In the End: How Their Story Became my Story

I just started working on the third draft of this novel about a month ago. I’m really enjoying the process actually. I feel like I didn’t know what I was doing at all when I started writing this book, and that’s probably because it’s true. So, chopping it up and adding new bits to it for the most recent draft has been really satisfying.

I have some reservations about doing this, because I hate to appear incompetent, but I thought it might be interesting to do a series of posts showing the progress this book made over the various drafts.

Maybe seeing that I kept going despite the awkward beginning will inspire someone else to keep plugging along on their own book, or just make them feel better about their own work. Ha.

I wrote the first draft of my novel in present tense. That worked at the time because my motivation for writing was completely different than what it became for later drafts. I was dating the guy who was the inspiration for the main character of this book, and I set out to write a story that would show guys like him the contradictions in their behavior. So, I also wrote it To the main guy. I rather liked that, it is rare to see stories written that way, but the novelty of the idea wasn’t enough to convince me it would be useful in the next draft.

It has been a long time since I looked at this draft of the book, for good reason. It’s a bit painful for me. But I was surprised to see a few lines in it that I like which never made it to later drafts. Still, I think they’ll stay there in the first draft without moving forward, a reminder to myself that the story had good bones.

This scene from my first draft was the first scene that I re-wrote for the second draft. It therefore became the first chapter of later drafts, I felt it was an intriguing place to drop the reader into before going back and showing them earlier information about the characters. So, here it is, the earliest version of the first draft of this book.

February 2009 Meeting Laura

“Questioning her good intention, Jealousy’s a bad invention, when you push on glass it’s bound to break. … Accept this confession! I’m walking on pins and needles. You’re not my possession.” –From Billy Talent’s “Pins and Needles”

I’m taking down the hot food bar at work, talking to a co-worker, when I see you at the salad bar with her. You start gesturing wildly, seemingly excited to see me. By the time you make it over to me, my co-worker has disappeared.

“Is it that time of day already?” you ask, watching me streamline pans. I guess it is earlier than when you worked here.

“Yeah, the deli closes at eight now,” I remind you.

“Lemme see it!” you exclaim, referring to the tattoo you know I got the day before. I painstakingly roll up my sleeve. Ink is still flaking off of it, and my heavy polo sleeves really disagree with the placement.

“It’s all grody,” you say, looking taken aback.

“It’s less than twenty-four hours old,” I tell you. You, who already have five tattoos, should understand my predicament.

It’s about then that she wanders up to us with her salad in hand. You have not mentioned this broad to me in nine months, easy. I certainly don’t know why she is with you now, since you told me you could not hang out today because your Mom is in town and you’re having a family weekend. My knee jerk reaction is to mentally distance myself. You turn to her, and say her name slowly, softly, as though it might break on it’s way out of your mouth, warning her with your eyes, apologizing to her in advance.

“Laura,” and her eyes flinch, she pulls into herself, and I’m not quite sure why she is the one upset. “This is the one I was telling you about.” And God only knows what you told her, but it bet it doesn’t include the fact that we fucked last Wednesday.

“Hi,” I say, my face registering the fact that I don’t understand why this is happening.

“She was just showing me her new tattoo. It’s from a poem,” you explain. “I don’t remember what it says exactly, it’s like…” and then you look to me for help.

“Did you want me to tell her?” I ask.

“Well, yeah.”

“I didn’t know where you were going with that,” I inform you, before making sure no customers are nearby and leaning close to Laura. She responds automatically to my gesture, leaning in too, until our faces are only separated by the marble top of the hot food case.

“It says ‘When God created you, lying in bed, he came all over his blessed universe’” I tell her per your request. Her eyes widen, and she leans back without responding.

“It’s interesting because it looks all girly, then you find out what it says. Pretty badass. And it’s her first ink.” You talk fast, seemingly wanting her to accept me, though I’m still not sure why. She wanders off to look at sushi, still not saying anything. I don’t think she liked the showing me off quality our interaction had.

“She’s the one I’ve been helping move. We had to finish up today.”

“Ah. That’s my favorite one of your shirts, by the way.”

You look down at your black button down with velvet designs, and I wonder if you are thinking what I’ve already realized…that you would not have worn that shirt to help someone move. She wanders back up, and I tell you both goodbye.

“I’m out like a fat kid at dodgeball,” you respond, and I watch you both disappear around a corner, wondering how much ‘splaining you have to do.


In the Beginning: How Their Story Became My Story

I started writing How Their Story Became My Story in 2009. Back then it was called Miss Cleo: A History of Our Future. My first draft was written in second person, as if I were writing to the main character, who remained unnamed. The main character was a charming philanderer who captured the narrator’s affections before she realized he had no intention of following through on all of his promises. The chapters were quite short, no more than one scene each, and sometimes only part of a scene that was spread over several chapters. It was about the time I finished the draft of Miss Cleo that I realized I couldn’t go anywhere with the story, at least not in the form that I wrote it in back then. I intended to write the whole thing off, give the draft to the guy in my life who inspired me to write the story in the first place, and never think of it again.

But as I looked around I saw more and more people whose lives were affected by guys like my muse. I knew the story needed to be told, but I still wasn’t quite sure how to change it. Luckily for me I was reading The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde at the time, and also lucky that I am huge nerd who always reads the introduction, and prologue, and forward, and so on. Before the story began I read about how the book came to be. Apparently Robert Louis Stevenson originally wrote the story as a simple thriller, with the intention of selling it to magazines as a serial tale for some quick cash. His wife proof-read it for him before he submitted it to be published and told him it was a very entertaining read but that she believed it would be better if it were an allegory. Well, he agreed with her. He burned his original manuscript and rewrote the entire story from scratch in three days. When I read that I knew that I needed to start from scratch and re-write my story, too. If Robert Louis Stevenson could do it, so could I!

I didn’t do it in three days, not even close, but that’s another blog post for another day. I now know that there is an industry term for the first draft of my book. It’s called an updraft, basically it’s a draft where you throw all your thoughts out there on paper, then once you’ve done that you go back and re-organize them. Some elements of my first draft made it into my second, the story is still told out of chronological order, it’s still partially epistolary (including letters and other documents as a way to advance the plot), the narrator is still unnamed. But I set out, starting in 2010 to completely re-work my first draft.

That updraft has been an incredibly useful tool, reminding me of some of the details I wanted to include, and it has also shown me many times what needed to change to help readers connect with my story.

Tune in next time to hear about the long process that was the second draft of my novel!