The anatomy of an edit: Part III

Another Friday!Flash, and another post writing break down.

This time the prompt was the Mona Lisa – word count 150 give or take 25.  

Admittedly that gave me a lot more leeway than last week’s challenge, but I was about to find out that that isn’t always enough.

I’m discovering that with flash fiction, my first draft is almost, but not quite a case of free writing until I target something… and inevitably gets left behind.

First Rough Draft

He looked not at the painting but at the museum guide as he extoled the virtues of the painting and imparted some trivia about the artist before moving on to the next painting.  Despite himself Leo chuckled.

The only thing more absurd than the assumptions people made about the painting were the rumors of his secret code and that somehow he had foreseen the future.

If he had, would he have been here, some six-hundred years later to fix what he had done.

He bit his lip as he heard his laugh echo around the Louvre.  It would not do to draw too much attention to himself, not tonight.  There was still too much to do.

After all these years, people still marveled at the painting and whispered about the secret smile. But tonight, they would speak of something else, and he and Gia

144 words and before I even finished it, I knew it was too long.  So I tried to start over:

Second Rough Draft – A false start:

Leo smiled and stretched as he looked around his apartment.  It was June 21st, 2013 and the long wait was over.  He had almost given up in 1942 when the portrait had almost been lost, but today he was in

I realized that this would be great for a more detailed story, but one that is a maximum of 175 words? No.  Which brought me to:

Third Rough Draft – Another false start

The Louvre had never looked better than it did this morning.  Leo smiled as the sun rose on the summer solstice.  Today was the day he would pull off the greatest

Again, it set the scene, a lot better than the final draft, but there was no way I’d pull off the story in 175 words… and so… back to the drawing board.

Because I started late, I went back to my first rough draft and used that as a starting point.

Rough Draft the Fourth

He sat, studying the painting as the tour guide droned on and on with trivia and speculation about the picture and the mystery behind it.  Who was the woman with the enigmatic smile?  Was it indeed the Lady Giocondo or some unknown sitter. Here I added more detail to the history of the picture and hints as to what the painting was.  

Leo snorted as the guide tried to make the picture sound like it was part of the supposed ‘daVinci Code,’ a marker that would speak to someone if they knew the hidden secrets.  I gave it more detail on the whole da Vinci Code bend here instead of just  random speculation.

The rest was pretty much dropped in favor of a shorter arch and something that actually could be told in 150 words..

In over six hundred years only one person had come even close to figuring out the secret, but tonight, they would know.  As the first light of the first full day of summer rose, the world would have a new mystery surrounding the portrait, and he would have his heart’s truest desire.

He looked around the Lovre and drew a deep breath as he once again focused on the portrait and let his breath out.  A moment later he could taste the sea air on the breeze.

He reached out his hand and felt her hand in his and together they walked away as someone screamed.

“The Mona Lisa has been stolen?”

“Someone stole the painting?” His beloved asked a passing guard.

“No… the painting is still there, but the lady is gone.”

Now I had the meat of the story, I just had to trim it down and tighten it up, since it was now 209 words: 34 words to lose…

The next two revisions I proceeded to tighten the story down, and add things it needed to actually tell a full story.  The first rewrite came in at 208 words and the next 203.  I was at least finally losing words, but… not nearly enough.

The next edit pass took the story down to 191 words:

He studied the Mona Lisa as the tour guide droned on about its history and the rumors that surrounded it, trying to make the picture sound more mysterious than it was. By now, I realized that in order clear up what we were talking about, I named the portrait, and cut out the trivia and dropped the whole da Vinci code reference.  While it added color, it didn’t move the story along and it took up too much of my word count.

In over six hundred years no one had even come close to the secret, but today, as the first summer touched the canvas, the world would have a new mystery to gossip about, and they would understand the secret of the smile he had painted all those years ago. Here I gave the specifics of what he needed and hinted at something bigger to come.  

He looked around the Louvre and watched as the sunlight drew closer.  For a moment the he held his breath and as he released it, he could taste the salt on the air.  He smiled knowing the long wait was over. I really liked the taste of the salt air on the breeze and the sense of the painting coming alive so I moved it here.

He waited until he felt her hand in his, together they rose, and as they left the museum they heard the alarms, and the cries of disbelief.

“The Mona Lisa has been stolen,” a patron exclaimed.

“The painting?” he asked.

“No… just… the woman.”

“Let’s go home,” his beloved Gia urged.

“I told you I would find a way for you to escape,” he replied.

Together they did just that. Here I added the last two line and thought it would make a good ending.

I was now at 191 words. I had to get it down by 16 words…  The next two passes got me down to 183 and then 183, I was still adding information for every section I clipped, but the story was getting tighter.  I was also running out of time.

Which led me to the final draft:

He studied the painting as the Docents droned on about its history and the rumors that surrounded it, trying to make the portrait sound more mysterious than it was. I went back to keeping the identity of the picture a mystery and looked up “Museum Tour Guide” and found out they were Docents (hey, I lose two words)  

No one had guessed its secret in over six hundred years, but today the world would have a new mystery to ponder. He looked at his watch and smiled. I kept this as a hint at the age of the painting and again, a mystery, but now some deliberate planning.

According to his calculations, the light from today’s summer solstice would finally reach the painting. and when it did, it would blind everyone for a moment.

When the flash came, he quickly slipped his coat onto his lady’s shoulders, and led her away.  And just a hint of something being afoot.

A moment later the alarm sounded, and someone screamed, “The Mona Lisa is gone!” By making the scream a random person, there was no need to ask ‘the painting’ and I made the fact that just the woman *from* the painting was missing with the next line.

He suppressed a laugh knowing the picture was still there, but the woman with the enigmatic smile was now walking beside him.

“I told you I would find a way for us to be together,” he told her.

She smiled at him.  He had been a secret worth keeping

And there we end with a nice tight ending.  Could it use more detail? Of course it could.  If I were righting this with a 300-500 limit, I would have drawn it out more, added more references to the painting an its history, built on what was happening… but I had half the lower limit of what I wanted… and so we ended up with:

And the final version – without any comments:

He studied the painting as the Docents droned on about its history and the rumors that surrounded it, trying to make the portrait sound more mysterious than it was.

No one had guessed its secret in over six hundred years, but today the world would have a new mystery to ponder. He looked at his watch and smiled.

According to his calculations, the light from today’s summer solstice would finally reach the painting. and when it did, it would blind everyone for a moment.

When the flash came, he quickly slipped his coat onto his lady’s shoulders, and led her away.

A moment later the alarm sounded, and someone screamed, “The Mona Lisa is gone!”

He suppressed a laugh knowing the picture was still there, but the woman with the enigmatic smile was now walking beside him.

“I told you I would find a way for us to be together,” he told her.

She smiled at him.  He had been a secret worth keeping

Note: As I was working on this post, the results came it: This story was declared First Runner Up.

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About mtdecker

Just your average writer- which is to say, I have a full-time job developing and testing software.
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