit and errors creep in issues)

Now, with its head and neck missing, Stephen had to admit, the stuffed toy looked even more like a potato than it had before.

Previous

Drawn in by his children’s argument, Stephen walked over; tears and anger fighting for control as they fought over something so trivial. After all they’d been through; he was ready to yell at both of them when he saw his beloved Martha reflected in his daughter’s eyes as she impishly teased her little brother.

Final:

Drawn by his children’s argument, Stephen strode over; tears and anger fighting for control. After everything they’d been through the two were fighting over something so trivial. He was ready to yell at the both of them when he saw his beloved Martha reflected in his daughter’s eyes as she impishly teased her little brother.

I think the final version has the father a little more active, he is drawn rather than drawn in and strode is such a stronger word than walked.  Walking is movement while striding shows purpose, it is a deliberate movement.  

Also, by moving the part about the trivial fight to the end of the sentence, I think it gives more of a cause and effect feel and gives a smoother transition between the anger, the fight and the realization that Lily knows exactly what she’s doing.

He saw the love and the tenderness—and realized that his daughter knew exactly what she was doing.  With their ‘fight’ his son was focused on that his sister rather than the loss of everything else. 

‘that’  wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as good as making Lily the focus of Ethan’s attention rather than the fight ( or worse the nebulous ‘that’)

He saw himself in the way his son refused to hear anything Lily said about his beloved toy, seeing only what it could be, rather than what was.  They were the best of everything he and his wife had, and out of everything they could have lost, the most important endured, and God help him they were fighting over a stuffed animal.

Lovingly he picked up his son and held him close offering his hand to his daughter.

“It is not a potato,” he agreed as he focused on what he had, rather than what they had lost.  “And this is not the end.”

He turned to the others and gave a determined nod.  “We will rebuild.”

Oddly enough, through out each revision the last 3-4 paragraphs never changed.  Things were added, then moved but the ending remained.

Did it make a better impact?  I think adding the description and the way the adults weren’t even sure where to start added to the ‘tension’  I believe the changes were good ones — but in the end it’s really up to the audience (and the editors)

Advertisements

About mtdecker

Just your average writer- which is to say, I have a full-time job developing and testing software.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Editing, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s