Live Editing, Part 3: It’s Toast

My body is revolting tonight, so after writing a whiny journal (which you, blessedly, will not have to read!) and popping a Vicodin I am ceding the evening to… well, I’m not sure who. To being cranky, I guess, which is a what, not a who. Today was not so much a day of rest, either: after hurrying to take a sick snowblower in to a place which could not fix it, rushing to fellowship (that’s Unitarian Universalist for "church"), then dashing down to Des Moines to attend a Central Iowa Authors NaNoWriMo wrap-up party, then rushing to buy Anna more fish and then rushing home to see Dan quick before he went off to work (stint of five overnights, blarg, but this is his last)—well, really, even without my body deciding I should have only minimal feeling and much pain in my right leg and left shoulder, I don’t think much was going to happen. Still. I wanted to keep up with the reportage on my attempts to edit Miles and the Magic Flute live!, so here is what I got done yesterday but did not have time to post.

I have 243 words of a new opening. I do not put any faith in this being the actual opening, but I do think it’s a fantastic start, not so much because it is so witty or clever or well-turned, but because there’s some gold in there. Take a look.

There were times when Miles Larson thought about what had become of his life and it was all he could do not to stop whatever it was he was doing and scream. This was one of those moments.

He was standing behind Patty’s Pawn Plus, a very nasty, horrid little shop on the edge of town, and he was scraping black, horrid gunk off the tray of a toaster oven. Three months ago he’d been one promotion away from junior VP at Atlantic Trust. Three months ago he’d been dating a lawyer who had made love to him regularly on white silk sheets. Three months ago he’d been living in a chic Atlanta condo plotting the next points of interest on his journey to the perfect life.

Now he was this. Now he worked–out of Patty’s charity—as the go-fer and fix-it man at a redneck pawn shop in Summer Hill, Minnesota, and he lived in Patty’s double-wide to boot. Now he took appliances Patty had salvaged from dumpsters and cleaned them up and tweaked them so they worked well enough to sell. Now he stood here in the freezing cold of an unseasonal October unable to pinpoint when it was exactly he’d last had sex.

His hand that clutched the razor blade trembled, and Miles had to stop, shut his eyes, and clench his teeth in an effort to stop the bellow of rage always lurking inside him.

As openings go, I think that first line is a bit more melodrama than I want. Sometimes that’s good, and I may go with that sort of thing in the end, but this story is not really melodramatic. It’s more of a knife edge you don’t quite see coming and yet when it actually gets you, you realize you kind of did suspect a little. It’s creepy, it’s dark, it’s sad, but it’s plucky, too. Some of that is in this, but it’s too forced right now in my opinion.

I also don’t like how tell-y it is. I do love the juxtaposition of his past life with his present, but I think I’d rather start him right away in action and have this stuff leak in through the scene. That could also be something he tosses out at Patty. It’s okay for now, but it’s not ideal, and I will cut any of that I need to.

BUT. BUT. What I love? That fucking toaster oven.

When I sit down with this again tomorrow, I’m zeroing in on that appliance and milking it for everything it’s got. I love the image of him working on it. I love that he’s out in the cold working on it, that he’s used to being in Atlanta and now he’s in Minnesota. I love the grimness of the task, the humiliation of it. I love the physicalness of it, and I’m itching to work with it, to see what happens when he messes with it. I can feel six or seven different possible scene arcs forming out of it, and I have no idea which one will work. Plus the theme of this is partly that Miles needs to repair his life, and to become humble: to accept the life in front of him, the people in front of him. It’s so perfect I’m bouncing in my chair. I’m totally running with that toaster oven.

This is what I love about revising/editing. I love finding the way to a scene that works. I hate when I can’t find the way, when I’m banging my head against it, or when I end up with false starts. Which this could still be. But the thing personally I have come to learn about writing is that no word is sacred. Some ideas are, but even those need to be somewhat fluid. For myself, however, I will never be resolute on keeping a turn of phrase or a line. Whenever I do that, I run into big trouble. For me the story is the STORY, the characters and the ideas. I want functional prose. I want words that are servants, not stars. There are genres that are about the turn of the phrase, and that’s fine. I will never write that way, however, and I really won’t read that stuff, either.

So I don’t mind that I wrote 243 words and got a toaster oven out of it. Actually, I could not be happier.

Well, I’d be a lot happier if my body didn’t hurt so much tonight. But a Skelaxin, a second Vicodin, and some heavy sleep will fix that, too. And then tomorrow it’s just me, a Scrivener document, and a toaster oven. With snow outside my window.

Bliss.

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