Cut the Turtle, Write like an Egg

In K3: The Antlion Faith ventures into the desert and steps on Anihilato, the forty-limbed centipede-person. Back when we met Faith for the first time, she mentioned this meeting! The afterlife’s timeline is an unconventional one.

Once again, I find myself running out of topics for commentary. There’s not a lot in this section I haven’t already discussed. So, I thought I’d discuss something I cut when I wrote this new draft.

In the exploratory draft I wasn’t sure what should happen to Faith in the afterlife. To compensate, I added another character to take up narrative space: a turtle who dispensed fortune-cookie wisdom. He didn’t do anything, or mean anything, and he only appeared because I wanted to fluff up the word-count. But including the turtle did make these sections easier to write, so even though I removed him, he was an integral part of my writing process. Like a bay-leaf added to soup, the turtle was intended for removal before serving.

I notice writing-crutches like that turtle in my first drafts fairly often. If I haven’t planned what should happen next in a story, I might introduce a new plot element just to keep me writing until I figure out where I’m going. When I write the second draft, I should know roughly where the story ends up, so I can omit characters and events which I know to be extraneous. The turtle helped me write Faith’s introduction to the afterlife and her confrontation with Anihilato; once those events were more fleshed out, the turtle was no longer necessary. Anything not necessary to a story should probably be removed.

That writing principle is what I call “writing like a salty egg.” Let me explain:

How do you balance an egg upright on just a few grains of salt, as few grains of salt as possible? You might try to stick two grains of salt under the egg and hope they support its weight, but you won’t have much luck.

But, you can easily balance an egg upright in a small pile of salt. Then you can blow the salt away, and the only remaining grains are those needed to hold the egg. This is the preferred way to balance an egg on a few grains of salt, if you ever find the need.

In writing like a salty egg, I try to overwrite until I know my narrative game-plan. Then I remove everything which serves no purpose. The turtle’s wisdom was given to another character, the Heart of the Mountain. The companionship Faith once found from the turtle, she now finds from the white wing. Hopefully my story will still stand after being pared down to its most important elements.

Another example of this comes from Dan Wakes Up. In that section, Dan awakens as a toddler named Jillian after his soul is eaten by the Master of Nihilism, Anihilato. Jillian’s parents tell Dan his name is Jillian and tuck him back into bed. That’s complicated enough for one section.

But in my first draft, I didn’t know that. I thought Dan/Jillian needed to see something important, to start a story-line involving Jillian’s family. As I rewrote chapter B I realized Akayama DanJay didn’t need that extra story-line, and I removed it. But at the time, writing that story-line gave me narrative momentum and kept me writing words on the page. It wasn’t a waste, even if I later decided it was unnecessary.

Anyway, thanks for reading my rant about turtles and eggs and all that.

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