First pass, or “Why should I care?”

So, digging right in with the editing now.  The first pass through the text is mostly easy to do.  I call it my “Why do I care about this?” pass.  My criteria is this:  Any information that is given needs to either:

A.  Efficiently and effectively add to the scene.  This would typically be descriptive text that shows surroundings, mood, setting, etc.  This can be subjective, but not as much as you might think at first.

B.  Efficiently and effectively move the story forward.  If we don’t meet the criteria for A, then we better be moving the story forward with something important.  If not, then it’s useless, distracting fluff that has to go.

This will probably be easier to show than to tell.  (Ha!  See what I did there?  Yes, this is kind of directed at someone.  You know who you are.)  The goal of this pass then is to remove anything that doesn’t fall within those two criteria.

Full disclosure:  I have already written the final piece, so I know where we will end up.  This isn’t happening in real-time, so to speak.  Also, there was an intermediate draft between this and the final version.  As much as possible I will try to recreate the steps I took along the way, but remember that this is a recreation, so some creative liberties may be taken.  Also note that several of the changes I make here were pointed out by my wonderful critiquers.  If you recognize one of your own suggestions here, know that I appreciate everything that you all give more than I can say.

OK, let’s jump in then.  I will walk through the text as I go, showing what I strike during this pass.

– – – – – – – – – –

Mirian stood in front of the altar in the temple’s worship hall, excitement causing her to bounce up and down slightly on the balls of her feet. Prophet Neijen stood on the opposite side holding a small knife out towards her, handle first. As a healer at the temple of Ailiah, she was required to offer a blood sacrifice to the goddess every week. I think that we effectively illustrate that she is required to offer a sacrifice.  Right now, the fact that it is weekly is less important.  We will learn that later.  Right now, we want to paint a dramatic scene as efficiently as we can, particularly with this opening paragraph.  Unlike the other healers, Mirian looked forward to the weekly ritual. Again, if you read this and you don’t figure out that she likes it, then this is definitely not the right book for you. Behind her, Mirian listened to the rustling of the crowd shifting impatiently in their seats. The daily worship ceremony was closed to the public, but the weekly service was open to visitors from the nearby village who came to offer their prayers and petitions. Don’t care.  We will never see them again, and the schedule of the crowd certainly doesn’t add anything to the story.

The others had already cut their fingers and dripped a few droplets of blood into the bowl on the altar. With that small of a sacrifice, it was no wonder they weren’t better healers. Mirian accepted the knife and held it in her left hand. If she stabs her right hand, then obviously it is in her left. The bone handle balanced the thin metal blade extending three inches from the end. The blade was more of a flattened needle than a knife, thin and narrow, having been designed to perform this one task only. Prophet Neijen took a step back from the altar. Well yay for him.  But we don’t really care what he is doing, now do we?  The girl has a knife for crying out loud! Mirian held the blade in the flame of the Candle of Purity on the altar for a moment, letting it lick around the metal blade, heating it quickly. Pulling it back from the flame, she rested the tip against the palm of her right hand, positioning it below her first and second finger, near the fleshy part of her thumb. An argument could be made for this, but I can show this better than just stating it here. Closing her eyes and tilting her head back slightly, she felt her exhilaration building. Ailiah’s power surged inside her, anticipating her next move. Mirian opened her eyes, gazing at the statue of Ailiah beside the altar. The thick smell of the incense created a buzzing in her head that drowned out the sounds of the crowd. Mirian inhaled deeply, then plunged the blade into the palm of her right hand.

Mirian’s breath caught in her chest. The burning pain seared up her arm into her brain, then coursed through her body. The first two fingers of her hand curled inward, fingertips touching the knife’s handle even as that half of her hand went numb. Looking down, she watched the blood flow into the cup.

Exhaling finally, she recited the prayer of sacrifice; “May this offering of mine satisfy the need for bloodshed and suffering for this week. May Ailiah bless me with the power to remove the infirmities of those in need. Ailiah’s love.”

For a moment, Mirian basked in the warmth of Ailiah’s love. Her entire arm throbbed angrily with her heartbeat but Mirian barely felt it, the euphoria of making the sacrifice to her goddess washed away any other thought in her mind. Taking another deep breath, Mirian shifted her grip on the knife’s handle and pulled. She placed the knife blade down into the bowl of blessed water and held her hand out to Prophet Neijen.  (I am on the fence with this line.  This is the part where it gets subjective.  I’m going to leave it, because later in the book I reference needing two bowls, one filled with water, when she demonstrates the sacrifice.  It could easily be dropped though, and not much would be lost.) He pressed a bandage on each side of her hand while High Priest Vaktril tied a strip of cloth around both to hold them tightly against her wounds.

As they did so, Vaktril muttered to her “there is no need to penetrate your entire hand. An offering of a few drops of blood is sufficient.” Mirian smiled in return, his weekly admonition having no more effect on her than it ever did. She gave no answer, but turned and walked back to her prayer mat.

– – – – – – – – – –

Well, we didn’t get rid of much, but there was some progress made.  A couple things that could be torn out completely and not be missed.  Next installment, we will look at pacing and efficiency.  I am sure you all can see places that need to be tuned up (in fact, several of you HAVE, and made the appropriate suggestions.)  Pacing and efficiency is where a lot of the text above will change, so look for a lot more red text next time.




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3 responses to “First pass, or “Why should I care?”

  1. Lol, loved your comments and your ability to make fun of your earlier drafts :p I wish I could find my first draft, but I apparently don’t have it on my computer anymore. I still have it in print, but it’s home. It was hilarious!
    Still – loved the post. Also, found myself in mentioning the left hand – right hand thing 😉
    Glad I’m helping!

  2. Good post, Andrew! I think this kind of editing is (at least in part) what is meant by “kill your darlings”. Often, I find the “fluff” consists of those little details that I am most fond of and reluctant to omit. Isn’t it paradoxical that we so often need to remove our favourite parts for the good of the story as a whole?

  3. Pingback: Next pass: Efficiency and effect | J Andrew Jansen

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