One thing I’ve learned since I started writing at age twelve is that first drafts aren’t fairytales. It might be love at first sight. In fact, I commonly suffer from a first draft honeymoon stage of about 24 hours. But then I return to the scene and shriek, “Sweet baby Jesus, what monster have I created?” (ala Frankenstein).
That’s when I flee to the marital counselors of writing (the Erec and Enides, if you will). I strap on my armor and go to war. Though it may hurt me to cut out this over the top detail or that wayward comma, I press on knowing that someday, someday I’ll have a scene I need not wince over.
To prove this point, I submit a scene I’ve been working on all semester. It includes a dagger, a baddie, mythology and twue wove. You know you want to read on.
Things you need to know:
Velimir is a prince. He and Melle have a thing.
Piran is a fair folk fellow, i.e. faerie. He has a thing for Melle.
Melle is unblessed, i.e. untouched by magic.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the first draft saved. So here’s my second draft, which is still… pretty rough.
Piran lowered the blade toward Velimir.
“I will tell you,” Melle said hurriedly. She had no idea what he was talking about, but she hoped it wasn’t such a lie that he would be able to notice. Trying to think, she took a small step back toward the table. She almost stumbled, and had to lean on it to keep her balance. “But surely that’s not how you plan to ask for my hand in marriage?” she asked, striving for a teasing tone. It sounded false even in her own ears. “I didn’t know you wanted to marry me at all. I’ll have to give that more thought.”
“Think all you like, but your friend will be dead in a moment,” Piran said.
The image of Morvana with her magic goblet sprang into Melle’s head suddenly. She had asked for memories to words—almost the reverse of what Melle had seen in Piran’s mirror.
Melle wasn’t sure if that magic had anything to do with true names. Yet it had not been scrying. And Piran said he lacked the last memory. Melle had not shown Morvana her memory for—what was it—love?
That was the only time she willingly gave up something to a faerie, in magic she did not understand. Hoping that she was right, she wound a finger around her hair and yanked a few strands free. “Here,” she said, holding them out. “I do not know how to give you my true name, but perhaps you can see it.”
I was okay with that. But as revision after revision went by, I realized Melle wasn’t being as strong a character in this scene as she is in the novel. This is partially because this scene shows the lowest Melle falls in the novel. But since I’m hoping to use the piece as my portfolio for applications, I figured she needed more fight.
A lot of other things went into this revision, too. I just revised it again, which means I’m in the honeymoon period and probably shouldn’t be posting it, but oh well. Also I’ve included more of the scene to give some context.
Latest Draft (estimating that it’s draft 8):
“He can stand,” Piran told the other fair folk. “Leave him.” They bowed and retreated. Velimir stood, slouched, as a man sleeping on his feet. Piran began to turn toward Melle.
Suddenly Velimir sprang forward, grabbing Piran by the arm. “Your dungeon rats send thanks for the meal,” he said, smiling.
Piran reacted so quickly Melle could barely see what happened. Velimir lurched, falling, and Piran twisted out of his grip. Velimir’s head hit the ground, and Piran made a motion as he lay stunned. Thick ice coated over Velimir’s hands, trapping him.
Rising, Piran brushed the flakes of snow off his tunic. He turned to Melle. “This works just as well.” He drew a long, jagged knife from the scabbard at his side. A white-blue tint ran along the edges of the blade. “You have a choice,” he said to Melle. “I do not have your full true name yet. Give me the memory, and I won’t kill him. I will imprison him in this realm—there is no way around that—but I won’t kill him.”
Melle stared. The images of all she had just seen clouded her mind. “True name?”
“Don’t do it, Melle—he means to marry you,” Velimir said.
Piran lowered the blade toward Velimir.
“Hold a moment—I need to think,” Melle said, holding out her hand.
“Think all you like, but your friend will be dead in a moment,” Piran said. His expression showed no malice—just deadly seriousness that made Melle more frightened than she might have been if he had been shouting threats.
“You misunderstood—I will tell you,” Melle said hurriedly. “I just don’t know how.” She took a small step back toward the table, not daring to turn her back on them. When Morvana had taken the other parts of her name, she had used three hairs and a magic goblet. She had asked for memories to words—the reverse of what Melle had seen in Piran’s mirror. Melle had not shown Morvana her memory for—what was it—love?
“But surely that’s not how you plan to ask for my hand in marriage?” Melle continued, striving for a teasing tone as she felt behind her back for any kind of weapon on the table. A smile began in the corner of his mouth. He did not seem to hear the false ring to her words. “I didn’t know you wanted to marry me at all.”
“Will you give your name?” Piran asked.
Hoping to lure Piran away from Velimir and buy time, Melle wound a finger around her hair and yanked a few strands free. She thought about his memories—loyalty, power, control—trying to call him to her as he had earlier. A small tugging began in her gut. “Here,” she said, holding them out. “I do not know how to give you my true name, but perhaps you can see it.”
“Don’t!” shouted Velimir.
“You learn fast,” Piran said sheathing his dagger and walking toward her. As he drew near, she pulled her hand back again.
“This is for his life,” Melle said. “But it is not an agreement to marry you.” Remembering to keep her advantage, she added, “Not yet, anyway.”
“Your true name is a marriage,” Piran said. He placed his hands on the table, hemming her in on both sides, and she had to press into the icy edge to keep from touching him. Being unblessed, she had grown up with a distance between her and everyone else, and his closeness filled her with a panic that she could barely suppress. She had never imagined a proposal, much less a forced marriage—no one would want to marry her in the human realm—and the ridiculousness, the impossibility of being married to a fair lord, made an insane laugh start at the back of her throat.
“Why would you even want to marry me?” Melle asked. She fixed her eyes on the second silver button below his throat. It had the imprint of a knotted snowflake. “It’s obvious you could trap me here.”
“I could,” he answered. “But the magic I would use would kill you. Magic and the unblessed… It is an unpleasant pairing.” His hand closed over hers, the one that had her hair in it. “You would not last a blink of time as yourself. But bound to me, an exchange of souls? You would remain an eternity.”
“But why me?” Melle asked, darting a look up at him.
The fingers curled around her heart. Suddenly Melle’s vision swam and she saw herself as he would have her: Seated on a throne at his side, regal and cold, untouchable. No more brats warding her off. A world where her unblessedness made her a jewel, not a disgrace.
Melle blinked hard as Piran’s face came into focus again. He smiled. “You still have no idea how significant you are, do you?”
Unsettled, Melle dropped her gaze. She could see Velimir behind Piran, straining against his bonds so that he could lean into her line of vision. A bright red streak of blood trickled down his temple. He mouthed, “No, Melle. Please.”
Melle’s fingers brushed against something behind her. She closed her hand around Piran’s goblet of wine.
DUN DUN DUN.
Moral: Drafts are awesome and rewriting is your friend.