Friday, July 08, 2005

Editing, Final Day

Thanks to those of you who have left comments about this editing. Glad to hear that it has helped you. Lynette, you mentioned you have a prologue you’d like some critiques on. You might try going over to our discussion board and seeing if you have any takers. Or if you’re a member of ACFW, you can look into joining one of the organization’s critique groups.

As promised yesterday, I’m going to run our AS in its original form and in its most recent edited form. In comparing the two versions, you might want to remind yourself of changes we made according to each of these techniques:

1. Speaker attributes (“he said,” etc.)
2. Sentence rhythm
3. Verb choice
4. Action/reaction sequence
5. Tightness of writing
6. Character Motivation (depth of character response/emotion)


Original version:

In an instant, he spun her whole body around, and her shoulder pummeled into Spirit. The horse panicked and jumped away, ripping the reins out of her hand. Vince’s fist landed on her cheekbone, and she was vaguely aware of the horse bolting out the door before she felt the pain and stumbled.

“Spirit!”Vince was upon her. He grabbed a fistful of her jacket and yanked her to her feet. “It’s time you learned something, Darling.” He stuck his face in hers, his stale cigar breath assaulting her. “I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

She closed her eyes, gasping. If she resisted, he’d make it worse. She managed a feeble, “Vince, please, don’t.”

“You pitiful excuse for a woman.” He hit her again, a swift bash on her left temple. The blow made the room turn black around the edges. But she didn’t lose consciousness.

Vince let her crumple to the floor. “Worthless piece of trash,” he said.

She tried to look up at him. “If you just leave me alone . . . I . . . I promise I’ll never tell a soul what you did. Just let me go. Why won’t you let me go?”

He picked her up by the jacket again and shoved her against a stall door. She groaned as pain shot through her back. He’d pushed her against the metal latch.

“Oh, it’s too late, Christy. I’ve given you more than enough chances.”

“Please. . .”

He backhanded her across the face. She fell to her knees, clutching her nose as warm blood dripped into her fingers.

“I don’t know what I ever saw in you. You’re certainly nothing to look at.”

She glanced up at the caricature of his once handsome face. How could she ever have loved this man?

Vince pulled a wad of rope out of his jacket pocket. “Not even worth the air you breathe.”

That’s when she realized the awful truth. He wasn’t just doing this to frighten her. He intended to kill her, and every ounce of survival instinct she had kicked in. She searched for a weapon. Bale of straw. Horse comb. Bottle of saddle soap. Shovel. She locked onto that. It leaned against the wall by the door. Could she crawl fast enough?

“Get up,” Vince ordered.

Christy started to rise in a slow, defeated way, but the second she got her feet underneath herself, she lunged for the door, and the shovel. Grasping it with both hands, she willed her eyes to focus on Vince, and hurled it at his head.

The shovel met its mark with a revolting thud. Vince’s hands flew to his face, and he moaned as he sagged to the floor. She froze, shocked she’d actually wounded him. What was she doing? She had to get of here! Move!

Christy ran. Into the yard, past the pickups. The house! Get to the house! Lock the door. Maybe she could figure out how to use one of those guns before Vince could break in.

And then she saw the most beautiful creature in the entire world, Spirit, a snowy apparition standing in the middle of the yard, waiting for her. For a split second she hesitated. Should she race for the house or try to mount the gelding when she could barely see straight?

Vince decided for her. He appeared in the barn doorway still holding his head, his eyes ablaze. She wouldn’t make the house.

Adrenaline propelled her to Spirit, and she frantically gathered the reins, struggling to get her foot in the stirrup.

Glance behind. Vince was running toward her.

Clutching Spirit’s mane, she summoned all her strength, pulled herself up, and made it!


Edited Version:

He grabbed Christy’s arm, whipped her around. Her shoulder rammed into Spirit. The horse jerked up his head and jumped away. Reins ripped from her hand.

Vince’s fist crunched into Christy’s cheekbone. Her head bounced sideways, pain exploding through her face. Christy stumbled.

Oh, God, please.

Spirit bolted out the door.

Vince grabbed Christy’s jacket and yanked her close. Rancid cigar breath poured over her. She trembled.

“Guess what. I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” He punched her in the temple.

The blow blackened the room, fuzzed its edges. Dizziness coiled through Christy.

Vince threw her to the floor. "Piece of trash."

The words knifed. How many times had she heard them, had they caused her to grovel at his feet? Much as she was now.

She drew a shaky breath, struggled to raise her head. “Vince, stop. Please.”

“Too late, Christy.” He dragged her to her feet, shoved her against the stall door. The metal latch bit into her back. “No more chances for you.”

He backhanded her face. Pain shot through her nose. Christy cried out. She crumpled to her knees, hands flying to the wound. Blood dripped on her fingers.

“Look at you.” His tone sneered. “So ugly. What did I ever see in you?”

She cradled her nose, straining for air. Hating herself. Hating him. How could she ever have loved this man?

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.”

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.

Thud. The back side smacked Vince in the head. He gasped, staggered sideways, momentarily stunned. The rope slipped from his hands. Christy threw the shovel aside. Move!

She scuttled from the barn, blood dripping and head spinning. Into the yard, past the pickups. Get to the house, lock the door! She’d find a gun, be ready for Vince—


Christy drew up short, heart hammering. The horse stood in the yard, pawing the ground. Almost as if he waited for her. She wavered. Her nose throbbed and dizziness whirled in her brain. Could she mount him in such a state?

Sound from behind. Christy’s gaze jerked back toward the barn.

Vince burst from the doorway, his eyes ablaze. Coming for her.

Christy threw a desperate glance toward the house. She would never make it.

Adrenaline propelled her toward her only chance—Spirit. She stumbled to his side, frantically gathered the reins. Raised a foot of lead, nearly losing her balance. Christy struggled to find the stirrup. Missed it, staggered back. Tried again.

She threw a look over her shoulder. Vince streaked toward her fifteen feet away, his face contorted in rage.

Ten more seconds, and she was as good as dead.

God help me!

With a cry, Christy sought the stirrup. Found it. Her shaking foot slid into it—hard. She clutched the reins and Spirit’s mane like a lifeline. Summoned her strength—and launched herself upon his back.


Final comments as we end our edit? Remember the whole point of this exercise was to show you examples of how I would use the above techniques in writing a scene. Now the hardest work lies with you in figuring out how to make these techniques work in your own voice.

We all owe a very big round of applause and thanks to the author of our AS, who has so graciously allowed us to pick apart her scene day after day. Special, special thanks to you, C.J. You are one special BG.

My, my, our editing is done. Whatever shall we talk about on Monday? Something tells me we won’t run out of ideas. I’m at the ChiLibris retreat now in Denver, and Monday and Tuesday will be on the convention floor for CBA. See y’all Monday, BGs!


D. Gudger said...

It really helps to see them side by side in order to see how the edits worked.

Welcome to Denver, Brandilyn! Hope you enjoy this amazing place and don't melt in our heat streak.

Unknown said...

It was hard for me to keep up as I've been on the road a lot over the past month, but this has helped a lot. BC, do you go over every scene in your WIP with this checklist? If you're looking for a topic, I struggle with sub-texting. Especially when I've got characters talking on the phone. I get into the talking heads trap pretty often.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Brandilyn and C. J., thank you both for such an educational look into revision of an action scene. Really helpful.

Brandilyn, I vote for you giving us an inside look at the CBA convention. What do you do all day, since it's ostensibly for the sellers? Who comes to the signings? (How important are book signings to marketing?)

And it seems we haven't heard about Paige in a loooooonng time. I'd like to know how she's doing.

While I'm throwing out topics, I'm curious about agents. From your perspective now, do you think it is important to have an agent who is a Christian, or is that like saying I should look for a plumber who is a Christian?

Lynette Sowell said...

Have fun at CBA. One year...! I'll get there now that I'm eligible. I'd love to be a fly on the wall. Maybe you can do that for us. Or, um, be a spider, rather. ~~!

I echo what Ron says, wondering if you go over every scene this way? I suppose after a while it becomes instinctive? Same here about the subtexting and talking heads.

I'll miss the blog next week, but I'll catch up on reading eventually. Thanks for posting the scene before, and after. I'm going to print it out to take for some reading/study material on the drive (when I'm not driving).

C.J. Darlington said...

I greatly appreciate the chance to be critiqued by all! If you ever need any other scenes, just let me know. :-)

Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for this editing sequence. So many books TELL how to write better, but very few SHOW the actual process.
This worked for me.
As I looked at my own AS, I felt both depression and elation.
Depression because the errors jumped at me like a 3-D movie. Elation because now I can 1) Recognize the errors and 2)Have a clue how to fix them!

Thanks again, Hope to meet you in Nashville.
A lurker come to light.

Anonymous said...

Poking my head up for lurk status to chime in: I've learned so much in the past weeks! I've been recognizing the tecchniques we've covered in books I've read, but not enough to pick it apart and apply it to my own writing. Thanks, Brandilyn! I know this blog must take a chunk of your time you could use toward your own writing, and it's very much appreciated.


Ditto with Ron and Lynette and the talking heads. I'm there now, wondering if what I'm adding is just padding around the talking heads.

Also, I'm starting to suspect I might have too many characters in my book. Part of the reason I have a some is because they will appear as main characters in the following books in the series. How do you know if you have too many characters, and if you do, how do you know which ones to weed out when they all play a part in the story? My POV is first person.

Camy Tang said...

Thanks so much, Brandilyn. This was absolutely TERRIFIC, to see each technique applied to a real example. Thanks, C.J.!