To finish out the week, I’ve written a three-piece post about first drafts. Each post reads dandy as a standalone, but I suspect they offer more as a family. Part I, First & Final, ended with my striking scene one of my first draft. Today’s g entry is Part II.
Gideon’s Inn is a story told in sepia.
It’s set in the here and now, but the settings are faded, scarred, a bit dusty. The characters are armed with intentional anachronisms—oil lamps, antiquities and the like—because that’s how they live, straddling past and present. My opening sequence needed to establish that motif, and I was confident I’d never find a scene that knocked off the task as well as my original.
Idiot notion, that.
After years of writing for radio, newspaper and magazines, you’d think I’d trust my imagination, maybe have faith in my experience. I brought the spade that dug the hole. Surely the same blade could fill it.
Some lessons have to be relearned each time we need them. This was one of them.
After a handful of false starts, the new scene gradually came together. It was dark and resonate, more fitting than the first: Two men digging in a small graveyard high above the Mississippi River. Night, and the rain clears. Moonlight turns the tablets sulfur and gold.
They’ve known each other too long to be enemies, these two. But they know each other too well to be friends.
The new scene forced me to rethink the primary conflict—to rebuild the engine that drove the plot. I ripped out the heart of my freshly minted map and drafted it anew. I cut characters, recast roles, rewrote the ending. One hundred-thirty pages, gone, felled by a single scene, and replaced by one hundred pages new.
The story was better for it, and so was I.
When I started my first draft, where was this troublesome-but-integral scene hiding?
It wasn’t. It was present all along, a little distant and a bit unmade, waiting to be seized and shaped and folded into the story. I simply failed to recognize its potential, choosing instead to settle for the first, most obvious idea.
While I’d moved on, my subconscious hadn’t. It had spent the last four hundred pages working on the scene that started the story.
Its work was almost done.
Tomorrow: Here & Hereafter, wherein the seed of a story is planted in a graveyard.