Writer in Motion: Week Two

The self-edited draft

There might just be a beginning, middle, and end here…

Last week I wrote and posted my Franken-draft of “Rainey’s Painting” (working title). This week our Writer in Motion assignment was to self edit that rough draft. I did this in two sittings.

The first one was with my beloved Philly Wrimos at a #NaNoWriMo write-in. And no way was I going to work directly IN the Franken-draft. First, I jotted down three or four short bullet points for the main plot actions in the story. Then I spent a few NaNo writing sprints rewriting my story from scratch (about 75 minutes), but pulling language from the Franken-draft if I wanted to. I ended up with a draft of around 1,400 words and it still had a few problematic gaps, noted with brackets like “[Rainey emotional reaction, inner monologue].” But having something with more shape felt much better than the Franken-draft.

I thought I would do several more passes, but life got in the way, so I ended up doing just one, followed by a quick proofread. I’ll break it down more in a moment, but for now let’s get to that draft.

Rainey’s Painting: Draft 3, Week Two

Amadeus, a fluffy orange cat, nestled into a blanket on the airship’s deck, his tiny nostrils flaring in the breeze, the perfect subject for Rainey’s cloud portrait.

Rainey’s parents’ airship wasn’t outfitted for cloud painting, and without the low hanging perch on the bottom of the ship, she’d had to improvise. She imagined herself a famous cloud painter, flowing through the sky. Diving from her perch into the depths below the ship, she would steer her way back with her bungee, braking with a beautiful swath of red nylon, both connecting her to the perch.

Rainey ran as fast as she could toward the deck railing, swinging her broomstick out into the sky over the railing, an orange plume ejecting from the wand strapped to the end. Just as she leaned out, the bungee girding her waist to the ship’s door snapped her back, and she swung the broomstick in an arc as she twirled backward, trailing orange in the air behind her.

She danced until her portrait of Amadeus was complete, the orange cloud-cat hovering in the sky near the ship, but dissipating far faster than Rainey expected. Still, being a cloud painter beat out her summer internship on the airship any day. Of course, her mother couldn’t understand.

“I’d think your friends would envy your travels through the Undersphere for a season. None of them will have such tales of exotic ports and sights.”

Jaime wouldn’t, after a summer sweating in his father’s forge. Katria’s fingers would be raw by summer’s end after ribbing corsets in her family’s shop. Still, the airship at the heart of her parents’ import-export business was a boredom factory. Until cloud painting.

Her father poked his head out onto the lower deck. “Rainey! Bring the cat in. We’ve all been ordered to land. Visibility is too low for us all to hover up here safely.”

“But it’s a beautiful day –” Rainey started, cut off by her father’s nod to the sky behind her. Orange. Orange fog as far as the eye could see.

Rainey scrambled inside with Amadeus. If anyone found out she had done this, she’d be put off the ship. Her mother would have to escort her back to the Oversphere by land. Her father would have to hire a crew to replace them or bring back fewer wares to sell during the year.

#

On the ground, throngs of people crowded around a towering wooden stage that overlooked the seaport. Tied to a chair in the middle was a cloud painter. Rainey recognized the aerodynamic red bodysuit, the swath of nylon for diving gathered up into a side cape, short hair peeking from behind her ears.

The Port Steward strode tall onto the stage like a bear with purpose. “Cardinal Sky willfully discharged her wand to create a smokescreen forcing the ships to land,” his voice boomed, “She must stand trial for her multiple crimes.”

“Multiple crimes?” Rainey whispered up to her father.

“With the sky shrouded in orange smoke, the city is vulnerable to attack. The smoke could be part of a bigger plan. And calling up the Land Guard meant shutting down the market, so no one can trade today,” her father said, not taking his eyes off the stage. Her mother squeezed her hand.

Rainey shuddered. The multiple crimes were hers, not Cardinal Sky’s. But if she came forward, it would be worse than being put off the ship. She might not be allowed to go home. Even if she were, Jaime and Katria would be too embarrassed to talk to her. No way would she be able to intern in the forge or the corset shop. Without trade experience, Rainey couldn’t return to sixth grade. She was a disgrace.

“What’s going to happen to her?” Rainey whispered. A look from Mother to Father, the slow shake of her other’s head. Her father’s silence.

“Wait!” Rainey yelped. But her voice was lost in the din of the crowd.

The Port Steward loomed over Cardinal Sky. “We now convict you of treason and sentence you—”

Rainey raised her wand into the air and squeezed. Orange pigment streamed high into the air above the crowd. “Let me through!” she shouted, waving the fountain of orange.

The crowd scattered, and Rainey made her way to the stage, her parents hurrying after, calling her name. She ran up the steps, winded, tossing the wand at the Port Steward’s feet.

“That fell on my parents’ airship yesterday,” she gasped. When the wand had clattered onto the deck, Rainey had felt her whole fortune change, her summer ahead going from gray to rainbow. How wrong she had been. The wand must have belonged to Cardinal Sky. Rainey had only wanted a more exciting path than an airship assistant. She never wanted to see Cardinal Sky punished.

#

Rainey felt the crowd’s stares, her stomach full of stones as she waited with Cardinal Sky while the Port Steward took her parents aside for a hushed conversation. After what seemed like forever, they faced the crowd.

“Through their carelessness and refusal to report a mistake, each put the city in danger today. Neither Cardinal Sky nor Rainey Cadence may be allowed to leave the city without atoning for their mistakes.”

Standing next to Cardinal, Rainey couldn’t see her face. But she could feel Cardinal’s fear as her own.

“Cardinal Sky is suspended for one month. She will review our code of conduct so she will take appropriate action should she lose another wand. She will also work in the market for free to make up for today’s lost trade.”

Cardinal exhaled. Rainey froze. So she would be the one they imprisoned.

“Rainey Cadence will serve as Cardinal Sky’s page for the month. She will return to her parents’ airship knowing how to conduct herself in the presence of cloud painters for the rest of their trip.”

The Breakdown

What I was going for this time…

When I wrote the draft above, I wanted to achieve three goals in comparison to the long rewrite I was working from:

1. CUT AT LEAST 417 WORDS.

More than a snip…

2. IMPROVE THE PACING. BY, LIKE, A LOT.

Spend the right amount of time doing the right story things.

3. FILL IN HOLES I HAD NOTED IN THE DRAFT. (ALL WERE PLACES WHERE CHARACTER REACTION WAS NEEDED).

Plug story potholes.

My process on this pass

I printed the long rewrite from the NaNo write-in and identified any turning points. The hook is in the first sentence. Painting the portrait of the cat is the inciting incident. The first plot point is when the whole sky is orange. The midpoint is when Rainey fires the wand above the crowd. In the long rewrite, the second plot point was Rainey getting grounded (cut). And the denouement was Rainey getting lectured and told she’d be staying as Cardinal’s page.

I looked at how long those sections were. For a 1K story I should roughly have four acts of 250 words each (using Larry Brooks’ “Story Engineering” framework). But those four acts were 485, 429, 341, and 162 words, respectively.

I did another rewrite to get to the draft above BUT this time I pulled heavily from the longer version. I could have worked directly in the longer version but I wanted to rewrite certain sentences to make them shorter and that was easier from a blank page. I knew I had to cut a lot from the first half.

Halfway through, the early cuts I had made gave me more room to put character reactions in. The four acts are not equal length, but they are much closer now.

AAAAAAAnnnnnd…that really doesn’t feel like an ending. But too bad, so sad. I’ll have to fix that next time.

What I didn’t get to do this time

Certain craft elements tend to come a lot later in the drafting process for me:

  1. Richer descriptions
  2. Character emotions/physicality
  3. Imagery
  4. Stronger opening/closing

Why I’m glad I didn’t get to those things

Normally on the self-editing pass I would have been trying to do a little bit of all the things listed above all at once. Because of the way Writer In Motion is structured, knowing that I definitely have to do two more passes took a little pressure off and I think I enjoyed this editing pass more and had a much lower chance of getting frustrated or overwhelmed.

Plus, my next revision will be based on feedback from two critique partners who are going to read this version. What if they have ideas about better sequence, or something else that’s major? If I end up reworking this whole thing, I’ll be glad that I held off on trying to force these things I listed above.

Until next week…

P.J. Powell

2 Comments

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