Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Revising the manuscript

In a previous post, I mentioned that I tend to revise drastically.  An example, this is the first draft of  first page of Chapter 1 of my mystery novel in progress:

The wiener dog growled at the footsteps on the stairs.  Two men by the sound of them, one wearing taps. “Jesus H. Christ,” I said when they reached the bottom, “you fellers sure are quick.  Agnes Flehardy just left.”
“I don’t know to what you are referring,” the tall one said.  He was all Adam’s apple, elbows and the brash arrogance of youth.
“You’re government men,” I said.
“How so?” said the short, broad one.  He looked the type that went into bars looking for fights. I’d done it myself.
“Florsheims, fedoras, grey flannel and packing heat.  You’re either G-men or gangsters, and there ain’t no reason for gangsters to be sneaking around God’s country.”
“I’m Ivy,” the short one said.  His suit was something from a mail order catalog. “This is Slocum.  We’re with the FBI.” He flashed his identification card.
I glanced at the card. “Sheriff Matthew Harkness at your service. You’ve come regarding the flying saucers,”
“Flying saucers?”  Slocum put his hands in his pockets. Better suit, tailored.  East coast money, I figured.
“I’ve had half a dozen reports of lights in the sky over Grizzly Mountain. Folks think we’re about to be invaded by aliens.”

Not bad, but not what I was seeking.  Here's my next pass:

Blood dripped from the maw of the log grinder. Bits of viscera hung to the blades. “Ollie,” I said, “go back to college so you won’t have to deal with this shit for the rest of your life.”
It wasn’t as if I hated lumber mills. I’d worked in this one after the War, pulling green chain, sorting finished lumber; brutal work, sweltering in summer, freezing in winter; choking on the sawdust that plugged my pores, settled into my clothes; after a shift, all I could smell was the dust.
The dust, the heat and the hard work were tolerable, but I couldn’t stand the noise; the screaming whine of the head saw biting into fresh logs. A scream you heard miles away. Always there, hammering at me, a presence more than a sound, it vibrated down into the soul, pushing up dark voices, pushing me into madness. I still worried about the madness.
The mill was quiet now; just me, a young mill jock named Ollie Binam and some poor sod that had gone through the grinder. Only bits of flesh and chunks of bone remained. Whoever this had been, we’d have to pack him back to the morgue in buckets.
My knees cracked as I stood up. “Run me through how you discovered the body,” I said to Ollie.

Chapter One is preceded by a prologue which I've completed but won't post here. ( A writer has to have his secrets). My first pass spoke to elements of the plot, but the second attempt speaks to the inciting incident, the murder. When I was plotting the book out in my head, I figured that the discovery of the body would be at the end of Chapter 1 or the beginning of Chapter 2, but I  realized that the murder would be the compelling force for Harkness, my protagonist. The lights in the sky and the FBI are important, but since the story is from Harkness' POV, I have to go with what drives him.

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