A (slightly less) shitty second draft

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been working on a second draft. It’s going slower than hoped. Part of it is that the first draft — which I dictated and transcribed — is a mess. I can live with that. I’m just glad the first draft exists. It took me only two weekends to produce. And important threshold crossed at a sprint.

Now I need to flesh out the narrative. I’ve settled on a frame. As I’ve been writing, I’m starting to get more comfortable with the narrator (Lester). I can hear him. I can start to channel his voice.

It’s going slowly, though, because I find myself writing more action and dialogue for each scene than I had anticipated.

For example, the second scene, like every scene, is supposed to be 1250 words, give or take. It’s currently 5200 words. Aliyah and Lester are getting to know each other. Forming a rapport. They’re talking to each other. A lot.

Despite the length, I see this as a good thing. I want to trust the process. In the third draft, I can go back and cherry-pick the best bits of interaction and feature that. At this stage in the drafting process, quantity still trumps quality.

I’ve also been reminding myself that the dialogue needs to occur in the context of action, comic action. The characters can’t just be standing around, yammering away.

I also have to resist the urge to lyricize my descriptions of place and action. It’s comedy. It shouldn’t have a precious MFA style. Details should come authentically from Lester’s worldview and should move the plot briskly forward.

I’ve also been thinking of ways to mitigate the isolation of writing toward some far off completion date. In Piers Steel’s formula for motivation, this variable is called Delay. The longer the delay, the more of a sap on motivation. Novels epitomize the trap of endless Delay.

So I plan to revise the first three scenes this week and share at least the prologue (the first scene) with a select audience — my Discord writers group and Scott Dikkers’ Writers’ Room.

I’ll report back in a week or two on how that went.

Without further ado, a (slightly less) shitty draft of scene 1 (which will probably end up being Chapter 1):

You see, my mom was going on a trip with her new boyfriend. She wouldn’t say for how long. His name is Ponce. The new boyfriend. I guess he’s okay. He’s nice to me, I guess.
While Mom was gone, she arranged to send me to my aunt’s house. Aunt Fadwa lived in Merrymount. Which was far away. Far, far away. Mom said to me, “Think of it as an adventure, Jester.” That was her nickname for me. Because I was good at making her laugh.
But I won’t lie. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself about it all.
“How long will you be gone?” I asked.
“A while.”
“Why can’t I go?”
“Let me give you some advice,” she said. “The quickest way to get others to like you is to show interest. Find out what they like. What they’re into. Get them talking about themselves. If that doesn’t work, compliment them. Tell them how you like their clothes, their stuff, their opinions. Especially their opinions. Try your best to agree with them. If you do that, they can’t help but like you. I can promise you that.” She squeezed me hard. “Everything’s gonna be fine,” she said.
I packed my favorite camouflage cargo shorts. The sports jersey my dad gave me. My secret gummy worm stash. Then Mom put me and my lumpy duffel bag on a coach bus.
It was a long ride…a whole day and night. I used the duffel for a pillow. When we got to Merrymount, I had a serious crimp in my neck.
Aunt Fadwa wasn’t at the bus station. She and her husband were busy people. They must have had more important things to do than pick me up. Instead, they hailed me a rideshare.
On the last leg of my journey, telephone poles whizzed rhythmically by as I nodded in and out. I imagined a long sword was jutting out the window from the crimp in my neck. The razor-sharp blade was slicing them all down. [this isn’t funny]
We pulled up to the destination in the map app. It was sunset. I climbed out of the minivan and texted my mom.
“Are you sure this is the right address?” the driver asked.
My mom and me lived in an apartment. It was big enough for the two of us. Plus my pet tortoise, Sir Shmoozles. That’s it. There was definitely no room for anybody else. Sir Shmoozles agreed. Whenever Ponce came into my room — he was always trying to get me to like him — Sir Shmoozles hissed and stuck his head back into his shell. I swear.
Aunt Fadwa’s house, on the other hand, was huge. It was a castle. For real. There was a sprawling lawn with green grass as manicured as astroturf. Alabaster statues of mounted knights reared up everywhere. All manner of birds frolicked in birdbaths filled by crystal fountains. It had turrets and parapets and high arching windows with stained-glass panes. There was even a moat. I’m not making this up. Well, maybe it was more of a garden bed where the mulch got a little too soaked.
My bag! It was still in the minivan. Which was now halfway down the street. I ran after it, but it just kept getting further away. Now my ankles hurt too. And my knees. I was huffing and puffing. I hobbled back to the castle and up the cobblestone walk to the front door.
Up three steps, the door was massive — planks of hard, knotty wood bound by iron bands — hinge-plates in the shape of battle axes.
It was getting dark. A hedge at the edge of the yard rustled. I squinted into the deep shadows. Something popped its head out. A little creature. It had beady black eyes, a pink nose, scruffy ears. A rat? Too scruffy. A weasel? Too fat. Like something out of a fairy tale. [Only later did I learn it was an opossum.] In its tiny paws, it was clutching a bunch of red berries. It munched away on them.
You’re probably not going to believe me — but I swear it’s true. The creature was wearing a hat. Some kind of old-fashioned cap — green, pointy — with a long white feather jutting out of a flap.
It must be a neighbor’s pet. They liked to dress it up. It had escaped. That was it.
Then it waved at me. Or did it? Maybe it was just scratching itself.
Here was where it got even weirder. Without realizing what I was doing, I waved back. There we were, waving to each other like long-lost pals — me and this beady-eyed thing.
Then it ducked back under the bushes and disappeared. I snapped to. What a dummy. Best to act like it never happened.
I decided to ignore it. So I kept going I got to the front door and there was this huge brass knocker. To the side there was a sign stuck into the mulch that said Dragon Eye Home Guardian. I was worried that maybe no one was home. Or that I might set off the alarm. I grabbed the knocker. I had a tippy toe just to reach the knocker. I could barely rap my fingers around it. It was heavy and cold to the touch. I pulled it back and I

let it go. Wham! It crashed into the door and kept on ringing like a clanging of a church bell. Still, no one came. So I knocked again. Nothing. I was beginning to wonder if I relly did have the wrong address. Or maybe they were all out. Or maybe they were pretending not to be home.
Finally, I heard some steps approaching from inside the house. Heavy steps. A methodical tramping of thick boot soles.
The door creaked open. There towered a wiry girl with broad shoulders. Her black hair fell loosely to her shoulders but was cropped in a straight line across her forehead. She was wearing an odd looking dress. It was kind of plain. Like a wool poncho with a thick leather belt clasped tightly around her waist. She had on knee-high boots and these leather gloves that went all the way back to her elbows.
She was staring down at me with a frown.
I held out my hand even though it was shaking. “A…Aliyah,” I said. “I like your dress. It’s…um…lovely.”
“It’s a tunic. And it most certainly isn’t lovely.”
“It’s nice. I like the…uh…belt. Is that leather?”
“Where’s the box?”
“The box? I didn’t bring a box. I have a duffel bag. I mean I did have a duffel bag. I kind of lost it. I mean I left it in the taxi by accident.”
“You’re the courier, are you not?”
“I’m your cousin, Lester. You remember me, right? I know it’s been a few years. You’re so tall. I almost didn’t recognize you. I’ve grown some too. Not as much as you, though. Ha ha! It’s great to see you. Didn’t your parents tell you I was coming?”
“How do I know you’re my cousin?”
“What do you mean?”
“There are all manner of knaves about in this neighborhood. You might be trying to deceive me.”
“Deceive you?”
“Prove to me that you’re of my bloodline.”
“Bloodline? Your mom is my aunt.”
“Judging by the looks of you, unlikely. Name your ancestors. Ten generations hence should be sufficient.”
“Um, my mom —”
“Clod. Your bloodline. Who’s your father? And his father. And his father’s father. And so on.”
“My dad is Randall. Ah…Randall Louche. My grandfather…his name was… funny. I can’t remember it at the moment. Ha ha. Anyways, I always called him Dodi.”
“Pitiful. Can you at least describe our family crest and its provenance?”
“Provenance? Family crest? I don’t know what that is.”
Aliyah slammed the door in my face.
I just stood there. It was getting dark. Like, really dark. Sprinklers were hissing away in the lawns all down the lane. The rose bushes were rustling again.
I worked up the courage to knock again.
Finally, I heard voices, not just Aliyah but other ones. Adult voices. And a baby. They were muffled. But it sounded like they were arguing.
Steps approached. Once again, the massive door creaked open.
There was Aliyah, still scowling. Luckily for me, my aunt and uncle were right behind her. They were scowling too. But once they caught sight of me, their frowns turned to big bright smiles. Maybe a little too bright. A tangled mop of brown hair and big curious brown eyes poked out from behind Uncle Mo’s knee.
Aunt Fadwa nudged Aliyah. “Go on.”
Aliyah sighed.
“Come on now.”
Aliyah crossed her arms. “Enter. If you must.”
“Yes, please, come in, my boy,” Uncle Mo said. “We’re so sorry we didn’t answer sooner. It’s hard to hear the door from the kitchen. Especially with a chatty toddler running around.”
I stepped inside. “What a lovely house you have!”
“Thank you,” Aunt Fadwa said. “You’re so sweet.”
“Luggage? Where’s your suitcase?” Uncle Mo asked.
“Umm, long story.”
They wrapped me up in their arms and squeezed. Uncle Mo patted my shoulder. He smelled of garlic and wine. “Good to see you, buddy.”
“I’m so sorry about Aliyah,” Aunt Fadwa said. “She gets a little bit carried away with this role playing sometimes. You must be… you must have had a long journey. Exhausted. And starving.”
“I’m okay.” I rubbed the crimp in my neck.
“You have impeccable timing, my boy,” Uncle Mo said. “Dinner is just about ready. But there’s still time for you to go upstairs and get settled. Maybe splash some water on your face, if you like. Aliyah will show you around. Won’t you, Aliyah?”
Aliyah pointed up the big curving staircase. “Go up there.”
“Now don’t be so rude. Take Lester up to your room and help him get comfortable. Make him feel welcome.”
[make this dialogue and interaction] Aliyah’s little brother was only a tiny baby when I saw him last. He was running around screaming his head off. My aunt and uncle chased after him back into the kitchen. I was left standing awkwardly there with Aliyah.
She looked me over once again. Then, abruptly, she strode over to the staircase and mounted it two steps at a time.
I shuffled after her as fast as I could.
Halfway up, she spun around. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

And here’s what I’ve already decided needs to change:

Add —

  • Lester’s desire/goal — to acquire guns to bring back to KoF for the final battle
  • Lester is wearing a “Poot Powered” t-shirt
  • Lester’s dayglo sports glasses
  • Aliyah’s braces
  • Dragon Eye Home Guardian sign
  • Aliyah has a little brother — name? Amir (prince)
  • sprinklers
  • rose bushes — Beady munching rose hips, sneezing
  • Fief — knife or beef?
  • Lester is sent to his aunt’s house because he’s failing school — his mom believes he needs some “tough love”

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