I really didn’t mean to start editing Aconite so soon. I thought, hey, I’ll take a week long break and maybe start then. But no, my story called. I just finished editing the first, oh, page or so, so I thought I’d share the first few paragraphs as a kind of “before and after” thing. First draft to second draft. The second draft bits are pretty much all rewritten, but closely follow the structure of the first draft bits. You get a preview of my story and a look at How Editing Works.
There’s a black car parked in front of Ms. Johanna’s house when Katriona turns the corner. It’s big and expensive and so clean it makes everything around it look dirty. She walks closer and sees the man at the front wheel, tall, suited, sunglasses on. The corner of her mouth turns up in amusement. It’s not terribly uncommon for a big, black car to be parked in front of the witch’s house. Katriona’s been there as men in plaid and men in suits and women in t-shirts and jeans came discretely to Ms. Johanna in search of a spell. The flashiness of the chauffeur (wearing sunglasses) suggests a registered hunter, which is worrisome, but not as much as an unregistered hunter would be.
She’s still smiling quietly when the cross and circle dangling from the rearview mirror catches her eye. Oh. Oh no. She grips her backpack strap so tightly it hurts her fingers as she runs up the pavement. The chipped red door is scarier than it’s ever been, and she stops in front of it, wavering. Then she knocks twice, and does her best to look smaller until the door opens. It’s Ms. Johanna, carrying the ever-present smell of herbs and metal, smiling gently at her.
When Katriona turns the corner, the first thing to catch her eye is the long, sleek car parked beside the curb. There’s a man in the front seat, wearing a black suit with a collar as white and clean as his car is. The car itself isn’t all that surprising. It seems like every time she steps around this corner there’s a new car parked in that same spot. The surprising thing is that someone with a car so shining white would be here, parked in front of Ms. Johanna’s shop.
Katriona’s been there as men and women in plaid and t-shirts and jeans came into the shop, desperate and hollow-cheeked or stroking a thumb across the holster of their gun with far too much familiarity. Ms. Johanna’s spells are dark and dirty things, viciously effective. This is not a place for things that are clean and bright. She sidles closer, hooking her thumb under her backpack strap to ease the weight on her shoulders, not looking directly at the car, and smiles, as if she’s thinking about something pleasant. The man in the suit watches her without moving his head, his hands folded into a long steeple.
As you can see, between the first draft and the second draft I made several changes. The first sentence of the first draft is structured oddly, with the parked car coming before Katriona, so that you’re not sure where the car is. The description of the car is bland and doesn’t give you a good feel for what the car looks like. I changed the structure around, added some more finely-tuned descriptions and gave you a feel for why the car is so noticeable. You may have noticed that the second draft excerpt does not reach the same place in those two paragraphs. That’s because my descriptions and my conversion to showing instead of telling extended the same portion of story to almost a page. It reads much better. I’ll include another excerpt below, to show how I made her fear clear, and showed her personality in how she immediately goes on the defensive and starts plotting:
She’s still smiling falsely when the cross and circle badge pinned to his lapel catches her eye, and her smile slips. It’s as clean and polished as everything else, and Katriona steps further away from the car, one, two, three steps. It won’t do any good if the man’s got a gun, but she feels safer out of striking distance. She’d bet a good ten bucks that the man’s got some friends inside the shop, and she turns to glance at the ever-present scratches on the door. Are there some new additions, or is it just her imagination?
I probably need to vary the sentence length more, but that’s a problem for the third draft. For right now, I’m polishing this into something that I’m not ashamed to show to people. Later, I’ll polish it into something I’m proud to show people, with the help of feedback from critique groups and various friends and family members. After my acquaintances have run through it, I’ll probably send it out to a professional, who has been thoroughly educated and experienced with making people’s stories the best that they can be.