(This posting originally appeared on The Melt-Ink Pot)
I discovered I had more to say on this topic, so we’re revisiting it this week.
My second edit of “The Daughters of August Winterbourne” is all but complete. I have to edit the epilogue, and then I’d like to give the last couple of chapters a once-over to make sure I didn’t take out anything that should have been left in, or vice versa. During the course of this edit, I’ve trimmed out almost 40,000 words, to bring the total words down to around 150,000. I was aiming for 100,000, but this may be as close as I can get, at least for now. On the whole, I’m reasonably pleased with this edit; the writing is now much cleaner, and a lot of excess verbiage has been cleared out to let the story shine through better. After letting it rest for a couple of weeks, I plan to skim through one last time looking for superfluous passages. Then another couple of weeks of rest, and I can hopefully start going through on my “beauty pass”, wherein I add back in some of the small details to help with setting and characterization, things like smells and sounds and such. And then, maybe, the book will be ready for the light of day.
I’m still struggling with two important questions, though:
1) Am I starting the story in the right place?
I begin the story with Celia Winterbourne landing her father’s airship the day before she goes off to college. Would it be better to skip that and go right to her arrival in Oxford? If so, how do I work in some of the detail from the current beginning? I think it’s important to show up front how passionate she is about airships and flying them. One thought would be to have her fly the airship to Oxford, but since she’s supposed to meet two of the characters with whom she interacts throughout the book at the train station, I’d have to figure out a different–but equally effective way–to introduce those two characters. It’s a bit of a puzzle. For the time being, I’m inclined to leave things the way they are, but I may end up changing my mind after all.
2) Am I telling the story from the correct POV?
So there I am, 9/10ths of the way through my second edit pass, when I start to wonder…would this be a better story if I told it in the first person? Would Celia be a more compelling character if we could see the world through her eyes, instead of at one remove?
Part of me says that yes, it would be a better story if written in the first person. I’d be able to tell you more about Celia directly, instead of having to rely on what she shows the world. But part of me likes the third-person POV for this story; plus, in the next volume, the narrative track splits between Celia and another character, with a few other characters stealing a scene here and there. If I switch to first person, I’ll lose that.
But just for comparison purposes, here’s the first draft of the first two paragraphs as originally written:
The airship Sophie’s Lightning gleamed golden in the late afternoon sun as it hung over the grassy meadow just outside the village of Windmill Hill. The errant breezes from the ocean would have made landing the craft a challenge for a lesser pilot, but Celia Winterbourne had been piloting her father’s airships since the age of eleven. Eight years of practice had made her skilled in all the craft’s nuances. Her fingers flew over the control panel, pulling levers to make minute adjustments to the rudder and the seven small propellers that helped guide the airship.
The control deck was open to the warm August air, giving Celia excellent visibility on three sides. There were window panes that could be put up in case of inclement weather, but the day had been so fine that she felt no need for them, even when the ship was cruising high above the English countryside. Taking careful note of the landing markers as well as the windsock, she made yet another adjustment to the starboard-side propellers, swinging the tail of the ship slightly to port. Perfect! A touch to another control, and the graceful ship set down precisely beside its dock, with only the most gentle of bumps to tell her they had landed. She grabbed a green flag and waved it out the front window as a signal for the waiting attendants to come anchor the ship in place.
And here are the same paragraphs re-written in first person:
The grassy meadow outside the village of Windmill Hill looked lush and soft in the late afternoon sunlight as Sophie’s Lightning hovered over it in preparation for landing. Seated at the pilot’s station, I kept my hands close to the ship’s controls. I’ve been flying Papa’s airships for the past eight years, since I was eleven, so I knew from experience that no matter how clear and still the day, breezes from the nearby ocean could always cause problems on landing.
As if reading my thoughts, a stray gust caught the Lightning’s tail and swung it to port. I touched the control to send increased power to the aft port steering propeller, and the airship obediently swung back into line. I smiled. “Good girl,” I said, patting the control panel in front of me.
The control deck was open to the warm August air; I’d decided that it was too nice a day to put up the glass window panes, even when we were at altitude. Besides, having the windows down gives me better visibility, at least on three sides, and when I’m piloting, I like to see as much as I can.
I looked down and took note of the landing markers, as well as the windsock, and noticed that the ship’s tail still wanted to swing to port. I made another adjustment to the control; then, before the breeze could catch her again, I set the ship down precisely on her landing marks. I felt only the gentlest of bumps to let me know that we were down, and I sighed. Our summer idyll was over; I grabbed the green flag to signal the ground crew to come tether the ship down, but at the same time, I couldn’t help feeling a little melancholy. In all likelihood, it would be next summer before the Lightning and I would be aloft together again.
Which is a really rough draft, but enough of one to show me that the story could conceivably be told in first person — but that it would change the character of the story. It would still be a good story, but it would be a different story. Since there are a lot of things I like about the story the way it is now, I think I’ll leave it in third person (unless someone comes up with a compelling reason to do otherwise).
Again, how do you know for sure whether or not a decision is right? The answer is that you don’t always. Sometimes, you have to try it both ways and see which you like better.
What other sorts of decisions have you faced as a writer? How did you make your decision? Have you ever changed your mind later?