I had an Aha! moment the other day.
I don’t often get things, but now and then, a huge spotlight manages to pierce the darkness and I see the light.
In may only be for a moment, but that’s all I need before I crawl back under my rock and ruminate the clear idea tattooed upon my brain.
I read the sixth piece of writing advice in the Writer’s Digest article titled 25 Ways to Improve Your Writing in 30 Minutes a Day. Here it is:
Much of screenwriter William Goldman’s wonderful Adventures in the Screen Trade can be applied to other types of writing. Goldman advises getting into each scene as late as possible, and out of it as early as possible. Faulty pacing in almost any work can be corrected with this advice.
There’s no need to begin scenes by laboriously explaining how characters arrived there, or to open an article or essay with excessive setup or introduction. If you find you’ve done this, chances are a more interesting way to begin follows just after what you’ve written. Similarly, many writers put an empty paragraph at the end of a scene or section. When revising my novels, I experiment by cutting the first and last paragraph of each scene. Suddenly, a sequence that dragged can become speedy. Arrive late in a scene and leave early. The reader will fill the gaps.
Mr. Morrell’s advice isn’t really all the new to me, but I read it at the perfect time. I had decided to get rid of my prologue. However, I now see my pseudo-prologue can be a great prologue if I do exactly what Morrell suggests. Instead of starting at the washing basin with Tita exclaiming at how big Lorena’s back is getting, I need to start with the Doctor poking her growing twin and saying,
Kill her, Tita. The growth will continue unchecked until it deforms the girl so much she will be useless. Tell Don Trujillo my advice is to kill her while she is still small.
There’s no reason for me to go through the motions of showing Lorena washing clothes and not being able to do it because of the pain from the growth on her back. All that really needs to be said, what really matters, is that they think she should be disposed of, because, as a slave, she’s not useful anymore. Anything before that is just “throat clearing”.
Likewise with the end. I don’t need to show her meandering through the country-side, wondering what she is going to do when her twin tries to emerge from her back. All we need to know is that she jumps over the cliff like this:
She stood up, clutching at her side as a spasm rocked her body. Wobbling to the edge of the precipice, she gazed down at the dim valley floor. The waterfall she had climbed yesterday bounced off jagged granite outcrops.
Whatever you do, always do it right. Not even worth doing, if you can’t do it right.
Wasn’t that what her father used to always say to her? She nodded. This was a good place to die.
She took several steps back, gauged the distance as too short, and moved further back into the scrubby forest. Once satisfied she could gain enough speed to leap far enough to avoid bouncing off the cliff face as the water did, she ran.
Stumbling, almost falling flat on her face, she adjusted her gait for the weight of her warped back. Finding her stride; her legs pumped, elbows jabbed, bare feet spat loose dirt out behind her.
Lorena’s scream echoed off the canyon walls as she leapt into oblivion. For two glorious seconds, she hung weightless in the air and the sun honored her courage by cresting the far side of the valley.
She flung her arms wide. Air whistled by, tugging at her pants. She squeezed her eyes shut and waited as the thin, brittle skin on her back ripped and tore away.
At your birth, sister, may the Lord have mercy on your soul…
Lorena’s body jerked to a halt, forcing the air out of her lungs. Her eyes snapped opened and she stared at the valley floor, still hundreds of feet below. Despite her sister threatening to pull Lorena’s spine out of her body, she smiled at the world, unable to comprehend why or how God would spare her life.
Sunlight glinted off a stream below her. A sparrow flew past, up and to her left. Her gaze followed its path and she saw her wings.
Or something like that. I think there’s still a lot there I can cut, but I’ll leave that for another day.