Saturday, October 30, 2010

Editing and Deleting

One of the toughest parts of editing is deleting.  Why?  Because, as a writer, you feel connected to every part of the story that you've created.  Deleting full sections can be painful, but sometimes necessary.  But rather than completely removing them, I thought I'd share. 

The following section is the first of 3-parts that would have made up my story's prologue.  It takes place about 18 years before the main story.  It introduces the main character before his birth and shows some of his extra terrestrial characteristics.  Enjoy.  There's more to come.

For the first time since awakening in his mother’s womb, fear gripped him as he continued calling for her, but she didn’t reply.  The normally soothing sound of her heartbeat was erratic and terrifying.  Her womb, once warm and comforting, now dark and empty.  Then he heard something, not his mother.  Other sounds, followed by voices – all foreign sounds.  He had heard several muffled voices from within his mother’s womb for months, but since her water broke, everything sounded different.
What is that sound?  he wondered.  Are those other people back?  Is somebody here to help?  Mommy?
Sudden movement then joined the voices, leading to more intense fears.  Ever since establishing mental communication with his mother, she had explained sounds and feelings that disturbed him. 
Sweetheart, he finally heard.  They’re here now.  They’ll take care of you.
Who? he replied.
Paramedics are taking us to the hospital nearby.  The doctors there will take care of you. she explained.
Para..?  He tried to look into his mother’s memories to show who these people were, but his fears overwhelmed him.  What about you? 
She did not reply.  Louder voices and more jostling came while he waited for an answer.  He heard too many people speaking to quickly to understand.  Finally, most of them died down and an unfamiliar male voice dominated.
He tried to reach out and use her senses as he had learned to do when she slept.  He remembered a night when she had asleep with the television on.  He hungered for stimulation, wondering what the outside sound was, but her womb distorted the sound.  He found himself unknowingly connecting with the part of his mother’s that processed real-time sensory input.  In effect, he used his mother’s ears to listen to the television.  Unfortunately, his new skill did not include an ability to use the remote control and all he could listen to was what his mother called “infomercials” and “crap TV.”
Since then he not only heard sounds through her ears, but he also saw some things through her eyes, and learned different smells through her nose.  He decided to use the same technique to listen to the other voices.
“…emergency C-section,” the man said.  “We have to get the baby out now or we’ll lose them both.”
What does that mean?  Mommy, are you there?  Why don’t you answer me?  Did I do something to make you quiet?  The only response he received was her slowing heartbeat.  He wiggled and squirmed, punched and kicked hoping to elicit a response from her. 
“Baby’s heartbeat is becoming erratic, doctor,” said another voice.
Mommy, wake up!  Panic began to overwhelm the baby.  Focusing on the voices became more difficult.  He knew something was wrong, and not just with his mother.  Listening to the doctor and other voices became increasingly difficult, even listening through his mother’s ears. 
What’s…what’s happening?
“…in distress…” he finally heard.
Distress?   Are we…dying?
A sudden rush of cold air swept over him, followed by bright light.  It was different from visions and lights he had seen through his mother’s eyes.  For the first time, he saw light through his eyes.  He began to hear sounds more clearly through his own ears.  The sensations, though an intense change, seemed overrated.  The anticipation and excitement about the impending birth that he had shared with his mother was overshadowed by his concern for her well-being.  He felt something grab and pull him; no, steal him from the embrace of his mother’s womb. 
Mommy, you promised we’d share this!  He kept trying to reach out to her, but heard nothing from her.  In some ways, he felt like it was less than nothing.  Even after the attack on his mother, he felt something – her presence, her existence.  He heard her heartbeat, felt her warmth.  Now, he felt nothing.  He was isolated, alone.  He hated it. 
Anger and fear dominated his mind as the medical team continued to invade and abuse him.  They stuck things in his nose and into his mouth.  Although brief, the experience was not pleasant.  He coughed and screamed for the first time. 
I screamed.  That was my voice.  Startled by this development, his focus on his mother’s condition briefly faded.  He had never thought about what his voice would sound like.  The mental bond he had shared with his mother had been enough.  He wanted to know what else he could do.  Shivering in the cold air, he tried to move but he was quickly subdued.  Someone had wrapped him so tightly that he could not move his arms or legs.  The blanket swaddling him made him feel warmer, but he still struggled and screamed as concerns over his mother resurfaced.
No!  Don’t…!  Mommy!  She did not respond.  That alone did not frighten him as much as the lack of her presence.  More than anything else, he wanted to hear her voice, feel her warmth, and know she was there.  He wanted to hear her words clearly through his own ears for the first time.  His eyes adjusted to room’s light and he saw the figures more clearly.  Most important, he could see his mother.  She had sometimes sat in front of a mirror and talked to him.  He saw the reflection through her eyes.  Now he saw her with his own, and he did not like it.
His mother lay on a bed surrounded by people and machines that beeped, hummed, and flashed.  Wires from the machines led to blood-stained sheets covering most of her body.  A mask and hose covered most of her face.  Only her eyes remained uncovered.  He wanted to look into her eyes, but they remained closed.
“Nurse, take the baby to the NICU,” the doctor ordered, not bothering to look in her direction.
“Yes, doctor,” she replied.
The baby screamed his objection, straining against his swaddled restraint.  I want Mommy!  His struggles continued as a nurse placed him in a portable incubator and wheeled him out of the room.  As he lost sight of his mother, one of the machines tone changed from a series of beeps to a constant tone.
“We’re losing her,” he heard the doctor say.  “Get the cardio-stim unit over here now!”
“Ready, Doctor,” a female voice replied.
The baby did not hear anything else from the ER.
Mommy!  Where are you?  He continued to scream, hoping his displays of fear and frustration would elicit some response, but the people continued as if going through a routine.  A strange woman, the one apparently called “nurse,”  took him to another room.  She closed the door and placed him in some type of shallow, elongated bowl.  He felt fear and exhaustion as he listened to his screams wondering why nobody would respond.
“Six pounds, eleven ounces,” the nurse said just before removing him from the bowl and placing him on a table under strange lights.
His screams grew quieter as he tried to focus on his new environment.  He wanted to speak, but he could not create words.  He reached out with his mind, but all was quiet.  He did not like this type of quiet.  The constant companionship of his mother’s thoughts and dreams ripped away.  Stolen from him not by those she feared, but by a coward who needed two friends to attack a defenseless pregnant woman hoping for an easy mark.  The baby understood the irony that his mother’s precautions contributed to her death.  He did not know why he understood, he just did.


  1. Oh, this made me sad! Very good. :)

    Only the places where it referred to "the baby" seemed out of character to me. Most of it is in very tight third person ("he") and although he's clearly a fetus, he seems too mature to think of himself as a baby. But even if he did, it doesn't feel like we're as close to his thoughts when he's called "the baby." Just my $.02.

    This is a intriguing character. You've taken a situation that could have been stale (baby describing own birth) and injected it with a lot of mystery, excitement and character.

  2. Thanks for the comments Tara. The third person is because he hasn't been named. And his maturity is also deliberate. The extraterrestrial abilities are limited telepathy and a form of inherited/genetic memories - inherits the memories/knowledge of both parents. The trick is just because he's inherited his father's other-worldly knowledge, he still must learn to access/use it. Think of it as memorizing a user manual for a helicopter. Does that mean you can fly, right?

    The next part, which I'll post another time, highlights this a little more. He has knowledge, but still can't control his own body completely. He can't talk, still needs a diaper... His knowledge will give him a steep learning curve.

    He's also been conscious in the womb for several months, communicating telepathically with his mother. I have a hint about this later in the story where he remembers "convincing" his mother not to abort him.

  3. Did you delete all of this? If so, could you tell us why you thought it necessary to delete? Writers can have several reasons for deleting things, so it's helpful to tell why you delete a particular passage.

  4. To be honest, I deleted several chapters that focused on the main character (the baby from the prologue) as a young child. They helped show readers about his abilities and how they sometimes complicated his life. In some ways, I think I wrote those for me - to get to know the character.

    The novel was approaching 95K words and I've heard/read in many places that new authors should keep their first stories between 80-100K. Even removing this prologue, I'm still on the high side.

    Later chapters turned out longer than I expected and they were more critical to the story, so I first started "deleting" the early childhood chapters. This prologue was the last major part to go.

    Also, some who've critiqued my entire story have suggested that I add some more descriptions in other areas, so I figured I should cut sections that seemed slower and less related to the plot.