Behind the scenes: Heidi “live edits” a scene, Part 1

I’ve heard writers say that blogs and websites can be full of extras like a DVD, including cut scenes and director’s commentary equivalents. You know, I really love this idea, and keep hoping it will catch on, because on the one hand, it’s interesting to see someone’s process, and on another hand, as a writer I find examining other writers’ processes instructive. But I’m not stumbling on too much of this.

I get why, because it’s a bit The Great And Mighty Oz revealed as a bumbling fool behind the curtain, and it requires some exposing of flaws. Well, as for that, I am full of flaws. Chock. Full. So I’m cool with that. And in that spirit, I’m going to try this and see where it goes. I would have done it with the NaNoWriMo novel, but it just didn’t need the kind of editing that would be interesting. So I’ll try it with Miles and the Magic Flute, which is in finished draft form but needs some serious hot oil help. My plan is to post the entirety of the first scene in its rough draft state, and then I’m going to MST3K my way through it, picking it apart, appraising it, and eventually laying out my plan for a redraft.

The scene in full can be found here. It’s about one thousand words, and the story as best I can give it to you is this: Miles Larson has come back to Summer Hill, Minnesota after being laid off unexpectedly from his job. He is living in a trailer with his friends Patty and Julie, lesbian partners who run a pawn shop on the outskirts of a very small town. Unhappy and with a considerable chip on his shoulder over the turn his life has taken, Miles is having a hard enough time adjusting to reality without it bending on him all the time. Because something strange is going on in the forest beside Patty and Julie’s trailer. It’s a frosty Minnesota October in Summer Hill, but in that forest, it feels like summer. Miles would also swear someone—or something—is in there with him. He writes his perceptions off as paranoia and signs of his deteriorating sanity, but then a strange silver flute appears at the pawn shop,

and everything changes.

 Now when he’s in the forest, he doesn’t think he’s being followed, he knows it—hell, he sees it, because a huge, scary beast-man is coming at him, looking ready to tear him apart. And when a striking, white-haired man on a silver sleigh appears to rescue him—well, that’s when things get interesting. And very steamy.

Now I’m going to pick it apart a bit, after the cut.


Sometimes Miles thought the forest was strange.

*I’m not wild about this as an opening. It’s not really catchy, and it doesn’t sum anything up. It sort of sums up this scene, but that to me is just further a sign of how weak this scene is.

He’d thought it was weird in high school, too, but he’d chalked it up then to being young, stupid, and drunk. He was sober now, and he wasn’t young anymore. Stupid he’d claim, but not this stupid.

*Not sure where I was going with this, but I don’t even know what I meant here now. Cut.

It was the light. The yellow-pink light in here didn’t match the dull, blue-grey light he’d left when he’d shut the door to Patty and Julie’s trailer and huddled into his thin jacket against the unseasonably cold October air. And that was the other thing: it was warmer here. Not much, but enough to notice. He tried to tell himself that it was because the trees were close and blocked the wind, but something in his hindbrain insisted it was more than that. It was cool here, but there was no frost. There was no bite to the air, not like there was as he’d woven his way through the trailer park. The air felt lighter here. The foliage was stunned by the same early frost that had killed everything in southern Minnesota, and above his head the leaves were well on their way to turned, some of them gone all ready. But it didn’t smell like autumn in the forest. It didn’t smell like rotting leaves and cold. It smelled of grass and sun and dirt. And it felt like summer.

Miles stuffed his hands deeper in his pockets and frowned at the trees.

It had to be his stupid imagination. God knew he was one breeze away from a breakdown, and at this point he had to hope it was only emotional and not mental. Yesterday Julie had caught him with his last severance check crumpled tight inside his fist, and she’d had to go get Patty to shout at him before he came out of his stupor enough to let it go. He didn’t even know why he’d done it, not even now. He only remembered staring down at it, lying on top of the stack of rejection letters from this week’s attempts at finding a new job, and the next thing he’d known Patty was asking him in pointed tones if he wanted to feel the backside of her hand. They’d been nice about it after, even Patty, but it had bothered Miles all night, and at five he’d given up sleeping. He’d tried to walk, but walking in the trailer park only made the strange misery-rage inside him worse, and he’d ended up here, in the forest.

*I like what this is revealing about Miles, but what I’m realizing as I read this for the third time is that this scene has no push. No antagonist of any kind, and it shows. I’d be fine with Miles thinking all this stuff, but he needs a push. But who? I think I know who it needs to be, but that’s a spoiler. What would it feel like to Miles, though? Ah. The forest. But a specific part of it, perhaps. Hmm…

He sat down on a stump, braced his elbows against his knees, then gave in and buried his face in his hands.

When he lifted his face again, the forest seemed a lot brighter, which on the one hand made perfect sense, since the sun was coming up, but somehow to Miles it seemed even stranger than it had before. These weren’t the colors of a cold October dawn. These were the colors of summer.

At twilight.

*Yes. This is the forest responding. But there needs to be a beat above that articulates this. Subtly, but it needs to be there. It currently is not.

Miles frowned. He stood, warily, and after a moment’s hesitation, walked deeper into the trees.

There had to be some sort of weather phenomenon here, some trick of geography, because the deeper he walked, the warmer it became. The trees were still losing their leaves, but the sun shining through them frequently made him think he saw buds and flowers on the branches. He could hear the soft rush of water in the distance, but he never saw a stream. If he were in England, he’d think this was some sort of fairy trick. But this was Minnesota. The Lutherans would have guilted any fairies out a long time ago.

Still, the place eased something inside Miles, and after awhile he stopped again, this time leaning against a tree, staring off into the sun poking its way through the grey thickness of the trees, casting them in a warm, rose-and-purple tinted glow.

*Yes, and here there needs to be another beat. Because why does he suddenly talk to himself?

“I just never thought this was where I was going to land at thirty-seven,” he whispered. He stared out into the woods, letting his eyes unfocus, imagining that small white flowers were drifting down in the shafts of sunlight. “I thought I’d have a good job and a killer apartment. That I’d be looking at a promotion, not shoveling my way through job applications that don’t get me anywhere. I thought I’d be adopting too many dogs with my boyfriend and planning vacations to Spain.” He tightened his hands inside his pockets. “I’m better than this. I deserve so much more than this. I didn’t leave this stupid little town only to come back and take a charity job at the lesbian pawn shop.” He shut his eyes and felt the pain and hurt well up inside him. “I’m more than this. I don’t belong here. I don’t care if it’s arrogant to think that way. I don’t. And if I could find the way to get out of this miserable life and into the one where I belong, I would.”

Even with his eyes closed, he felt the light shift, which was why he opened his eyes, just in time to see the rosey-purple fade entirely, replaced briefly with a deep, almost menacing indigo. For one second he could have sworn it was night, and something deep inside Miles went cold and whispered, danger.

But then a single light flashed, bright and white and pure, and then the light shifted again, becoming at last completely, utterly normal. The forest looked as it should: grey, pale, and cold.

*And here’s the third beat. Which is an escalation, and it puts him over the edge and makes him leave. It should have been drawing him in until this point, and this pushes him off. He thinks it’s over. But he has inadvertently started something and drawn the flute, which he will not realize until much later. Maybe he’ll never be conscious of it, but a reader on a second pass-through would go, "Ooh, this is when he draws the flute!!!" and so on.

OR this cold is the other antagonist. Hmm. That’s worth considering.

And it felt cold, too, inspiring Miles to huddle deeper into his jacket and weave his way back through the trees to the trailer park. He tried to tell himself that he’d just imagined all of it, that he was overtired, that there had been no funny light, no warm air, no odd smells. He just needed to get back to the trailer and try to get some sleep. That was all.

But as he came through the clearing that marked the edge, he could have sworn he felt a feather-light touch against the nape of his neck, and when he turned towards the source, he could have sworn he felt something soft and warm and damp against his cheek. Like a kiss.
Apparently I could do with some medication as well, Miles thought, and hunched his shoulders high up to his ears, practically running the rest of the way to the trailer.

*Yeah, there are two forces here. So that’s actually even better. We see Miles and the forest, but we also have invisible antagonist A and antagonist B, whose presences are felt within the forest. So I need to rewrite this with antagonists in.



So, if you have enjoyed this little exercise, tell me here, or on twitter, or something, and I might do more of them. Well, maybe I will anyway. I actually got a lot out of this. Off to ponder….

2 Comments on “Behind the scenes: Heidi “live edits” a scene, Part 1

  1. What a good idea! My problem is that I edit as I go along, so I don’t generally remember what the old version was like before I changed it. Maybe I’ll try saving things in different files in future because this is a really interesting thing to do.

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