Last time I gave you the second draft for the opening scene based on the Melvin Backbreaker outline I wrote weeks ago. As it was a second draft, I cleaned up a few mistakes, changed the scene flow and added a new sub-plot. Let’s go over the changes. Continue reading Writing a Novel: Streamlining Sample
A few weeks ago I presented the first draft of the opening scene of the Melvin Backbreaker story, based on the sample outline I wrote before. As it was a first draft example, it was intentionally bad in many ways:
- Too much telling, no enough showing: I often said what characters felts instead of showing it other ways.
- Not enough sensory input: the first draft you can hear, but you can’t really see or smell it.
- Introduce useless characters, such as the clerk brining Melvin the letter.
- Some unnecessary info-dumps.
- Inconsistent characterisation for Melvin, making him seem more manipulative and in control than he should’ve been.
You’ll find a revised version below. Mind you that this is a second draft, meant to address some storytelling issues from the first one as well as introduce new elements that I didn’t the first time around. Because of this, the text might end up longer than before, but that’s why the next stage, in a few weeks is the Streamlining, where I’ll cut out the fat and just leave the important bits.
“What the fuck do you mean I don’t have the right papers? I looked it up on the rect!” The big burly man in biker outfit shouted, indignant, pulling out a folded sheet of paper from his breast pocket. Melvin pushed himself as back as he could in his chair to avoid the man’s tobacco and cheap whiskey breath, which made it through the thick protective glass between them. “For Twelve-A in duplicate, forty-b, driver’s license and DNA sample!” The customer recited. “It’s all here!” he pushed the paper against the glass, making the thick crystal strain and groan. Roided by the looks of it this one.
Melvin looked at him apologetically, as he did to every customer, perfectly practiced, convincing and completely insincere. “Oh…dear…” He let the words hang and sighed, shaking his head. “You read the old site. The new one asks for other documents. Here.” Melvin leaned to the side, careful not to slip out and fall off his hover chair, opened a drawer and pulled out a stack of papers thick enough to kill rodents. “I compiled this guide myself!” He beamed proudly, once again practiced and even more insincere. “It’ll give you everything you need to know.”
The biker flipped through a few pages and his brow furrowed in confusion over the twenty different forms, in triplicate, certified, notarised and with every judge’s DNA sample and official document copies he should bring. Melvin could see the muscles in his arms bulge and his skin turn a sunrise-shade of red. “Is this some kind of fucking joke?” The biker bellowed, slamming a fist against the glass, triggering the alarm. The emergency sound blared loudly from the speakers and securobots emerged from the walls. “I don’t have the fucking time to do all this fucking shit, I’m just here to renew my fucking driver’s licence you shithole! Just give me my shit and I’m…wait, get your fucking tin hands off me!” The first securobot crumbled, its face smashed in. “I’ll fucking kill y…” the high-voltage tazer interrupted his rant, leaving him on the ground, in the fetal position, shaking and soiling himself.
Melvin leaned forward, shook his head and pushed the CLOSE button under his desk, obscuring the dual-phase glass. He couldn’t see it but knew the customers on the other side would see CLOSED on the glass.
Melvin leaned back on his seat, turned on the automassage option and rubbed his face. “I hate this job sometimes…” he groaned to himself. The massage took effect and he felt himself relaxing, but turned it off before he dozed off.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and it made him jump up. “I’m awake!” he said, startled, only to find Matilda giggling behind him, she clutched a bundle of papers under her arm. “Oh, Mattie, you almost gave me a heart attack, I thought it was…”
“Thomas?” She said. “Surely I’m cuter than he is!” She frowned, but the mischievous glint in her eye told him it was a joke.
Still, he played the part. “Of course you are, Mattie, I wouldn’t dream of comparing you!”
“Good!” She nodded and then had to push her red hair out of her eyes. She often cut it short, with just a long bang over the front, combed to the side, but it was more rebellious than expected. When her hair was in its proper place again, she handed him a brown envelope. “It’s from your solicitor, Mel.”
“I don’t have a solicitor.” He said, confused, looking at the sender’s address. It had been sent from Maccallum, the Backbreaker estate’s homeworld. “Shit…”
“What is it?” Mattie leaned closer, and he could smell the soft vanilla oil she used and feel the soft wool of her sweater on his uncomfortable dress shirt.
He glanced sideways at her, the way he always did when she wasn’t paying attention, then shook the thoughts away. “It’s from my dad…”
“Oh…” she let the words hang. “Maybe he wants to talk to you, get back in touch?” She said, but couldn’t manage to sound convincing.
“Nah, he’s probably croaked!” Melvin said casually. “Ow! What was that for?” He rubbed his arm where she slapped him.
“Don’t joke about that!” She reprimanded him, her stare hard.
Oh crap, her dad…he thought, remembering it had been a few months earlier. “Sorry Mattie, but me and my dad aren’t the same as you and yours. He’s a mean old bastard, and he’d die before he ever apologised.”
Melvin opened the envelope and pulled out the long document. He skimmed through it, disregarding or filtering out the legal speech. “Well, what do ya know…” He said numbly.
“I was right…mean old bastard did croak!” He chuckled once, but it was weak. He looked in disbelief at the letter.
“Oh Mel, I’m so sorry!” She hugged him tight, then looked at his quizzical expression. “Are you ok?”
“I don’t know…” He admitted. “I always figured I’d be happy, but it just feels weird…”
“He was your dad, of course you’re not happy!” She said sternly, then her eye caught some of the letter’s content. “It says something about an inheritance there!” she pointed at the page.
Melvin skimmed the page, fast reading as they taught them when they started this job. “Wow, that’s weird and so like the old man.” He shook his head.
“What is it?”
“According to this I need to go to Maccallum to the family estate and jump through some hoops for the inheritance.”
“I don’t have a clue, it doesn’t say.”
“I think you should go!” She said firmly, locking eyes with him.
“I don’t give a damn about the inheritance!” he said offhandedly, but too loudly, making heads turn towards him.
“Just go, you need the closure!” Mattie insisted, her voice lowering to a whisper.
“I’ll think about it, ok?” He grumbled when he saw the adamant look on her face.
“Good.” She nodded and returned to her post.
Melvin did the same, pressing the CLOSE button again and forcing himself to deal with more customers.
At the end of the day, tired and still numb from the news, Melvin left the Ministry, finding Mattie waiting for him outside. “Hey.” He said flatly.
“I knew it!” She said, wiggling her finger accusingly at him before the summer breeze made her hair go wild and into her eye. “Ow!”
Melvin chuckled and helped her. “Thanks!” He said.
“I need a good laugh.” He grinned.
“You idiot!” She shook her head. “You going home?”
“Yeah, lots to think about…” he said, patting the satchel on his side.
“Want some company?” She moved in closer, locking eyes with him.
“Uh…uh…yeah…” he mumbled and she nodded.
“Great, let’s hit the off license. We’ll get you properly hammered!”
“Your dad just died! You shouldn’t spend this night sober, my friend!”
She grabbed his arm and pulled him with her.
Later that night and after three cases of beer and three bottles of wine, Mattie looked him in the eye. “So you goin’?” she slurred.
“You know what? I think I will!” He said, wobbling.
“Just don’t forget us little people when you’re richhhhh!” she said, taking another sip from the current victim, a bottle of rum.
“Why don’t you come with me?” He blurted out what he was thinking. Not all of what he was thinking though.
“Are you serious?” She said, the slur slapped out of her by the shock.
“Yeah! I need you there with me!” He said, the alcohol making him more honest than ever.
“I’ll need to ask for vacations, and my cat and…” She flustered and blushed.
Oblivious to it all Melvin continued. “Let’s talk to Thomas tomorrow, no way he’ll stop you from joining me to go pay my respects to my dad!” He grinned.
“Ok…” Mattie said, nodding several times before taking long gulp from the bottle.
Hope you enjoyed this version a bit more than the first draft. Next time you’ll have the finalised version of the scene, streamlined to trim the fat and with a few other fixes here and there!
During the Second Draft and Beyond article, I mentioned I’d give you examples of the iterative editing process we go through while writing a novel. This week I make good on that promise.
The following is a simple scene I will be working on for the next few weeks. For this first article, you’ll have the roughest version, the first draft. There will be mistakes, things that don’t add anything to the story and things that simply don’t work, much like there are in every first draft. As I mentioned in that article, the point of a first draft is just to get to the end. Next week, I’ll have a more polished version of it and the week after that a finalised and streamlined edition.
Do note that I have intentionally made storytelling mistakes with this draft, to make it as rough as possible. There are things you’ll pick up immediately and shake your head disapprovingly. But before you judge, wait until the next few weeks when I’ll be turning this first draft into something workable and worth reading!
This scene is for the Melvin Backbreaker story concept I outlined weeks ago.
There were days when Melvin hated his job. He was good at it, mind you, but he just loathed being a clerk sometimes. As he looked up at the burly, greasy-haired man and heard his abuse, he sighed deeply and tried to keep his best smile on his face.
The man complained about the unneeded bureaucracy, the roundabout way of doing even the simplest of things. Melvin agreed with him apologetically and raised his hands and shrugged, in a “what can you do?” kind of way. Personally, Melvin didn’t mind it, he always enjoyed order, even if it had to be in triplicate and with accompanying forms and stamps.
He opened his drawer and produced a handy guide he’d written months before, with the steps needed for almost every occasion, with the forms listed, the documents required and the processing times. He handed it to the man and hoped he would thank him and most importantly, leave.
“Breaker!” He heard his nickname called from behind him. No one called him by his surname, Backbreaker, because they thought it was silly. Melvin turned and saw the message clerk come by with a large brown envelope for him. He was just handing a few letters to Matilda, Melvin’s co-worker, friend and he wished much more. “Letter from your solicitor!”
“I don’t have a solicitor.” He said dismissively.
“Well, then your pa’s, but you got this anyway!”
Grumbling, Melvin left his post, apologising to the next person in line, a vehement old woman clutching her bag like a deadly weapon, the intent of using it clear in the malicious glint in her eye.
He almost ripped the envelope from the clerk’s hand, much to Matilda’s surprise, she’d never seen him in such a bad mood. “What does the old fool want now?” He complained, mostly to himself, but as he’d said it too loud, all eyes were on him.
He carelessly ripped into the envelope and pulled out a letter, noticing it came with a stack of documents. Probably some family paperwork I have no intention on signing.
The letter was concise and to the point. Austin Backbreaker was dead and in the envelope were the instructions Melvin needed to follow according to his father’s will. He stared at the letter for the longest time and to anyone else it might seem as if he were unable to process what had happened, but inside, he struggled with how to act. He’s dead, good riddance! He mused, but struggled to look content or happy even. Their estrangement was no secret, but no one knew just how bad things were between them.
“Breaker, everything ok?” The clerk asked.
“My father died.” He said, trying to sound shocked and numb, but the only thing that surprised him was how long it had taken.
His coworkers all approached to say how sorry they were, and in that, Melvin remained impassive, seeming stunned, but he just didn’t care.
While talking to co-workers, accepting Matilda’s support and simply nodding when people told him comforting words, he read the Will. Inside were a series of steps:
- Travel to the Backbreaker estate on Macallum. You must arrive before the 22nd of April.
- You will find all travel documents and arrangements enclosed.
- You will be briefed on the details of the inheritance process on arrival by Ducky, your father’s Butler.
- If you perform the required tasks to satisfaction, the entirety of the Backbreaker estate will be transferred to you.
Melvin went over the documents and it was just as the instructions mentioned, there were visas and even interplanetary flight tickets. They were set for tomorrow. He didn’t like his father, but the inheritance would help him quit the job and never have to look back again. In a day like this, his father dying was the best news he could’ve received.
He quickly turned and looked for his supervisor. He was in his office.
Melvin graciously pushed past his coworkers and into his Adrian Thomas’ office. “Breaker, what do you want?” He said bitterly, putting out a cigarette on the overflowing ashtray.
Melvin wished he was a better actor and could cry on demand, but just looked straight into his boss’ face. “My father died…I need to go take care of everything.” He said flatly, offering no details but handing over the solicitor’s letter, keeping the instructions to himself. “I’m taking my holidays for this…all of them.” He said, and Thomas’ eyes widened. Melvin had over two months’ worth of saved holidays. Their ministry had never set up a cut-off point for accumulated free time, as no one ever took much time off.
Melvin could see how much his supervisor wanted to deny the admittedly big request, but then he noticed everyone else was at the door, Matilda at the front and they were all glaring. Thomas sighed and nodded. “Just let us know how things go with everything, ok?” Melvin nodded. “And I am sorry for your loss, Breaker. If you need anything, let us know.”
Melvin picked up his things, gave Matilda a big hug, bit down what he’d wanted to tell her for years now, as he always did, and left to pack his bags.
He didn’t remember much of the estate, but the nightmares had always been vivid.
Come back next week when I’ll be showing you the Second Draft of this scene while pointing out all the mistakes in this one!
In the first part of this guide, I covered the planning stages for writing a novel, from character conception to building every aspect of your world. I hope it’s been of use to you. Today we’re moving on to the second and third steps: Continue reading Writing a Novel – The Outline And First Draft