Crafting A Compelling Story – The Next Chapter of An Angel On Her Shoulder

We are explaining various elements of story craft using a new, unreleased manuscript of mine. YOUR input will help shape the final product. View the final version and the original side by side in different tabs, noting where we added and where we trimmed. At the end you’ll get my comments and analysis, learning my process as we go and providing YOUR valuable insights along the way.

I told you the original draft of chapter two was 5000 words, so I cut it in half – and made it two chapters (hence, chapter 2 and chapter 2B).

Here we see what was building where we left off – and get another nice thrill.

(To start at chapter 1, click HERE)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.


cover
not the final book cover

An Angel On Her Shoulder, Chapter 2B (“Final” Version)

There had been a recent rain, so Jimmy said we might find some good stuff—fossils or whatever—among the rocks in the creek bed. The three-inch-long, cone-shaped pieces we collected each summer forever were just worthless horned coral or petrified squids, but we didn’t know that then. We were certain each one was a tooth from a massive Tyrannosaurus Rex, and tried to fill a shoe box with them.

Two other small creeks joined ours near the park by our house, so it wasn’t unusual for things to just kind of appear there. Tributaries in southeast Indiana were prone to flash floods, and anything we left in our creek would be gone the next day if it rained overnight, swept straight into the Whitewater River. That was a harsh lesson to learn with a new G. I. Joe Jeep or the scale model aircraft carrier we spent weeks building and painting. Even the smallest rain at our house might have been a big storm upstream, causing our little puddle of a creek to become a raging monster, gushing south to the Whitewater and then into the Ohio River, right down the Mississippi and ending in the Gulf of Mexico.

A rock dam we’d spend all day creating could be gone the next day without a trace if it sprinkled that night. And we just knew some kids with a net in New Orleans were snagging our all best toys as they floated by on the way to Cuba.

Sometimes a summer rain would wash a tree off the hillside. Other times, all sorts of strange rocks and fossil treasures might appear. Beds of blue clay on the creek bottom would be exposed by one spring shower, then buried forever by the next.

It was a minor adventure every day, going to our creek, and we played in it as often as we could—nearly every day in summer. We never knew what it would show us. At the north end was a deep green pool where a stone bridge used to be. At the south end, our neighborhood park. On lazy fall days, we’d meander among with the puddles of tadpoles and minnows to the grassy triangle where the three creeks converged.

At the park, we’d assume the appearance of an old washing machine was a deposit from a flash flood that somehow brought it. We wouldn’t have thought that an unscrupulous owner had illegally dumped it there. Not until an older kid told us the real deal.

It wasn’t a standard park by any measure. It was a long, odd shaped triangle, with some rusty old swings up the hill at the street entrance, and a large flat area behind them that ended where the three creeks came together. The tip of the triangle disappeared into a wooded hill we would sled ride on in winter, and across the creek in the other direction were the railroad tracks.

There were nicer parks nearby, so parents never took their kids to this one. That made it ideal for juvenile delinquents and teenagers looking for a place to smoke or drink. There were “Indian caves” in the side of the steep hill past the first ridge, but when we went to look at them, they just seemed to be big holes that somebody had dug into the soft dirt. On a dare, I crawled in one about five feet. The back wall lay another five feet or so beyond me, but the cave was cramped and smelled musty, like if you took a deep breath you’d get mold spores growing in your lungs and die—so I got out. Beer cans and nudie magazines littered the two or three holes that dotted the side of the big dirt slope. Supposedly, a dead body had been found in one once, but that was probably just a story the older kids told us to keep us away from their party spot.

It wasn’t a big surprise when we rode our bikes down to the park and found an old abandoned car there. To us kids, we just figured somebody got tired of having a junker like that around, and dropped it off at the park like the old washing machine.

The very sight of it made me forget all about the tough kids who kept watching us from up on the hill.

The old car was right there in plain sight, way in the back of the park, where the creeks came through. The antennae was gone, and the windows all smashed out. We propped our bikes against the maple tree and had a look inside. Bits of green windshield covered the seats. Outside, the finish was splattered with dirt from where somebody had been using it for mud ball practice. It had dents everywhere, probably from rocks, and the parts that weren’t covered in mud were spray painted with graffiti—dirty words, and stick figures with boobs—probably by the punks watching from the hilltop.

I don’t know how long it had been there; we hadn’t gone down to the park in a while. There were no headlights or tail lights anymore. The driver’s side door was stuck open like it had been bent too far, and the trunk lid was missing. It was just a rundown, rusty old piece of crap that somebody had dumped in the back of our park.

And it was perfect.

We didn’t have a barker, but now we had our very own smash car.

I glanced around for anything that could be used like a sledgehammer on it, to bash it like the one at the church festival. There would be fallen branches under the trees and large rocks down by the creek. I started searching.

Jimmy checked the car over to see if there were any interesting parts left that we could take home. The passenger side mirror was still intact. The ball hinge holding the mirror to the door just needed some leverage to pop it off. With both hands on the mirror and a foot against the side panel, Jimmy dropped all his weight downward and grunted. After a few attempts, the mirror broke free—and dropped Jimmy on his butt with a thud.

He stood up, dusting off the back of his pants and acting like it didn’t hurt, but it had to. The ground was pretty rocky where the car sat. After a minute, he started looking inside at what kind of dashboard items he might be able to pry off.

After a few knobs and a pen had been procured, Jimmy exited the vehicle and turned his attention to the car’s hood. It was stuck shut. Meanwhile, I had found a decent sized limb to put some dents in the roof. I climbed up the back of the car and stood, raising the limb over my head. I brought it down with all my might, the way I’d seen the men do with the smash car.

The tree limb bounced off the roof and almost took me with it.

Jimmy laughed as I rubbed bits of bark out of the palms of my stinging hands. We needed something heavier.

There were bigger limbs under the trees, but Jimmy went for a rock. Kicking over a few baseball sized stones, he searched until he spied a large, flat mini-boulder the size of a dinner plate. It was about three inches thick, so it was ideal—any smaller and it wouldn’t do much damage, but any larger and he probably couldn’t pick it up. I scavenged under the trees to find a thicker limb, anxious to get my shots in.

We were having a blast, beating the crap out of our own private smash car, just like at the festival. We wore ourselves out on that thing.

Over my shoulder came a car noise, so I turned to see what it was. We had seen a city maintenance worker on a converted golf cart vehicle once, but this was louder and faster. In the distance, a dark sedan sped down the dirt path, bouncing along as it went and kicking up a trail of dust. That was unusual. People never drove back here. On occasion, a cop might roll through the upper area by the swings, but that was only about once a summer. And cops don’t drive fast in a park.

As the sedan got close, the punks on the hill disappeared. Then I looked back at the car. It was speeding up the dirt bike path, and came to a sudden, noisy stop. A heavy, middle aged man scrambled out, eyeing the abandoned car.

“God damn it.” His face was bright red. That really got my attention.

I was under a tree looking around for a bigger stick, but Jimmy was banging on the car’s fender with his massive rock.

The man glared at Jimmy. “Hey!”

We both froze.

The stranger ran towards Jimmy, but it was loose, rocky ground. He slipped on the shifting rocks and nearly fell. As his eyes took in the dents and graffiti all over the abandoned car, his jaw dropped. “God damn it!” Stopping for a moment, he grew redder.

I had an uneasy feeling rising up in my stomach. Something seemed wrong with this man.

“Son of a bitch,” he groaned, walking around the car. “Son of a bitch!”

I didn’t know why he was so upset, but it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

Jimmy set down the big rock and backed away. The man appeared borderline unstable, red-faced and sweating. He leaned on the car door and peered inside at the broken glass. Then he reached in and pulled out a floor mat. It was like he was in a momentary daze.

Raising the mat over his head, he flung it to the ground. “God damn it!”

He turned his gaze to me. I was standing there with a tree limb in my hand. The stranger’s  eyes narrowed. They were visibly bloodshot. My stomach tightened.

“I know you.” He growled, pointing at me. “You’re the doctor’s boy.”

My heart jumped in my chest. He knew me.

I nodded, my breath coming in short, shallow gasps. I had no idea what to do. Lots of people around town knew me through my dad, but this… this was different. A twinge of fear went down my spine.

The stranger eyed Jimmy. “You god damned-” He took a few steps in Jimmy’s direction, then stopped again and looked at the fender Jimmy had been pounding on. It was pretty dented up and a lot of paint had been knocked off.

The man shouted again, a loud, guttural groan. Another shiver went through my gut.

“You!” He yelled at Jimmy. “Come here!”

I swallowed hard. Don’t move, Jim.

Jimmy didn’t budge. I found myself walking out of the woods toward the scene. The man spun towards me.

“I know you’re the doctor’s boy.” He wiped the sweat from his brow with his thick forearm, wagging a stubby finger at me. “I know it.” Then he turned back to Jimmy. “Who are you?”

My heart was slamming around so hard I could feel it in my throat. I held my breath. None of this made any sense.

We didn’t speak. I was too terrified. There didn’t seem to be any answer that was going to calm him down, and he looked ready to explode. Anything we said or did might set him off.

My mind raced, wondering what he would do to us. We were completely outmatched.

“Doctor’s kid.” His red eyes narrowed, making the terrible feeling in my stomach surge. “Rich kid!” He spat, pointing at the car. “I don’t have money like your daddy! This is all I’ve got!”

He slurred his words a little. That scared me more. I knew people had less control when they were drinking. I needed a plan, but I couldn’t think. Every time I thought about running, the man looked at me like he knew what I was thinking. So I stood there, paralyzed.

And he stood there, red faced and sweating, staring at me. Rage seemed to be boiling up inside him.

I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t think. I just stood there with my mouth open, my mind a complete blank. Jimmy inched his way back from the car, never taking his eyes off the stranger.

“You son of a bitches, don’t you move.” The man’s face turned to a frown as he stared at the smashed vehicle.

Then it dawned on me. This was his car. Somebody had stolen it and dumped it here in the park.

Lightning shot through my stomach and down to my toes, making me want to vomit. He thought we stole his car.

Jimmy must have already figured that out.

Somebody had stolen this man’s car, and now he thought he had found it—and the kids who had stolen it. And he meant to get some justice. Far from the road, in the back of the park, nobody would see.

Sweat dripped from his chin. “God damn it!” He kicked at the car. His car. It was an act of anger and futility.

I didn’t even breathe. I couldn’t. The only thing louder than the raging lunatic in front of me was my pulse throbbing in my ears. I absently wiped my sweating palms on my shorts.

Jimmy never said a word. He just silently made his way to me. Together we waited to see if we could—or should—make a run for it. Kids didn’t disobey adults. We couldn’t leave our bikes anyway, and trying to run over and grab them would give the man enough time to catch us. The fact that he hadn’t laid a hand on us yet was good; maybe he wouldn’t. But I didn’t believe that, and the look on Jimmy’s face said he didn’t, either. We would stand there like the man said to, like the good boys we were.

For now, the man just kept us in Hell, yelling at the car and then at us, while he seemed to be working out tried what punishment to administer.

Then his eyes got big—too big. The whites showed and a sickening smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, sending a shot of fear straight through me. My ears were ringing and I felt sick to my stomach. A hazy red dot formed in the corner of my eye.

I tried to ignore it, but I couldn’t. I squeezed my eyes shut, putting my hands on my stomach and hoping the strange feeling consuming me would go away. The man’s tirade roared through my head as a red cloud creeped across my vision. I forced myself to take a deep breath to make it go away, but it wouldn’t go. It controlled my eyes from inside. I wanted to shake my head back and forth but I was so dizzy and sick I knew I’d lose my balance and fall down.

The ringing grew louder, the red patch overtaking my eyesight and squeezing the breath out of me.

I had to look at it, look through it, to what it wanted me to see. I was afraid, but it wouldn’t let go.

In the red haze, the color of the lunatic’s bulging face changed. An eerie blue glow flashed across it, fast as lightning. As soon as I realized I was seeing it, it was already gone.

Then I was seeing his sedan. The inside. Under the driver’s seat.

A long, thin wooden bat, like the kind police carried in old movies, lay tucked up under the cushion. It was shiny and black, with a thick leather string running through the handle.

Then the redness was gone and I could see the park again.

I was covered in sweat and shaking.

The sweaty stranger nodded, a string of drool hanging from his mouth. “I’ll show you little bastards!” He stormed off in the direction of the sedan.

I swallowed hard, frozen in place, barely able to breathe. With all my might, I managed to squeeze a few words out of my mouth. “He’s got a night stick.”

Jimmy’s jaw dropped. His eyes went to the raging lunatic.

In my mind, that bulging face glowed as he raised his big arm, bringing the club down on us again and again as we lay cowering on the dry creek bed, bones breaking and blood spewing in the assault.

He never got the chance. The tough kids had appeared on the ridge for their afternoon beer party. They were here to meet their pals, but they had stumbled onto quite a scene.

Their presence seemed to jolt the stranger back into reality. It didn’t occur to me, but it must have occurred to him that now he now outnumbered. He might have thought the tough kids were with us, or he might have realized there would now be witnesses to tell the police what he did to the two ten-year-old boys.

Stopping on the rocky ground, he stared up the hill at them. “Hey.” His voice now seemed weak. He said it again, louder, with the menacing growl. “Hey!”

That was all they needed. The punks on the hill didn’t want adult eyes of any sort observing their activities. They turned around to leave.

“Hey,” the stranger shouted again. “Get back here!” He started after them. The stranger’s big belly bounced, slowing him more than enough for the other kids get some distance. He stumbled on the large rocks of the dry creek bed, grabbing at his car to avoid falling.

That was our chance.

“Dougie! Now!” Jimmy dashed toward his bike. I was right on his heels. With my heart pounding, I grabbed the Schwinn and stormed up the sled riding hill. We pushed our bikes in front of us as hard as we could, not wanting to slow down for even the few seconds it would take to get on. The stranger couldn’t easily chase us up the hill on foot, and it was too steep for his car. We could escape back to our houses through the woods.

As the leaves crackled under our racing feet, we heard the man rage at being outfoxed. “Get back here, god damn it!” His tortured voice bounced through the woods. “Get back here!”

No chance. Once we were up the hill, we jumped on our bikes and pedaled as fast as we could.

The stranger’s howls echoed through the trees behind us as we sped away.


ORIGINAL An Angel On Her Shoulder , Chapter 2B

There had been a recent rain, so Jimmy thought we might find some good stuff by the creek that ran next to the park. It wasn’t unusual for things to just kind of appear there. Creeks in that area were prone to flash floods; anything we left in the little creek behind our house would be gone the next day if it rained overnight, swept down into the river. That was a cold lesson to learn with a new GI Joe jeep or toy boat. Even the smallest rain at our house might have been a big storm upstream, causing our little puddle of a creek to become a raging three foot deep monster. The next day, a dam we had spent days building would be gone. Sometimes, trees got washed off the hillside; other times, all sorts of new rocks might appear. Clay beds on the creek bottom would be removed or exposed.

At the park, we have just assumed that if an old washing machine appeared one day, that a flash flood had somehow brought it. I wouldn’t have thought that an unscrupulous owner had illegally dumped it there. Not til an older kid told us the real deal.

It wasn’t a standard park by any measure. It was a long, odd shaped triangle, with some old broken swings up near the entrance, and a large grassy area down a small hill. The back side disappeared into some woods and hills that we used to sled ride down in the winter. A shallow creek ran along one side before it met another creek in the back, and across the creek were the railroad tracks.

There were nicer parks nearby, so parents never took their kids to this one. That made it ideal for juvenile delinquents and teenagers looking for a place to smoke or drink. There were “Indian caves” in the side of the steep hill past the first ridge, but when we went to look at them, they just seemed to be big holes that somebody had dug into the soft dirt. You could crawl in about 10 or 15 feet, but it was cramped and smelled musty. Beer cans and nudie magazines littered the caves. Supposedly, a dead body had been found in one once, but that was probably just a story the older kids told us to keep us away from their drinking spot.

So it was not a big surprise when we rode our bikes down to the park and found an old abandoned car there. To us kids, we just figured somebody got tired of having an old junker like that around, and dropped it off at the park like the old washing machine.

It was right there in plain sight, way in the back of the park, where the creek came through. The antennae was gone, and the windows all smashed out. We laid down our bikes and had a look inside. There was glass all over the seats. Outside, the car was covered in dirt from where somebody had been using it for mud ball practice, and it had dents everywhere. Somebody had spray painted graffiti on it, too; some dirty words and stick figures with boobs.

I don’t know how long it had been here; we hadn’t come down to the park in a while. All the exterior glass had already been broken: there were no headlights or tail lights anymore. The driver’s side door was stuck open like it had been bent too far, and the trunk lid was missing. It was just a rundown old abandoned car that somebody had left in the back of our park.

It was perfect.

We didn’t have a barker, but now we had a smash car. I looked around for anything that could be used like a sledgehammer on it, to bash it like the one at the church festival. There would be fallen branches under the trees, and large rocks down by the creek. I started looking.

Jimmy checked the car over to see if there were any interesting parts left that could be used in our fort back at home. The passenger side mirror was still intact. He looked it over. The ball hinge just needed some leverage to pop the mirror off. With both hands on the mirror, he dropped all his weight downward. Jimmy grunted. After a few tugs, the mirror broke free and dropped Jimmy on his butt with a thud.

He stood up, dusting off the back of his pants and pretending it didn’t hurt. It was pretty rocky ground where the car sat. After a minute, he started looking inside at what kind of dashboard items he might be able to pry off.

After a few knobs and a pen had been procured, Jimmy turned his attention to the car’s hood. It was stuck shut. Meanwhile, I had found a decent sized limb to put some dents in the roof. I climbed up the back of the car and stood, raising the limb over my head. I brought it down with all my might, the way I’d seen the men do with the smash car.

The tree limb bounced off the roof and almost took me with it. Jimmy laughed. We needed something heavier.

There were bigger limbs under the trees, but Jimmy went for a rock. He kicked over a few baseball sized ones until he spied a large flat rock the size of a dinner plate. It was about three inches thick. Any smaller and it wouldn’t do much damage; any larger and he probably couldn’t pick it up. I scavenged under the trees to find a thicker limb, anxious to get my shots in.

We were having a blast, beating the crap out of our own private smash car, just like at the festival. We wore ourselves out on that thing.

I heard something that sounded like a car noise, so I turned to see what it was. A car was coming down the dirt path, bouncing along as it went. That was unusual; on occasion, a cop might roll through, but that was only about once a summer. We had seen city maintenance workers on converted golf cart vehicles. This was louder and faster. Cops don’t drive like that in a park.

As it got close, I saw the punks on the hill disappear. Then I looked back at the car. It was coming quickly up the dirt bike path, and came to a sudden, noisy stop. A heavy, middle aged man scrambled out, eyeing the abandoned car.

“God damn it,” he said. He was really upset, and it got my attention.

I had been looking around for a bigger stick; Jimmy was banging on the car’s fender with a rock.

“Hey!” the man shouted loudly. We both froze.

He started to run over to Jimmy, but it was loose, rocky ground. He slipped a little in it. Then he saw the dents and graffiti all over the abandoned car. “God damn it!” he shouted. He stopped for a moment, assessing the damage. I had an uneasy feeling rising up in my stomach. Something was wrong with this man.

“Son of a bitch,” he groaned, walking around the car. “Son of a bitch!” I didn’t know why he was so upset.

Jimmy stood up and slowly backed away. The man was borderline unstable. He was red-faced and sweating. He leaned on the car door and peered inside at the broken glass. Then he reached in and pulled out a floor mat. It was like he was in a momentary daze.

Then his anger returned to him. Raising the mat over his head, he flung it down the ground. “God damn it!” he roared.

He turned his gaze to me. I was standing there with a tree limb in my hand. His eyes narrowed. They were visibly bloodshot. That was scary.

“I know you,” he shouted, pointing at me. “You’re the doctor’s boy.” My heart jumped in my chest. I nodded.

I had no idea what to do. Then he looked at Jimmy.

“You god damned-” the stranger started, taking a few steps in Jimmy’s direction. Then he stopped again and looked at the fender Jimmy had been pounding on. It was pretty dented up and a lot of paint had been knocked off.

He shouted again, as he realized the massive extent of damage to the car. A shiver went through my gut.

“You!” he yelled at Jimmy. “Come here!”

Jimmy didn’t budge. I found myself walking out of the woods toward the scene. The man spun towards me.

“I know you’re the doctor’s boy,” he growled. “I know it.” Then he turned back to Jimmy. “Who are you?” My heart was pounding. None of this made any sense.

We didn’t speak. We were too terrified. There didn’t seem to be any answer that was going to calm him down. I wondered what he would do to us. My mind raced. We were outmatched.

“Doctor’s kid,” he scowled. “Rich kid!” Then he screamed: “I don’t have money like your daddy!” He pointed to the car. “This is all I’ve got!”

He slurred his words a little. That scared me. I knew people had less control when they were drinking. I needed a plan, but I couldn’t think. Every time I thought about running, the man looked at me like he knew what I was thinking. So I stood there.

And he stood there, panting, staring at me. Rage was building up inside him.

I had no idea what to do. I was shocked, terrified. I couldn’t speak; I just stood there with my mouth open. Jimmy inched his way back from the car. He never took his eyes off the man.

“You son of a bitches,” the man scowled.

Then it dawned on me. This was his car. Somebody had stolen it and dumped it here in the park.

Then I really got scared. Lightning shot through my stomach.

He thought we stole his car. Jimmy had already figured that out.

Somebody had stolen his car, and now he thought he had found the car and the kids who had stolen it. And he meant to get some justice. Far from the road, in the back of the park, nobody would see.

The man was furious. “God damn it,” he yelled. Then he kicked at the car. His car. It was an act of anger and futility. I didn’t even breathe.

Jimmy never said a word. He just silently inched his way over to me. Together we waited to see if we could make a run for it. We couldn’t leave our bikes, and picking them up would give the man just enough time to catch us. The fact that he hadn’t laid a hand on us yet was good; maybe he wouldn’t. But neither of us believed that. For now, the man just kept us in Hell, yelling at the car and then at us, while he tried to decide what to do.

Then a look of evil flashed across his face. He remembered the night stick he kept under the front seat of his other car. “I’ll show you little bastards!” he said, and stormed off to get it.

He never got the chance. The tough kids, who didn’t yet know what was going on, had suddenly appeared on the ridge. They were here to meet their pals, but they had stumbled onto quite a scene.

Their presence seemed to jolt the stranger back into reality. It didn’t occur to me, but it must have occurred to him that he was now outnumbered. Or at least there were going to be witnesses to tell the police what he did to the two 10 year olds boys.

He hesitated.

“Hey,” he shouted up the hill to the tough kids. But he sounded weak because he had been surprised. So he said it again, louder, to sound more menacing.

That was all they needed. They had probably come down to meet their friends and smoke pot, not to draw attention to their activities. They turned around to run.

“Hey,” the stranger shouted again. “Get back here!” Then he clumsily started after them on foot. His heavy belly slowed him more than enough for them to quickly get some distance.

That was our chance. Jimmy and I grabbed our bikes. We stormed our way up the sled riding hill, pushing our bikes in front of us. The stranger couldn’t easily chase us through there, and it was too steep for his car. We could escape through the woods.

As the leaves crackled under our feet, we heard the man’s rage at being outfoxed. “Get back here, god damn it!” he screamed. “Get back here!”

No chance. Once we were up the hill, we jumped on our bikes and pedaled as fast as we could. The stranger’s voice echoed through the woods behind us as we raced away.


ANALYSIS: Here’s what we changed – and WHY.

First, we added that whole section about the red dot thing growing over Dougie’s vision.

After writing the WHOLE story, I thought it needed a few threads that ran obviously and consistently through it, so we can connect the dots – pardon the pun – when we need to. Dougie is… a bit of a coward, and maybe that’s why he hangs around with Jimmy – but we’ll get to all that.

Let’s look at some of the stuff writers do that practically nobody else does.

But before we do – are you hooked? Are you following? Are you connecting things, or are you lost? And do I still have enough initial trust to keep you reading?

If you have read any of my stuff before, and as readers of this blog you have, you’re gonna allow me some time to get the story back to that car crash at the winery. You’ll figure the background we’re getting on this kid is going somewhere.

But

As a new reader, would you? Hard to say.

Readers generally give an author 50-75 pages to make their case before they abandon ship, and at around 300 words a page, that’s up to 22,500 words. We’re barely 7,000 words in, and we set the table with that car crash scene at the winery, and then the whole thing with the crazy stranger in the park, and that weird red vision stuff… so I don’t think anybody’s going anywhere, do you?

(By the way, talk about hooking a reader using relatability – a mother worrying about her child being killed? Come on. 80% of books are bought by women…)

Okay, here are a few of the more tedious-looking things I’m referring to when I talk about tweaking and refining your MS (manuscript) after you let it rest. (For more on WHY you should let your MS rest, click HERE).

By now you are digesting what we’ve shown you in the first two chapters, so you’re ready for some detail work. Call it a little Jell-O for dessert after a satisfying meal. We’re still doing all the other stuff we talked about after our analysis of chapters 1 and 2, but we’ll take a moment to show you something else that’s been happening.

Try, Try Again

Wanna know the difference between the first draft of a great story and the second draft? Or the third and fourth and fifth?

You find yourself rewriting a line a few times, and each time you are saying something slightly different, searching for that perfect set of words to convey exactly what you mean without using a crutch or a filter or an echo.

Allow me to demonstrate.

(I’ll highlight the changes in bold if I can remember them all; the real-time thoughts from me are in italics.)

Draft 1:

I don’t know how long it had been here; we hadn’t come down to the park in a while. All the exterior glass had already been broken: there were no headlights or tail lights anymore. The driver’s side door was stuck open like it had been bent too far, and the trunk lid was missing. It was just a rundown old abandoned car that somebody had left in the back of our park.

We need HERE to be THERE, so the tense remains consistent. COME becomes GONE…

I don’t know how long it had been there; we hadn’t gone down to the park in a while.

Then, another change:

Draft 2:

It was just a rundown old abandoned car that somebody had left in the back of our park.

Becomes…

Draft 3:

It was just a rundown, rusty old piece of crap car that somebody had left in the back of our park.

Hmm. Punctuation? I think we may need a comma after “rusty.” And let’s change “left” to “abandoned.” That sounds more desolate.

Draft 4:

It was just a rundown, rusty, old piece of crap car that somebody had abandoned in the back of our park.

Hmm. Abandoned? Not quite right. What’s better? Junked? No, we refereed to it as a junker. Kind of echo-ey. What about… dumped? Yes! Because that would be using the park like a dump, which conveys an entirely different meaning to the situation. Nobody cares if you smash up junk, but everybody cares if you smash up their stolen car.

And speaking of car – let’s remove that word from this paragraph. We know what we’re talking about.

Draft 5:

It was just a rundown, rusty old piece of crap (car) that somebody had dumped in the back of our park.

Final Draft (probably):

I don’t know how long it had been there; we hadn’t gone down to the park in a while. There were no headlights or tail lights anymore. The driver’s side door was stuck open like it had been bent too far, and the trunk lid was missing. It was just a rundown, rusty old piece of crap that somebody had dumped in the back of our park.

I LOVE it.

Almost.

Is run down two words? And maybe that semicolon should go. An emdash might be better…

Meh, we’ll see what my editor thinks.

See? You thought you were the only one who did that stuff, didn’t you?

Now, the point of showing you this was…

…simply to demonstrate the process. Get the idea down. Then, when you’ve let it rest, you will see things needed to be added. You knew what you meant, but a reader might not – even if we assume the reader is smart. Then we tweak for subtle ways to paint in tiny details of the scene, using words that make it feel more desolate or uneasy or scary.

Here, we want the reader to feel the boys are free to play with their new found smash car.

The reader relaxes and gets ready for the fun.

Then we get quite a surprise instead.

Remember, a roller coaster has to have highs and lows. With no lows, it’d just be all highs, which means it’d be… flat. By definition, there would be no highs without any lows – and you want both.

Set your reader up. Create a nice setting and then yank the rug out from under them.

That’s why they take this ride in the first place.

Now:

head shot
your humble host

Let me have your comments. The next chapter will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle! (The prior chapter is HERE)

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

Please share and reblog these as we go. Your friends need to know this stuff, too.

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – $2.99 or FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Available in paperback and audio book, too!

 

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Crafting A Compelling Story – The Next Chapter of An Angel On Her Shoulder

  1. I know it may seem silly.. but i liked the scene set in the park more than the scene set at the carnival. I felt more at home, as though I could see the park scene in my mind’s eye. As Dougie was relating the experience, I was right there with him, screaming drunk and all. Looking forward to you final version. And, thank you for taking the time to do this. You don’t have to, you know. I appreciate the larnin’.

    Liked by 1 person

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