“The pen is mightier than the sword.”
I bet all of you have heard that one. The implication of course, is that the peaceful power of the written word is a more potent force than raw violence.
But sometimes, the pen isn’t all that peaceful. Sometimes I look back over my week and find a trail of literary slashing, smashing, guts and gore.
Sometimes the pen gets…brutal.
Last Sunday I was talking to an author friend of mine who asked me how much I’d written in the past week.
“Well,” I replied. “I did more editing than writing this week. I only wrote about a thousand new words…and then I deleted half of them.”
He grinned. “That’s usually a good thing.”
Why? Because (depending on the writer of course) generally about half the stuff in a first draft is total junk. Either sloppily written, excess information, or just plain blah. Sometimes the ratio is way worse than that.
And so…the writer becomes a slasher.
Example: The first chapter of my current project.
I started out with a first chapter I loved, but it was written from Fred’s perspective, and after Lily made it very clear that she was the main character in this story, I realized I really wanted a first chapter that featured her instead. But that was easier said than done. Perhaps because I love the original first chapter so much, I’ve had a really hard time creating anything else to match it. And for a couple of months, I’ve been poking around in the draft I created during my big writing marathon for NaNoWriMo, knowing there was something seriously wrong somewhere, but not able to fix it with the piddling little edits I was doing.
Part of the problem was way too much back-story and set-up info trying to squeeze itself into the opening, which made it drag. And part of it was just a generally slow start that didn’t have the character really moving purposefully in any direction for way too long.
But it took me awhile to figure all that out. In fact, it was only in the past couple weeks that I began to fully recognize the problem. And that’s when I reached for the ax.
First, I went over the 1000 new words I’d just written (as I mentioned above) and deleted half of them. Then I started slashing at the the older material, and ended up eliminating a full third of the chapter.
It was still all wrong. But just when I was starting to wonder if I’d ever figure out how to fix it, I found a blog post by K.M. Weiland about creating the perfect “story hook” for your book. Especially when you’re crafting the first sentence or so.
That’s when lightening struck. I realized I’d already written a perfect opening sentence. It’s just that I’d gone and buried it pages into the chapter, after 1000 words of set-up that amounted to nothing but literary “throat clearing.”
So I hacked that one sentence out, freeing it from the battered remains of my other ramblings, and pasted it at the top of a blank page.
It was beautiful. And it led me into an almost entirely new first chapter. The old one is lying, chopped to pieces, around me as I occasionally snag a phrase here, or a couple of sentences there, and add them into my new creation. But ninety percent of the old stuff is permanently slashed. Dead as a door-nail.
Does it bother me? Nope. I’m used to it.
I’m a literary serial killer.
Sometimes the pen is a sword.
Sometimes being a writer gets…violent.