I didn’t write anything new; however, I did tie off a final draft of the origin scene of Psann (“The Seal Maiden”). Is Seal Tales going to be a story about identity and transformation (literal and not-so literal; transformations life forces upon you and the transformations you take control of yourself)? Well, I won’t write explicitly to that theme, but it’s been a major part of my life so it’s bound to creep in.
So that’s 1 scene out of 21 knocked down. My scenes seem to generally fall into the 2k word range (1.5k is the minimum, 4k is the maximum, so far), so on average that’s 1000 words a day until the Clarion Workshop ends. This particular scene was 2.3k.
It’s also a scene that, due to its importance, has been knocked about quite a bit. Here is the transformation of just the first few paragraphs, from draft to draft (which ones I could fine; I swear this thing has undergone over 15 drafts, just not all snapshotted).
The drafts and their discussion are below the cut.
Draft 1, First Person:
The rising sun glanced over the black and white hulk of Aarluk Inua as he ripped into Storm for the final time, dragging the god down below the surface, disappearing in a cloud of bubbles. Red-marbled waves topped with pink foam spiraled about where the final struggle had occurred, and in the center a deep, black substance bloomed.
I waited to see if the master of orcas would rise again triumphantly, or if perhaps Storm would escape from his belly, whole and shrieking for vengeance. Even for a god, he was up against both an Inua and the results of greedily swallowing sandworms with rocks tucked up inside them. Given the number that Storm had snapped up, I was surprised the god didn’t sink beneath the ways once Aarluk locked his jaws on one claw.
The ocean bubbled again; I held my breath, but this time only Aarluk breached the surface, his bright skin glowing, an enormous flipper waving in my direction before he hit the waters and struck off for the depths of the ocean with a splash of his tail.
Why it didn’t make it: I wanted to write in third-person omniscient at some point down the line, due mostly to the influence of Pride and Prejudice and because this is a story with two main characters: Psann and Kinaktak. I didn’t want one to take over the limelight of the other; nobody was going to become the sideline love interest. This also started the story a little too late; you don’t get a sense of Psann’s world or personality before he strikes down the Master of Storms, his husband. The relationship isn’t even mentioned; it’s in my head, but unfortunately not in the reader’s.
For those who don’t know, inua is the Inuit concept of the life essence of all living things, from plants to animals to people. Aarluk is the killer whale; so Aarluk Inua is the name I made up for the personification of the spirit of all orcas. I dropped this naming conceit to switch to the concept of masters of certain domains—for instance, Nanook is the master of bears. It’s safer ground for me until I get a good book on Inuit mythology. (If anyone has a recommendation of a good one, I would love it.)
Draft 2 and 3 are similar enough to draft 1 that I won’t include it.
Draft 4, omniscient third-person:
The two human-shaped creatures sat in their nest, perched against the tallest cliffside in the Land of Birds, one delicately eating a sole haddock in shivering bites, the other greedily gulping down cod after cod. They were, respectively, the Seal Maiden and the Lord of Storm.
The Seal Maiden looked like a beautiful, starving Inuit woman, with sharp cheekbones, unkempt dark hair dropping across emaciated shoulders, and the strangely expressive black eyes of the seals. The Maiden looked out across the sea, heart torn with memories of swimming amongst the schools of fish, diving with the People into the twilight depths of the sea, hunting and eating as much fish as would fill the Maiden’s stomach; but the Maiden had been taken from the People by the Lord of Storm to be his wife.
For his part, the Lord of Storm looked like a handsome Inuit man in his prime, face full and jaw strong, his hair smooth and shining, and the dark sharp eyes of a sea bird twinkled in his face. His heart was not torn; rather, he was recalling, with the kind of memory that bleeds into a hallucination of the present, his first wife, and how well he had selected his new wife to look just like her. When he pulled the Seal Maiden from the sea, he had chanted a spell and skinned her alive to reveal his wife beneath the fur and blubber.
Why it didn’t make it: The story started in the wrong place. There wasn’t a good first line, and this is all exposition that I need to know but that the reader should only learn little by little, and only the salient-to-the-story bits.
Now we have a time skip.
The Seal Maiden did not consider himself a woman.
He still had the look of one; unkempt black hair flowed down his back, framed his brown face. The blue tattoos of maidenhood dotted his forehead and traced chin to neck in delicate lines. Though his husband, the Master of Storms, often commented on his wife’s beauty, every compliment splintered against the Seal Maiden’s soul like the shards of an ice storm, even in the generous warmth of the Land of Birds, where winter is unknown.
One day, the Master of Storms stood at the edge of the eyrie they shared, glaring up at the sky where rain-laden clouds churned. He brought his hands upwards, almost touching them, for the nest perched on the tallest cliff bordering Morning Gull Bay, and swept them downwards.
I have to thank Cori Rozentale for helping me discover the best first line, which was hidden about halfway through the 4k scene. I also added more present-action to show, rather than tell, about the power of the Master of Storms. And I need to thank the critters at the SFF Online Writing Workshop for feedback about earlier drafts that helped along similar lines.
Draft 13 or suchlike:
The Seal Maiden did not consider himself a woman.
He still had the look of one; unkempt black hair flowed down his smooth back, framed his brown soft-curved face, obscured his full breasts that strained against a sealskin shirt. The blue tattoos of maidenhood dotted his forehead and traced chin to neck in delicate lines like an old-world map. Though his husband, the Master of Storms, often commented on his wife’s beauty, every compliment splintered against the Seal Maiden’s soul like the shards of an ice storm, even in the generous warmth of the Land of Birds, where winter is unknown.
One day, the Master of Storms stood at the edge of the eyrie they shared, glaring up at the sky where rain-laden clouds churned, the breeze blowing his gray feathered coat. He brought his hands upwards, almost touching the heavy mist, for the nest perched on the tallest cliff bordering Morning Gull Bay. He swept his downwards, and the sky was skinned asunder. Sunlight spilled through like golden blood, pooling in a dance of silver on the bay waters that expanded as the clouds parted like so much meat and blubber.
Polished with more description to fill out the world, and yet hopefully not slow things down—to make description part of the action, rather than just filler. I don’t know if I exactly succeeded, since I’m way too close to the text at the moment to judge that fairly—I just need beta readers to tell me “no don’t do eeeet” and such. I can spot some non-clarities in the text right now, so sigh.
And there you have it. The evolution of a piece of text over a whole lotta drafts, and I really need to let it go for the time being. But I’m prouder of the current result, even though I feel it’s not ready for prime time.
Tomorrow: refining a scene that occurs quite a bit later down in the timeline. Actually, it’s more like two scenes, but they’re dual in nature so I’m counting them as 1. Haha. It’s actually an exercise from Cat Rambo’s Writing Workshop. I might post them up in their full glory or I might not. It’s a fairly happy couple of scenes. Kind of. Sort of. Um.
You might see. Or at least you’ll see an excerpt of it.
One thought on “Clarion Write-a-Thon 2012: Day 1”
Be sure you’ve saved all the necessary exposition from the first draft – you’ll figure out the right places to drop bits of it into the rest of the story. I rarely truly discard something – my brain reasons that if it created the piece, it will be necessary somewhere, sometime in the future. Then I find myself digging – where did I leave that bit, darn it? – until it comes up for air again. Now I just move them below the line, or print them out and mark the printout if I know where the pieces might be considered again.
You had a reason for writing them, but your original organization wasn’t complete yet. Honor that.
Happy writing – good start.
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