FlashFriday #41 – Anatomy of an edit

This last Friday, I once again entered FlashFriday @ http://flashfriday.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/flash-friday-41/#comments.  The prompt:

Dust storm in Stratford, Texas, circa 1935

Dust storm in Stratford, Texas, 1935. Public domain photo by NOAA.

Word count target: 350 words, give or take 10 words.

When I first looked at the picture, my eyes were drawn of course to the dust storm.  I was very tired when I looked at the picture, but the lines that came to me were:

“A town doesn’t just appear out of thin air”

Followed by:

“The air wasn’t exactly thin…”

But I didn’t really have much of anything going for me until I thought a bit more.  I thought about dust clouds, and dust storms and the idea of pulling things from thick air…   none of it really struck me as a good ending until I got the ending line:

“That boy really needs to bathe more often…”

With that line, and thoughts of Pig-Pen from Snoopy I began my first, very rough draft.  It came in at 93 words and wasn’t really heading the way I wanted it to… but I’d at least started.

My first draft was done in WordPad, with no spell checking to distract me and the big thing I learned was… I really need to learn to spell “Reverend” among others.

Reverand Martin watched worriedly as dark, billowing clouds threatened to choke out the sunlight and burry the town in dust and debribs.

“There must be something we can do,” the town’s mayor  growled.

“We are doing all we can, all any of us can do in a time like this,” the Reverand answered soothingly.  “Now come inside, it will offer us some protection against the  storm.”

“But will it be enough?”

The Revereand held his hands out to his side.  “It is more than we have here, and with prayer, anything is possible.”

It was just a sketch of the beginning really, which is usually the best place to begin the story, but it still fell flat with me.  I started in the middle of the scene, and you find the Mayor is there with the Reverend… It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either.  So I started over, using the first bit as a starting point.

I needed to lengthen the story and add depth.  The next version came in at 386 words, and now had the general form of the story.

Reverend Martin was roused from his fitful by the sound of his neighbors; raised voices.  It was much darker than when he’d drifted off in the midday heat, and his clothes still clung to him.  He hoped that the darkened sky meant relief from the heat in the form of cool soothing rain, but there was something in the neighbors’ tone that drew him from his bed to the window overlooking the town.

He gasped as he saw the dark billowing clouds that threatened to choke out the sunlight and bury the town in dust and debris.

He quickly jumped from his bed and ran to the door, calling to the townspeople.  “Quickly now, inside the church, gather your children.

“Do you really think that’s going to help!?” one of the town elders growled.

“It’s got to be better than just standing around, and the church is big enough for all.”

With a nod to his family, the town’s elder began ushering people into the church.

The Reverend’s wife filled a bucket and began wetting every piece of cloth she could find which they handed out to the townspeople.

“Yes, that’s it,” she urged as people began to cover their noses and mouths with the cloths.  She knew all too well how the sand could fit between every crack and crevice and nothing would be safe from the scouring wind, but at least the building would offer them some protection.

“There must be something we can do,” the town’s mayor growled.

“For now, we hunker down and pray,” the Reverend answered.  “And when the storm has passed, then we will work to undo the damage that’s been done.”

With a resigned sigh, they joined the others inside.

The wind made the building shudder; the sand it had kicked up scoured the building in wave after wave of powerful blasts, sounding oddly like the beach hitting the ocean.   It continued until they could barely see three feet in front of them.

With the last of his strength the Reverend stood and began singing the opening psalm he always sang for Sunday’s service, and to his relief half the town joined in.

When the sky finally lightened he smiled in relief.

The Mayor looked at him and the Reverend nodded.

“That boy has got to bathe more often.”

Now I was close to the target, and I’d included the line I wanted as my ending.  The only problem was– I hadn’t introduced or hinted as to who ‘that boy’ was.  I needed to trim the story down, while adding the information that would support that ending line.

All the while, I was thinking about the two figures in the foreground of the picture, it looked like one of them was pointing at the other, possibly holding a gun.

The next version came in at 405 words (and I actually started making notes to myself after the main part of the edit -)

Reverend Martin was roused from his fitful by the sound of his neighbors’ raised voices.  It was much darker than when he’d drifted off in the midday heat, and his clothes still clung to him, he had never sweated as much in his life.

Part of him hoped that the darkened sky meant relief from the heat in the form of cool soothing rain, but there was something in the neighbors’ tone that drew him from his bed to the window overlooking the town.

He gasped as he saw the dark billowing clouds that threatened to choke out the sunlight and burry the town in dust and debris.

He quickly jumped from his bed and ran to the door, calling to the townspeople.  “Quickly now, inside the church, gather your children.

“Do you really think that’s going to help!?” one of the neighbors yelled to be heard over the storm. The town elder quickly became one of the neighbors, since I wasn’t really going into much detail.  This pass I was more concerned about introducing ‘That Boy’.

“It’s got to be better than just standing around outside, and the church is big enough for all.”

With a nod they neighbor gathered his family and began ushering people into the church.

The Reverend’s wife filled a bucket and began wetting every piece of cloth she could find which they handed out to the townspeople.

“Yes, that’s it,” she urged as people began to cover their noses and mouths with the cloths.  She knew all too well how the sand could fit between every crack and crevice and nothing would be safe from the scouring wind, but at least the building would offer them some protection.

The Reverend tried to count the people as they entered, but there were so many of them, and the storm was getting worse.  He looked around realized he had saved as many as he could.  When the storm passed, they would try and find the others and do what they could for them.

The wind made the building shudder; the sand it had kicked up scoured the building in wave after wave of powerful blasts, sounding oddly like the beach hitting the ocean.   It continued until they could barely see three feet in front of them.

“How often do you get these storms?” he asked the town’s mayor between gasps.

“They say the ill wind blows every time <foo> rides into town.  Foo is a computer variable I learned a long time ago.  I started using it in <>’s so that it became a marker for something I could replace later.  I started using it in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for anything where a name or word escaped me.  That way I could keep on writing without getting hung-up on the word/name I couldn’t remember.  Let’s face it the third component to this challenge is time  which was becoming quite scarce. 

When the sky finally lightened he smiled in relief.

The Mayor looked at him and the Reverend nodded.

“That boy has got to bathe more often.”

(Note : 50  words to lose and I need to clean up the  reference to the boy)

So, I had a little bit of a difference, but I still hadn’t really included the boy enough to make the story work.

This time when I wrote, I ended up adding about 160 words… In one way the story was closer to where I needed it to be, but in the other, I had added far too many words to the story.

Reverend Martin was roused from his fitful by the sound of his neighbors’ raised voices. While drier than it had been when he’d laid down for his midday rest, the air had taken on an even more oppressive weight. I removed references to the oppressive humidity… clothes sticking to skin etc.

The skies had darkened and he looked at the clock – it had only been half an hour.  Part of him hoped that the darkened sky meant relief from the heat in the form of cool soothing rain, but there was something in the neighbors’ tone that drew him from his bed to the window overlooking the town.  I added a little that told the reader he hadn’t been napping all that long, but again, I was adding words instead of editing them down.

He gasped as he saw the dark billowing clouds that threatened to choke out the sunlight and bury the town in dust and debris.

He quickly jumped from his bed and ran to the door, calling to the townspeople.  “Quickly now, inside the church, gather your children.

“Do you really think that’s going to help!?” one of the neighbors yelled to be heard over the storm.

“It’s got to be better than just standing around outside, and the church is big enough for all.”

With a nod they neighbor gathered his family and began ushering people into the church.

For the most part people were silent, watching the clouds fearfully over their shoulders as they sought refuge.  This like was added to add to the danger/tension 

Reverend Martin was relieved to see his wife had filled a bucket with water and had begun wetting every piece of cloth she could find which she then handed out to the townspeople.  This was changed slightly so that everything is told from the Reverend’s point of view, keeping it smoother (but again, adding words)

“Yes, that’s it,” she urged as people began to cover their noses and mouths with the cloths.

The Reverend smiled, they both knew all too well how the sand could fit between every crack and crevice and nothing would be safe from the scouring wind, but at least the building would offer them some protection.  Again, this was added to give depth to the story, even though I already had too many words.  It’s all a matter of building up and sanding down until you get the right finish.

The Reverend tried to count the people as they entered, but there were so many of them, and the storm was getting worse.  He looked around realized he had saved as many as he could.  When the storm passed, they would try and find the others and do what they could for them.

“Has anyone seen Johnny Miller?” he asked, realizing he hadn’t seen the cheerful lad who was always playing in the fields. And here I gave a direct reference and name to the ‘culprit’

“If you ask me, this is probably all his fault!” the Mayor exclaimed as he helped the Reverend close and seal the church’s doors.

The Reverend was confused but let his concern for their current situation override any questions he might have.

All too soon, the storm was upon them.    The wind made the building shudder; the sand it had kicked up scoured the building in wave after wave of powerful blasts, sounding oddly like the beach hitting the ocean.   It continued until they could barely see three feet in front of them.

When the sky finally lightened he smiled in relief.

“Now,” he asked the Mayor.  “How could this act of nature be Johnny’s fault?”

The Mayor looked at him and shook his head, nodding to the freshly bathed lad outside their door.

“That boy has got to bathe more often.”

I now had the main details for the story but it was far too long.  My next two renditions refined what was there, but it took three tries until the word count was on target:

Reverend Martin was roused by the sound of his neighbors’ raised voices. He was new in town and still getting used to the heat and the oppressive weight of the humidity.    While the voices had awakened him, there was something in their tone that drew him to the window and he would never forget the sight he beheld.

Wave upon wave of sand and dirt was billowing towards them, and while he’d only heard of a sand storm, there was no doubt in his mind that that was exactly what they were dealing with.

He raced to the door, calling to the townspeople.  “Quickly now, inside the church, gather your children, there’s plenty of room inside.  Somewhere in this line of edits I realized I had the good Reverend getting out of bed twice without ever going back– so that was an easy cut of a few words.

He wasn’t sure if it would help, but it had to be better than just standing there.

Quickly the neighbors gathered their families and began herding people into the church.  I removed the debate between the neighbor/town elder and just got people into the church.  Ushering was changed to herding, adding to more of an image of people milling about rather than a nice gentle leading people into a place of worship.

The reverend helped people through the doors, urging them to take refuge, but the storm was getting worse.

As he was about to close the doors he saw a cloud of dirt and sand wash over Johnny Miller, a cheerful young man who was always playing in the fields, he offered up a prayer for the lad and with a heavy heart he closed and sealed the door.  I added a little more with Johnny, allowing him to be seen rather than just mentioned, and having the  Reverend see him swallowed by the storm.

There was nothing else he could do.  I also cut the Reverend’s wife and the bit with the wet cloths.  It was a nice touch but it was a lot of extra words that I needed elsewhere, and so, sadly, I was forced once again to cut the actions of a heroic wife.

All too soon, the storm was upon them.    The wind made the building shudder; the sand scoured the building in wave after wave of powerful blasts, sounding oddly like the beach hitting the ocean.

When the sky finally lightened, the Reverend jumped to his feet and opened the door, afraid of what he’d find.  To his surprise, he saw Johnny Miller standing there with his hair merely looking tousled.  If anything the lad looked far cleaner than he’d ever seen him.

They mayor joined him at the door, surveying the damage and then eying Johnny.  The reverend turned frowning in disbelief when he heard the mayor sigh and mutter under his breath.

Seeing he didn’t understand, the Mayor sighed.  “That boy has got to bathe more often.”

It was closer, but still not quite smooth enough, it needed… polish.  Three edits more, and I added 50 words and then needed to somehow get things back in balance.

Reverend Martin was roused by the sound of his neighbors’ raised voices. He was new in town but he could tell something was very wrong.   I removed a lot of the details around the nap, and by making it that the Reverend was new in town, it meant we’d be seeing the storm through a first timer’s eyes and… he wouldn’t know about Johnny.  He became the person who had to ask ‘Why’ so things could be explained to the reader within the story.

Rising, he looked out the window, and he knew he would be haunted by the sight he beheld: wave upon wave of sand and dirt billowed towards them.  He had only heard of sand storms, but there was no doubt in his mind that that was exactly what he was seeing.  Here I changed/added detail until the situation was clearly outlined and we could get down to business.

He raced to the door, calling out, “quickly, inside the church, gather your children, there’s plenty of room inside.”  Here the Reverend gathers his flock and gets people involved.

He wasn’t sure if it would help, but it had to be better than just standing there.

Quickly the neighbors gathered their families and began herding people into the church.

As he was about to close the doors the reverend froze, watching in horror as a cloud of dirt and debris swallowed one of the town’s children, Johnny Miller,  who had been late getting to the church.   And I removed some details about Johnny (playing in the fields) but let the good Reverend see him actually overwhelmed by the storm.

With a sad heart, he offered up a prayer for the lad and sealed the door.  There was nothing else he could do, save pray, and pray he did.

He prayed as the wind made the building shudder and sand scoured the outside of the church.  He prayed as the sand and dirt found its way inside and coated everything in sight, and when he could see nothing but the sand around him, he prayed, but more than anything, he prayed for Johnny and anyone else who had been caught outside in this nightmare.  I combined some of the description of the effects of the storm and interspersed them with Reverend Martin praying for the people of the town.

When the sky finally lightened, the reverend jumped to his feet and opened the door, afraid of what he’d find.  To his relief, he saw Johnny Miller standing there with his hair merely looking tousled.  If anything the lad looked cleaner than the reverend had ever seen him.  And the reveal…

They mayor joined him at the door, surveying the damage and sighed.

The reverend gave him a confused look as he watched the others file out of the church, glaring at Johnny.

“Sir?” The reverend asked not understanding.

The Mayor shook his head.  That nicely leads to the finale.

“That boy has got to learn to bathe more often.”

If I had more time, I probably would have edited the story a little more– If I had more words, I would have used them, but I don’t think I could have done both within the time and word constraints.

The final step was to name the story and submit it.  Final versions:
The Cleansing

Reverend Martin was roused by the sound of his neighbors’ raised voices. He was new in town but he could tell something was very wrong.

Rising, he looked out the window, and he knew he would be haunted by the sight he beheld: wave upon wave of sand and dirt billowed towards them. He had only heard of sand storms, but there was no doubt in his mind that that was exactly what he was seeing.

He raced to the door, calling out, “quickly, inside the church, gather your children, there’s plenty of room inside.”

He wasn’t sure if it would help, but it had to be better than just standing there.

Quickly the neighbors gathered their families and began herding people into the church.

As he was about to close the doors the reverend froze, watching in horror as a cloud of dirt and debris swallowed one of the town’s children, Johnny Miller, who had been late getting to the church.

With a heavy heart, he offered up a prayer for the lad and sealed the door. There was nothing else he could do, save pray, and pray he did.

He prayed as the wind made the building shudder and sand scoured the outside of the church. He prayed as a fine dust found its way inside and coated everything in sight, and when he could see nothing but the sand around him, he prayed, but more than anything, he prayed for Johnny and anyone else who had been caught outside in this nightmare.

When the sky finally lightened, the reverend jumped to his feet and opened the door, afraid of what he’d find. To his relief, he saw Johnny Miller standing there with his hair merely looking tousled. If anything the lad looked cleaner than the reverend had ever seen him.

They mayor joined him at the door, surveying the damage and sighed.

The reverend gave him a confused look as he watched the others file out of the church, glaring at Johnny.

“Sir?” The reverend asked not understanding.

The Mayor shook his head.

“That boy has got to learn to bathe more often.”

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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, Flash Fiction, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

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