Anatomy of an Edit: Part V

Another flash fiction, another tale of editing in the fast lane.

This week, I got a late start and ended up doing a lot of adjusting sections of story as I went.  I had less than an hour to write before it was due and since I was in  a hurry, I didn’t keep as exact a set of revisions as I usually do.  On the bright side it did cut down on the number of revisions, but I kind of lose the nuance of the changes.

The picture prompt was a view from a fort in Venezuela.

Castle in Venezuela. Photo courtesy of David Mark, Pixabay

Word count – 200 (+- 5 words)

First Draft – Herritage

“But, papa, it’s just a rusty old cannon,” Joey whined as he made to kick the artifact, only to have his father pull him back.

“That, Joseph,” his father corrected.  “Is our family history.”

Joey shook his head, but he could tell by the fact that his father had called him ‘Joseph’ and not ‘Joey’ or ‘Joe’ or his usual ‘son’.    He focused on the cannon and the mountains beyond the fort walls, knowing there would be a story.

Sure enough, once Papa was sure he had his son’s attention; he knelt down and pointed to the valley below.  “200 years ago, when your great-grandfather’s father was just a boy, this cannon was brought here to protect us from soldiers who would have taken our country from us.”

“And when they came, it was your great-great-grandfather’s father who manned the cannon.  Your great- great-great-grandmother’s mother  carried the water to keep the cannon cool.  Shot after shot, he fired, until they were overwhelmed.”

Joey listened solemnly as his father told him of the battle, and he could almost hear the cannon echoing across the mountains.  He paused, then frowned.  “But, papa, it says here that the fort fell to the English in  1815.”

“Yes, the fort was taken, but they held the enemy at bay long enough for the people to run into the mountains.  Our people survived because of their sacrifice.

Joey nodded, not entirely understanding, but that night he dreamed of the determination that kept husband and wife bound to this fort.  The effort to keep the cannon going while their children, and their people slipped away, and were saved.

It had a decent feel to it, no real resolution, but a start  (and it took me about three tries to get it to this point.  It was also over 270 words.  So I needed to cut out enough of the extraneous details, to give me the word count I needed, but also enough for me to give it a decent ending.

Second Draft:

“But, papa, it’s just a rusty old cannon,” Joey whined as he made to kick it, only to have his father pull him back.  By changing ‘The artifact’ to ‘it’ I saved a word.  It isn’t much but I know me at this point and I’m going to keep adding, even as I try to cut words… all in an effort to tell a complete story.

“That, Joseph,” his father corrected.  “Is our heritage.” Again, I exchanged two words, ‘family history’, for one: heritage.

Joey shook his head, unsure how this old cannon could have anything to do with his family.  He waited, focusing on the cannon and the mountains beyond the fort walls, knowing there would be a story. I cut out the musing about being called Joseph, vs Joey since it didn’t really move the story along.

Sure enough, once Papa was sure he had his son’s attention; he knelt down and pointed to the valley below.  “200 years ago, when your great-grandfather’s father was just a boy, this cannon saved their village.”  By removing a lot of extraneous detail about who the cannon was meant to protect them from, I focused on the cannon. 

“Soldiers came to take our town, and it was your great-great-grandfather’s father, Philipe who manned the cannon.  He and his wife  manned the cannon.  He would load and fire the cannon, while she brough water from the well to keep it cool.  For two hours, they fought, until they were overwhelmed.”  I cut down on the history of the cannon, and only used the :great-great’s father’s father trick once and named the relative so I could call him Philipe after that instead of the great-great “let’s eat into my word count” grandfather…

Joey listened solemnly as his father told him of the battle, and he swore he could hear the cannon’s roar echoing across the valley.  Instead of almost hearing, I let him hear the cannon’s roar

“But, papa, it says here that the fort fell to the English in  1815.”  I got rid of the gestures and expressions in favor of the important fact: The fort fell in 1815.

“Yes, the fort was taken, but they held the enemy back  long enough for the people to escape into the jungle.  Our people survived because of their sacrifice.  I changed mountains into jungle, since it’s easier to hide in a jungle than climbing the mountains.

That night Joey dreamt of a desperate fight where he stood his ground, not to protect his own life, but those of his loved ones, and he finally understood.  A cannon is just a weapon, but it lasts longer than the man.  I cut the portion of this that had Joey thinking about it and just let him dream  I still focused on the sacrifice, but also mentioned that the cannon was still here even though Philipe was long gone…

It was now down into the 260 word range, but it still didn’t end the way I wanted it too, again, it was time to cut down on the word count and bring home the ending.

The third draft only had a few changes, and so I will skip to the fourth since there are more noticeable changes here.

“But, papa, it’s just a rusty old cannon,” Joey whined and made to kick it, only to have his father pull him back.  I still haven’t changed this since in this one sentence, I have introduced both the cannon and Joey (and his opinion of it)

“That, Joseph, is our heritage.”  By dropping the fact that this is his father speaking, I cut a whole 3 words (again, it doesn’t sound like much but when you’re trying to write in such a condensed story… you make whatever cuts you can to keep the main story alive.)

Joey shook his head.  How could this old fort, and even older cannon have anything to do with him?   By dropping the expectation of the story, I was able to cut to the story itself, since in this case, the story of Philipe is the main part of the story.

He smiled as his father knelt down and pointed to the mountains and the valley below.

“200 years ago, this cannon saved our village.”  By removing the great-great-Grandfather, I was able to condense the story a bit more.  I’ve basically cut out a character that served no purpose other than to introduce Philipe.

Joey sat transfixed as his father told him of a distant relative, his great-great-grandfather’s father, Philipe who manned the cannon.  How Philipe and his wife  held the fort for two hours against English invaders.  How Philipe would load and fire the cannon while his wife frantically worked to keep the gun cool. Again, I cut out some of the details of the fight to keep things moving. 

Joey listened solemnly as his father told him of the battle, and he swore he could hear the cannon’s roar echoing across the valley. I kept this because it ties the past to the present.  History, to heritage.

“But, papa, it says here that the fort fell to the English in  1815.”

“Yes, the fort was taken, but Philipe and his wife slowed the enemy down long enough for the people to escape into the jungle.  Our people survived because of their sacrifice.”  Again, distilling down the section from

That night Joey dreamt of Philipe and his desperate fight to save his people.  He was willing to sacrifice his life so that his children, and neighbors could live, and he wondered if he could be as brave. And I moved from the cannon to the people and the sacrifice. 

This draft was still hovering at 265 on the third draft, by the fourth it was down to 260 and the story was getting clearer, but it still wasn’t quite there.

And so… another draft was born:

“But, papa, it’s just a rusty old cannon,” Joey whined and would have kicked it if his father hadn’t stopped him.  He was annoyed.  Instead of going to the amusement park, his father had taken him to an old fort in the middle of nowhere. Okay, even though I was trying to cut words, I wanted a little more information on Joey.  The addition of one sentence implies a lot more.  a) they’re on vacation (the choice between amusement park and old fort) b) Joey doesn’t want to be there. c) the fort seems disconnected from the rest of the world.

“That, rusty cannon, is our heritage.”

Joey shook his head, not understanding but smiled when his father knelt down and explained.  This action links his father to Joey, and the story.  It also tells you something about Joey’s dad.  He doesn’t tower over him to tell him the story but kneels so they’re on the same level.

“200 years ago this cannon saved our village.”

Joey stood transfixed as his father told him of a distant relative, his great-great-grandfather’s father, Philipe who manned the cannon and kept the invaders at bay for two hours, firing until there was nothing left to fire. I had to cut out Philipe’s wife bringing the water.  She was, unfortunately another character in the story, and I needed to cut things down.  Sadly in history, this sort of thing is also dropped, so I guess it’s an ironic cut that had to be made.

As he listened, Joey swore he could hear the cannon’s roar echoing across the valley.  Then he saw the plaque. Here I actually showed what Joey was reading

“But, papa, it says here that the fort fell to the English in 1815.”

“Yes, the fort was taken, but Philipe  slowed the enemy down, allowing our people to escape into the jungle.  They survived because of his sacrifice.”

That night Joey dreamt of cannons and blood and finally understood.  History was not stone walls, and boring facts: it was the story of sacrifice and bravery, and it lived on inside each of them.

And the story was down to 205 words, but still not quite the finish I wanted… I had to do something, so I worked on the ending.

That night Joey dreamt of cannons and blood and finally understood.  History was not stone walls, and boring facts: it was the story of sacrifice and bravery, and it lives on inside each of us.  From the original ‘and it lived on inside each of them.’  one word change, bringing the realization that it is a part of who each of us are.

Final Draft –

“But, papa, it’s just a rusty old cannon,” Joey whined and would have kicked it if his father hadn’t stopped him.  He was annoyed.  Instead of going to the amusement park, his father had taken him to an old fort in the middle of nowhere.

“That, rusty cannon, is our heritage.”

Joey shook his head, not understanding but smiled when his father knelt down and explained.

“200 years ago this cannon saved our village.”

Joey stood transfixed as his father told him of a distant relative, his great-great-grandfather’s father, Philipe who manned the cannon and kept the invaders at bay for two hours, firing until there was nothing left to fire.

As he listened, Joey swore he could hear the cannon’s roar echoing across the valley.  Then he saw the plaque.

“But, papa, it says here that the fort fell to the English in 1815.”

“Yes, the fort was taken, but Philipe slowed the enemy down, allowing our people to escape into the jungle.  They survived because of his sacrifice.”

That night Joey dreamt of cannons and blood and finally understood.  History was not stone walls, and boring facts: it was the story of sacrifice and bravery, and it lives on inside each of us.

There you have it: the anatomy of an Edit.   Until next time.

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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.

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