Thursday, June 12, 2014

Cutting, part 2

Last time we met I expended some calories on the usefulness of cutting what you have written.  Today I thought I would provide some details on what I mean.

Here is a an opening to a short fiction (approx. 700 words) I've been working on as practice to keep as concise as possible.  It opens:

    It is easy to take a person; they won’t be missed right away. The key is to not break their timing. If they are out for a walk, they may be missed within an hour. Take them when they are going to the store, maybe two hours. A movie or church, three hours, (but really, who goes alone?). My personal favorite is shopping. No one know how long they will be gone, so that if you can take them when they first depart you can have upwards of six hours before someone starts to worry.

Originally the opening was much simpler: "It is easy to take a person."  In the early drafts this was important to me, and later I expounded on "why". In the cutting exercise I removed the why until it was time to reveal that part of the character and in its place set the "how".

Notice I have not written "How", as in "How" to actually take a person. In truth that is the "easy part" from the opening sentence. What I need is an emotional commitment from the reader, and I do this by providing common situations the reader may find themselves in. Everyone, at one time or another, goes to the store alone. When I plant that seed of belief in the mind of the reader, I then spring the trap, forcing the reader to see themselves in the situation.

Nobody sees a white minivan. Nobody.


the door slides open, a swift push of the cattle prod and they fall right in, rolled in plastic and taped shut. I drive off and no one ever sees them again.

Revealing the psychotic behavior in the voice I use, I rely on the reader to envision themselves in the position of the victim, and finding themselves in greater peril as I remove the rules of normal social behavior. This is someone among us, driving a plain white mini-van, watching for an opportunity. I have removed all the pretense and backstory of why. It doesn't need to be there, at least not yet.

From here I build a bit of backstory with only hints of "Why". The reason is two-fold:
  • It cements the psychosis of the voice, allowing the reader an edge of comfort in their belief. (This is then immediately rewarded.)
  • Set the stage for the final reveal.

The reward I mentioned comes in the next part of the story:

     The walls are gray and smell like disinfectant. The people wear white, some with many keys. I smile at all of them, but they don’t like me.

In a perfect world evil is locked away tight. I do not have to use the phrase mental hospital. I also do not have to explain how or why the voice was caught. It doesn't matter. The reader finds a moment of comfort that the evil is now locked away.

So now the voice of the story has shown that he is evil and that he is locked away. I am not expecting the reader to feel at all sorry for him, but I need to give a hint of insight before the end.

     Criminally insane. That’s the phrase I couldn’t remember. So much is a fog now, I shuffle across hard linoleum from one room to the next, my robe hanging open. Most times I don’t care. I like the colors on the quiet TV. I like the little candy pills in the paper cup. The water tastes funny and isn’t that cold. I can smell something decaying, but it is fleeting; vaporous.

I'm about 600 words into the story and thus far the voice has taken people and buried them away:

      I sit at the steel mesh window and watch the trees and sky. So clear and clean. The woods far off remind me of my other life, the cabin and my van, the people and all the holes I dug. So many holes. So many bones. The shovels were well worn.

And here I could end, evil tucked away from society and good prevails. But where is the fun in that? And are you sure you know the difference between good and evil?

I have about 100 words left to change your mind.

Other blog posts by Eric Michalsen
Follow Eric on Twitter @michalsen or catch up on his rantings at his blog.

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