This post discusses revisions made to Vengeance Will Come, my first fantasy adventure novel (revisions in progress). In the first part of this blog post I described what I felt was a fatal flaw in my story construction, too-frequent point of view swapping. Reading the manuscript anew, I re-read the first scene. Somehow, only on the 101st time I read it, I could see the scene had to go.
I’ll let you read it first, and then I’ll discuss it – what I was trying to do with it, what I liked, and ultimately why it’s no longer contributing to the word count.
What I was trying to do: #1 Surprise the Reader
The first, horribly jarring thing you may have noticed are the references to the two people in the scene, referred to only as ‘the driver’ and ‘the passenger’.
There was a reason for this: I wanted the fact that they were police to be hidden until the very end of the scene. If the reader catches it, it would shock them and re-frame the entire scene in their mind. Two men killing homeless people (and semi-sentient creatures) was bad enough, but then you find out it’s police doing the killing it makes it even worse. It might cause the reader to wonder:
- Why are the police killing the homeless?
- What kind of society is does that?
- Does this happen often, given the policemen are carrying silenced weapons?
- While one officer has a conscience, the other doesn’t seem to be phased by it – or chooses his employment as more important than the lives he is extinguishing.
I say if the reader catches it, it does those things. But what if they read-on so fast that the last few words at the end of the scene don’t ‘click’? In that case I have made it clunky for very little purpose. Worse, what if the reader only reads that much and decides the writing style is terrible, and assumes it’s like that throughout and gives up? The very first text should be a hook, a sales-pitch to grab the reader and tell them it’s worth investing dozens of hours to read. And that scene was just too risky, a huge gamble; too little gain for way too much risk.
(I could have given the characters names to make it less clunky but I don’t like naming characters – even a first name – if the character isn’t going to be around long, especially at the start of a book).
What I was trying to do #2: Set the Scene
The shock of killers being police is that it also describes the environment in which the scene is set. That is added to be the description of the environment:
“derelict grey warehouse” … “Not in our life time. What the war didn’t destroy outright it comatosed: buildings and people alike, empty shells ageing slowly towards death.”
The economy is bad and the place is run down; the people demoralised.
“…a job that we’re very lucky to have. … Let’s just get this done and get out of the rain.”
The disassociation of the driver in uncaring about what they are doing, in justifying it, shows how brutal life is. They need the job, and are willing to do whatever is required. The passenger seems to have reservations (but not enough to make him refuse the order); the driver justifies his actions. The fact that the passenger grimaces at the incoming rain when he’s about to kill someone is a value statement.
In an earlier draft of the scene the homeless man was shot in the head. This added to the brutality of it and makes it clear that they want him dead not injured. This was cut (probably) to reduce the brutality so early-on. Likewise I considered removing the reference to the silencer. Doing so would signify the police aren’t afraid of the populace knowing about their violence. It normalises it. Keeping the silencer, however, also suggests that police have occasion to secretly kill people; like the CIA ‘wet work’.
Also important in setting the scene was the introduction of the alien lifeform, the slime-spitting, fast-moving Dugar. It was supposed to be a clear (and entirely blunt) hint to the reader that we’re talking other-worldly. I wanted the reader to be able to orient themselves quickly.
So why did I cut the scene? Firstly, because of the clunky referencing which sounded amateurish, but second because it only tangentially applies to the story. The entire scene can be replaced by a few words to describe the fact that the area has been sanitized. Likewise the reference to the Dugar can be placed slightly further back in the text without a problem.
With hindsight I deduced that the scene was hurting me far more than helping me…and so it had to go.