Monday, November 3, 2008

Editing "Lost Boy"

Re-reading my Lost Boy post from last week, it occurs to me that it could be sharpened up a bit. What a great opportunity to work through the editing process! It's a good thing it had so many fixable spots.

This is a quick inventory of the types of things I scrawl on my own drafts. Next time I'll make these changes and, I hope, improve the piece. An exercise to improve my own editing skills and to force me to think through what I'm really trying to say: the story behind the words.

Off we go!


Something is killing the squirrels. [I love this high-impact opening. And the "is killing" gives it present-tense urgency]

I live in a wooded neighborhood [so?], and until recently the trees [redundant with "wooded neighborhood"] were thick with squirrels. One bold grey fellow even gnawed a playing card-sized hole in our cedar siding [good detail] and tried to get up our chimney [who cares? chimney is irrelevant].

But as the year turns the corner and the brilliant leaves of fall turn [used "turn" in this sentence already] grey and crunch [nice image but wrong word. "crunch" sounds too substantial] underfoot, the forest is quiet. No scolding chatter from a swinging branch, no twitching prey for our cats to peer at through the window, lashing their tails.

There's a little creek downhill from our house, and I went to see it [what, the creek? the house? rework.], wading through dead leaves as the sun set on an unseasonably chilly day. Tree skeletons spiked the glowing sky, and at the creek I found knotted tree [used "tree" already] roots overhanging ["overhanging might not be a word. rework.] a thin muddy trickle of water [lose one of these adjectives. why spend flowery description on a little creek? that = imbalance].

Even here, there were no squirrels. But there -- I bent closer. There was something under the bank, tucked into the dirty overhang [2nd use of "overhang."] It looked like part of a doll [creepy = good! immediately we think "dead body"].

I stepped down to the creekbed, snapped a stick off a leaning branch [why leaning?], and retrieved what turned out to be a piece of fabric soaked with something wet and rancid. It smelled like potatoes that have been ["were sealed" seems better here. More distant. And passive voice works here] sealed in plastic and in the dark for too long.

It must have gotten washed there during a flood. Though it hadn't rained in weeks. [like this rhythm]

I took a step back and something crunched like a cracker under my foot. I jumped and looked down [at the same time? rework timing.]. Bones. Tiny, fragile bones like rings of porcelain, a pile of them. Rib cages the size of my hand and long things that looked like multi-jointed fingers or spines, all gleaming white in the creek sand.

I wanted to go back up to the house then. Something moved behind me and I spun. [rework timing. The "I wanted" sentence is the turning point of the whole piece: make it easier to see.]

There was a small raggedy child with wild eyes and leaves in his hair. Her hair? Its hair. It was dressed in what looked like a piece of burlap, and its fingers and lips were crusted black. [good and creepy.]

"Did you?" I pointed to the bones.

"Are you ... are you lost?" [sounds like the kid is saying it. Move up.]

He stared at me, his shoulders moving as he panted. But when his eyes opened [opened wider, I mean] I could see the dirty whites and I knew he wasn't tired, but excited. He opened his mouth as if to yawn, and I saw a red hole with no teeth.

I stepped back. He stepped forward. My ankle rolled on something and I started to fall.

He made a gargling throat-noise [noise in his throat? add "kind of noise" to show narrator confusion, fear?] and sprang [is this really the best spot to end? what about a last image of the kid against the dark sky, or looking up into the muddy cave filled with bones?]

1 comment:

Samantha said...

This is really not what I should be reading when Jesse is gone. Like the edits though!