Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Crafting your work - a post with an extract

When teaching writing (or guiding the writers), I often encourage my students to understand that it is a very rare person indeed who can get perfection first time. I will then show them an example of an early draft of a chapter sometimes with editoral queries and get them to have a go at 'fixing' the peice. Then, I will show them the final published extract.

If you are interested in seeing an example of this, go here to read the raw, shitty first draft (and my first ever) fight scene. I have to say, I really did struggle with them and I mention this struggle and the reasons for it. So, after asking myself a number of times 'what do I see? what do I hear? How do I feel? This is the final, edited version of the fight scene with Fleance and Macduff.

From Chapter 31, about half way into the chapter:

They had been fighting for three hours and only the runners, who came with water and supplies, and their determination to fight to protect Scotland, kept them going. Fleance had trained his mind to see the men before him as difficult branches he had to cut down for Magness. It would undo him to imagine them as flesh and blood.

As Duncan has said, the rebels were not so well armed or trained as they had all been led to believe. Their weapons were inferior and their soldiers poorly equipped. Only anger and strength, it seemed, propelled them forward.

Beside him, fought Macduff. The old man talked all the way through his fights with whoever he was up against – sometimes with humour and sometimes with rage. In another life, Fleance thought after one such dialogue, the man would have been a great jester of the court.

Sword and shield moved as if with a life of their own, following the pattern Macduff had taught them. Fleance held up his shield and blocked the crash of his enemy’s axe, swinging his sword up and around, driving the blade into the vulnerable gap between the two pieces of armour.

Spinning against the falling body onto the next man. Block. Swing. Aim for the gap. Hack. Don’t think. Don’t stop. On and on.

Many men fell under their onslaught. Fleance was glad to have Macduff by his side as he fought against those who came against him. Some he killed; a number he fought but they, knowing they were out-smarted, quickly ran away.

Such was the case of the last man to try his luck against Banquo’s sword. After two attempts to thrust his own into Fleance’s side, both times blocked easily, the rebel threw down his sword in defeat and lifted his hands in surrender.

Macduff had dispatched his last enemy and turned to the trembling man who stood before Fleance. ‘Away with yer, yer skanky dog. Take yer tail between yer legs and tell yer leader Macduff says it’s a foolish man who tries to conquer Scotland.’ The man hesitated a moment and Macduff feigned to charge him. The terrified rebel turned on his heels and sprinted back across the battle field to his own side. ‘Foolish geat,’ Macduff growled. ‘You were kind to spare his life.’

Fleance shook his head. ‘Honour, not kindness. He had surrendered. Had I run him through, it would be murder.’

The field lay before them. Many fellows were down. Sounds of moaning and crying drifted into the cold, spring air. Fleance and Macduff removed their helmets and lent against their swords, breathing heavily.

‘You have your father’s skill and strength,’ Macduff said, looking closely at Fleance.

Fleance shook his head. ‘Twas not from Banquo I received this education but from my adoptive father who spent many long hours teaching me the skills of the sword and crossbow.’

As they rested, catching their breath, Fleance sensed the fight against the rebels was almost won. Many men fled the sight of the Scottish army and, after a gruelling three hours, he could see soldiers from both camps withdrawing, staggering back to their posts into the mist and cold.

Around them, the battlefield was littered with bodies – some alive and some dead. Fleance and Macduff were two of the few left standing. It was a gruesome and sad sight.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Much better! Really fascinating to see the evolution from SFD to surer-footed, smoother narrative, with the bumps and infelicities sanded over. Lovely! (can I apply such an adjective to a battlescene?)