Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Editing, Day 15--Character Motivation

Welcome back, BGs. Hope y’all had a rockin’ fourth. We were at our home in Coeur d’Alene. I’ll tell ya, nobody can do Fourth of July quite like Cd'A.

Over the weekend, Cara had a question about including enough information about her character in the first 50 pages of her wip without slowing the story. Cara, that's really a question as to how to handle backstory. Check the archives here. I have this vague recollection of talking about backstory in February. If not, we can tackle that subject later. It's rather a big one.

And now—back to our AS.

We left off talking about the moment of change in Christy’s life—how she will decide to fight for herself. I told you about the “book in my head”—the way I may have written the story up to the point of this scene and what Christy would have suffered from Vince. Remember, as the author of our AS told us, Vince has burned her apartment, beaten her numerous times, stalked her, and generally won’t let her lead her own life without him. He’s now followed her here to her sister’s ranch.

I’m going to run the two paragraphs leading up to the change moment. These are the last paragraphs we rewrote.

Vince eased a wad of rope out of his jacket pocket. Let it dangle between his fingers, his eyes turning to slits. With an almost bored sniff, he planted his feet wide apart and began pulling the rope, inch by roughened inch, through his fist. Chin raised, he looked down upon Christy, smug, satisfied, distaste at her weakness curling one corner of his mouth.

“I have some special plans for you, girl.”

Here are the next two paragraphs according to my last rewrite of the scene.

She had to save herself. Do something. Her eyes darted, looking for a weapon.
Straw bale. Horse comb. Saddle soap bottle.


Now, of course, these paragraphs have hardly any character motivation for change other than the first line. The original AS had more than this because the author sensed intuitively that the scene required it. I took it out during our rewrites for sentence rhythm, etc., knowing we’d need to put CM back in, but in a different form. So here’s my rewrite for this section. Remember that Christy is on the ground, cradling her bleeding nose, as Vince plays with the rope.


Christy’s blurry eyes took in the taunt of his movements, the calculation upon his face, and she knew. From that first slap six months ago, her destiny had been set, hardened in the concrete of Vince’s twisted “love.” Her black eyes, the bruised arms hidden in long sleeves, the sore ribs. His spewed and vile words, aimed like poisonous arrows at her soul. Flames licking at her apartment, scattering her life treasures and her spirit to bitter ash. The stalking, the anger and jealousy. Now he’d followed her here.

Acid trickled through Christy’s veins.

She could imagine his focused planning, devoid of all conscience, wrapped in the rationalization of his warped justice. His search for the right length of rope, the stealth of his approach, his steely-eyed lurk as he awaited the perfect moment. Deserving as she was of his punishment, he would deny her a swift death. He’d want her to linger, suffer, to sputter her last breath in a plea for mercy.

Vince snapped the rope taut between his fists and leered.

Blades of pain knifed at Christy’s nose. Blood pooled in her cupped fingers, ran down the back of her throat. She lowered her hand and blinked watery eyes at the violent red in her palm. Shuddering, she wiped the mess on her jeans, smearing scarlet. She stared at the streaks. They screamed to her of all that he’d done—and what was yet to come.

Vince kicked her in the thigh. “Get up.”

Christy drew in a breath, and her gaze began roaming. Around herself, on the ground, near the barn door, looking for something, some makeshift weapon, anything to save herself. She saw a bale of straw. Horse comb. Saddle soap bottle. Boots.


Christy summoned every ounce of strength and resolve left in her. She would have one chance. Only one. Her muscles gathered, tightened, ready to spring. “Okay, Vince.” Whispered words of feigned defeat.

She rose slowly, head down, eyes on her target. Halfway to her feet, she lunged for the shovel. Grabbed its handle with both hands—and swung with all her might.
I’ll stop there.

You may notice numerous things about this passage. You may not agree with everything I’ve done. This is first draft writing, so I’ll probably look at it myself tomorrow and want to make changes. Even so, the concepts I’ve tried to follow would remain the same. One thing might particularly stand out to you. In this rewrite, there’s no sentence that tells of Christy’s decision to “take no more.” Her actual second of choice to save herself is not mentioned. Why in the world did I leave that out?

Tomorrow I shall attempt to explain myself.

Read Part 17


Cara Putman said...

Happy July 5th. I looked through the archives and didn't see anything on backstory other than a mention that it is critical and many authors mess it up.

And I love the way you added so much meaning to her unspoken decision to fight. It added to her motivation by highlighting the history that led to this encounter.

Tina said...

I didn't even notice the lack of a decisive thought until you mentioned it, so it obviously works well the way you wrote it. Her thoughts gradually shift through memory, and we're there with her. We don't need to be told she would take "no more". The physical reaction of her blood burning is hint enough.

Dineen A. Miller said...
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