I recently finished the first draft of a novel and am embarking on that gargantuan task called revision. Re-vision — meaning I have to look at the story in another way, a better way. The first draft is where you figure things out for yourself, work out the basic action of the story, what happens, where you fumblingly get a feel for what the novel might actually be about, what questions are being asked and what is being explored. A revision, as I see it now, is kind of like taking that first form — the original form — and making it more complex, sort of subverting the original. Much like how one rewrites a fairy tale, or uses the plot or structure of a well-known work to form another work that expands upon the original, a revision of your own work should be a grappling with the core ideas of the first draft in an attempt to expand upon it. That at least is the attitude I’m going into this revision with.
Here is what I have so far.
When I was a small child my hair was black as night, black as a raven’s wing, black as any shadow — but by my thirteenth birthday it was white as the snow of Starfall. How puzzled I was when I watched my transformation! But, you see, it makes perfect sense, that a queen should grow to match her kingdom.
Yet at the time I did not understand. I understood very little at all, and so I was afraid. I lingered days at the gilt-framed mirror, plucking out the blanched hairs one by one. As nimble as my fingers were, they could not hope to stay that advance. Perhaps it was the first time I learned how it felt to be in the clutches of that word: inevitable. It is inevitable. Certain to happen.
When I was sixteen (sixteen, at least, by my mother’s account) I watched the green stalk of a marigold stab its way out between the cracks of the stone in the throne room floor. That was the end of me, I thought. So frightened I was that I could only watch it grow. When it opened its yellow head I cried out and tore it from its place, clamped it softening between the folds of my dress, trekked all the way to the village and gave it a rightful funeral in the quickening waters of the Wide.
“What’re you so afraid of?” my mother said. A taunt, I thought of it then, though now I wonder if it was concern rearing its maternal head. She had, increasingly, been getting a mouth on her. By then she was full-fledged Mother, auburn and womanly. Though as I grow older, with each day approaching the age I imagine she must have been when she first received hint of me, I doubt in her mind and heart she ever was truly a woman. Whatever that means.
These two things I remember at this moment: the change of my hair, and the marigold. Why should I remember them, when they are by no means the most dreadful or the most joyous of my life? Perhaps when I see you lying there so still and stiff, it reminds me of those plucked hairs and that long-ago flower. You look as if you’ve been tugged out at the roots, Tulip, though sturdy child you are you should spring right back up. Then you can cuff me in the eye, or the cheek, or the mouth. “An eye for an eye,” that is something I think they say in that other world. A cheek for a cheek. A mouth – well, mouths are for gobbling and speaking, so please spare.
My hair is white still, changed years ago by unrelenting solitude, though it was once dark as night, as a raven’s wing, as the severe hoof of an over-barned beast. I watched it change in that long length of opaque glass that serves as a mirror in my chambers, so dull and misty compared to what I recall of the other world’s mirrors which catch every line and shadow with full-color precision. It was with curiosity and not fear or sadness that I watched it change; it seemed right for a queen to match her kingdom. I thought with the melting of the snow and the thawing of the ice my hair would also return to some summer state but no, there has been no change since that fateful shift. I have waited, Tulip, but I am tired of waiting.
Starfall, our little kingdom. As I sit watching you sleep, Tulip, I am brought back to the days when it was new, and to the days when I began to think of it as home. I am brought back to my mother. My mother, watching me tear a marigold from between the cracks of stone in the throne room with a screaming shaking rage; she asking “What’re you so afraid of?” as what I thought was a taunt but may well have been true motherly concern; my mother, full-fledged auburn and womanly then, every bit a Mother or striving very hard to be. I saw the end of me in the grinning head of that yellow flower and I could not, like with so many things, tell her that.
I was sixteen years old then, by her account.
Perhaps you, Tulip, lying there so still, resemble a flower uprooted. Sturdy child you are you shall spring right back up. You shall gasp up any minute, take me in with startled then murderous gaze, cuff me one right in the eye, or the mouth, or the cheek. Eye for an eye, I believe that is a saying I once heard in that other world. Cheek for a cheek. Mouths – you need those to gobble and to speak, so please spare.
Obviously, another round of editing is necessary to sharpen the language. I seem to have the opposite problem most writers have, in that my first drafts tend to be too skimpy — my main work is to flesh things out. I am also very impatient. Revision is a task that requires great patience.