The Trees Are Screaming

Screaming Titans redwood being viewed by arbor...

Yep, this one looks big enough. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cutting apart a zero draft is a lot like butchering one of those mega-poisonous pufferfish for fugu: you must be careful and you must know what you’re doing, or someone’s going to die.

Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But only slight. Having taken a look at my zero draft, trust me: I could kill with this.

There are poisonous parts in a zero draft. Big ones. They have to be excised with care and diligence and, most of all, a steady hand. No second-guessing. No hesitation. Or you’ll nick the poison sack and let it leak out into everything.

But the problem can be spotting those problem areas. Sometimes they’re obvious, sure, but they’re not always circled like the cellulite on a celebrity’s thighs on the cover of one of those terrible magazines.* Sometimes you have to dig deeper, really root around in the guts of that thing, and find the dirty parts.

Which is why I have this:


Semi-fresh brain squeezings.

That, friends and neighbours, is a printed copy of the zero draft of The Patchwork King.** It’s roughly the size of a phone book. And I mean a real fucking phone book; given the size of the town I live in, that translates to about six local phone books. This looks like a Toronto phone book. As I look at it, I can hear all the trees screaming.

But it had to be done. Editing on screen is something I can do with smaller works, but not for this. I tried. Ended up skimming and skipping too much. I was leaving too much poison in, and that ain’t going to work. So, hence the phone book.

I’m going old-school on this one. I’ve got a pack of red pens all lined up. And fire pit, just in case it doesn’t go well. It’s calling for a blizzard tomorrow, so it might be a good chance to go Donner Party on it. Brutal, maybe. But that’s the way it goes. Sometimes you have to get your hands on something in meatspace. Sometimes you have to drag it out back and beat it with a tire iron until it works or dies.

Get a good look at it now, sitting there all pristine and pretty, wrapped up with rubber bands. The next time you see it, it’s going to be bleeding red ink and infested with post-it flags, dangling add-in notes like partially severed limbs.

It’s going to be a good weekend.

*If the people who publish those ever get a crippling case of honesty, they’ll retitle them things like Feeling Bad About Yourself and Being A Judgemental Voyeuristic Dick.
**Well, most of it. This does not count the 30,000 words I’ve already cut. That’s right: it was bigger.


8 thoughts on “The Trees Are Screaming

  1. 30,000 words is exactly half of my current zero draft. Good thing I’m working on a zero.1 draft where things are taking many more words to develop actual, you know, description and stuff.

    Zero draft was about hammering out words, about putting story to paper. It has gaping holes, derailed plot lines, known fuckups, unknown fuckups, the forgotten ones, the remembered ones.

    If I were to print off it’s glorious unholiness it would be more fun to bandage it up, put it at the end of a shooting range, strap three sticks of dynamite to it, and then proceed to try shooting around said dynamite from five hundred yards back using a .22. Each shot would be a tantalizing anticipation of whether this would be the one shot that would blow the whole thing to smithereens. But zero.1, that thing is going to be amazing in comparison, I’ll only want to burn that one.

    Steph, I must inform you of how wonderful your blog is. I love coming here to spout of things I could never say elsewhere, you are an inspiration…literally. You inspire me to make great, curse-filled analogies where shit just plain hits the fan. Thanks!

    • Aw, thanks, Nathan. You’re a peach. A dynamite-loaded, .22 shooting peach.

      I’d argue that zero drafts have their own power. It’s a mutated, unfinished power, sure, but it’s still there. It’s my creativity in its rawest form. It’s the fallen, still-smoking meteorite that I’m going to pick up, burn my hands on, pick it up again when it’s cooler, take down to the forge, melt down, purify, add to, and eventually hammer into a +9 Sword of Fucking Awesome that I will then drive into someone’s brain. But even though it’s not there yet, you can’t look at that meteorite and tell me it’s not something special.

      Besides, it’s hella fun when you have a final final draft to go back and look at the original. It’s like looking at your friend’s goofy baby pictures.

      • Metaphors and similes must come you easily…+9 Sword of Fucking Awesome, I think I remember one of my AD&D characters having something half as cool as that once.

        And, just to let it be known, I chose the .22 and the extreme distance to make the shots more wild. Somethng more powerful wouldn’t have suited the craziness of the shots enough.

    • The zero draft is the first, roughest draft, usually written in one go, start to finish, no editing, no turning back. As you might expect, it’s got characters that appear out of the ether (or disappear into it), plot lines that go nowhere, shaky settings, and a lack of understanding about the rules of this world, or, for that matter, of physics. But writing it shows me where all that stuff needs to go, which I couldn’t have done without first writing it. Make any sense?

  2. I’m the same way. Can’t do sweeping edits using a computer screen and a keyboard. I just finished the first draft of my own novel and printed out the entire thing. I had to spend $12 on a binder big enough to hold it. I’ve only autopsied the first four chapters, but so far, so good.

    Good luck with yours!

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