I’m trying something new. In the interest of being open about the writing process, I thought I’d post a segment of the story I’m writing–target release date is January 1, 2021–with no narrative context before or after this point in the story, just to illustrate my process for a first draft of a story segment.
But before we get to that, I want to give a rundown of how this took shape, today. Here’s how it went.
First, I mulled over what other elements of this story need to be told. Whose emotional baggage needs to be emphasized, whose motivations need to be further developed, etc.
So, I started doing some voice recordings for myself. I paced around my home gym, talking to myself. I’m sure it looked ridiculous without context. Oh, I went into my driveway, too. See, I’ve turned in some grading and I have a lull at work, with people doing their plans for Turkey Day and all. So, pacing and thinking are just fine, even about fiction, for this professor.
In any case, after the voice recordings, I took a break, did some course design for my online class, and a couple hours later, told my wife about what I was planning. I was in the shower, at the time, and she patiently listened and chimed in from time to time, because she happens to like the character this segment is about.
Then, I came downstairs to write it all out. First, I took my laptop into the home gym, played fetch with the pups for a little while, did a few sets of bench press. Decline bench press, that is. It’s better for my shoulder. (Oh, the hazards of hubris at 19. I still have shoulder problems.) Later, I returned to where I’m sitting now, behind my desk, with my desktop computer out of commission because of a “bad RAM module”. Figured that out somewhere in between the voice recordings and telling my wife about them.
So–on my laptop–I sat down and banged all this out. Here it is. Caveats for a first draft.
Miriam gathered up the bundle from where she had placed it behind the outcropping just south of the Core. She left the target where it was. That could be returned later.
One step at a time.
Even now, despite having reached a decision, she felt something she couldn’t quite put words to. Like a pang of loss, of wanting—but with a dose of resignation and peace, as well. The feelings swirled in her stomach in a manner that made her both energized and ponderous, like the feeling after hearing a nice, long story, for which you knew there would be no more chapters. Or—hm.
That’s not quite right.
It was more like…finishing one story and picking up another, that feeling of sadness mixed with accomplishment, as well as anticipation for what is to come. Yes, that felt more fitting.
She had a story, and it was a good one. She had thought about it quite a lot since watching Sofia and Silas sweep the cabin together. They both filled roles, Silas and Sofia, and it didn’t make sense for Sofia to try to replace Silas at the task for which he was best suited, sweeping the heavy clumps of wood shavings into a bag. Neither was it worthwhile for Silas to try picking up the stray curls of wood, a task for which her small, quick hands were ideal.
By the same token, Miriam was a caretaker. She took care of the simpletons, who were dulled by the completion of their sentences as spikers. She took care of Sofia, who was abandoned by the death or loss of her mother and father. And she took care of Mabel, in her way, and helped the old woman send out harkroot powder to the Range where it could be used to treat the wounded and numb their pains. This was her lot, and it was a far cry from that of a defender of the Range. And this, this realization, was something that was a long time coming. There was a peace to finally, at long last, accepting her place in the world, a world bordered by the cerulean void to the south and the point on all sides of the settlement’s Core at which grass gave way to the sands of the desert frontier.
This is my place. She inhaled slowly, then exhaled, breathing out what felt like the last of her hopes for something more. And in its place, she felt…well, she wasn’t sure precisely what she felt.
As she walked back toward the Core proper, she focused on the impressions her feet made in the loamy soil south of the Pylon. She took step, after step, after step down the shallow slope leading to the radius of cabins dotting the edges of the monolith’s footprint. She raised her eyes to look north, her view partly obscured by the massive tusk of a structure, itself. She could just barely make out the false horizon made by the crest of the railway just over a mile into the sands, halfway to the Range.
It was hard to believe Mabel’s account that the rails once hummed with activity as the camps ferried hand car after hand car between the seven stops along the cliffside. Then again, how could such activity not have occurred after such a monumental construction? She imagined the miles and miles of vacant railway threading over the sands to east and west, transecting the perimeters of the seven camps as it wound along the cliffside.
How had they done it? Such a feat of construction would have required a level of effort and cooperation that seemed impossible, now. With the constant assaults of the beasts from the north and all the defenders’ attention oriented to pushing back the shadow—either past generations were far more efficient at defense, or…they were privy to far less aggression from the shadow.
Lost in her ruminations, Miriam looked up to realize her feet had taken her to within sight of Gram’s cabin. She paused where she stood.
Gram’s cabin. She still called it that, after all these years. It was, true, but it was her cabin, as well. And Sof’s.
She took another step, and found her momentum. Her feet felt oddly heavy as she grasped the canvas bundle, its contents clinking together now and then. When she turned the corner to the rear of the cabin, she noticed the back door was open.
Out on a stroll, maybe.
Gram occasionally went for walks, but never far. Miriam wanted to believe she’d have a moment of privacy to lay down her bundle in a corner Gram rarely used, in the hope that she wouldn’t notice.
She took the steps up to the open door, stepping lightly as she crossed the threshold, turning right to cross the boards and place the bundle behind some old crates Gram used for organizing the harkroot pouches before shipment.
She stood up, taking another breath, then turned around, and—
“Well that’s quite a change.”
Miriam jumped. “Gram! I thought you were—”
“You thought I was… what, out? On a midday stroll through the many, many wonders that the Core has to offer, perhaps?” She spread her arms wide, cackling.
“Well—” Miriam began, her brow furrowing.
“The question is, what’s that all about,” Mabel said, nodding down at the parcel Miriam had laid in the corner.
“It’s—it’s nothing, just something Nuncle Daxus—”
“I know what it is, girl. I know my brother, and I see more than you might think,” Mabel said. “I’m asking what that’s about, you leaving it there. Bit of a change, hm?” Mabel raised an eyebrow.
Of course she did. Miriam pushed the thought away, refocusing on the question itself.
“I was thinking, well…” Miriam paused. “Maybe it’s time for me to focus on where I can make a difference. I’ve got a task, a series of tasks to do, and these people need me.”
“Right you are, about that last bit.”
Miriam nodded. “I have to take care of the simple folk, because no one else will. And they—we, that is—do important work for the Range.”
“Ah, is that so? Well, I suppose it is. All the same, are you saying all that for me?”
“What do you mean?” Miriam asked.
Mabel looked her in the eye, took a step closer. “Are you saying that for me, Mir, or for yourself? Who are you trying to convince?” she said.
“What? Well—I’m not sure what you’re driving at…I’ve got to think about Sof, set a good example for her. Isn’t it obvious, Gram? She doesn’t have a mother to do it for her.”
“That’s partly true. She doesn’t have a mother. Never has.”
“And that’s why I have to set a good example for her.”
“And how in the sands did you get fool idea that shelterin’ that girl was setting a good example?” Gram was shaking her head. “You think throwin’ a few daggers at some wood is gonna corrupt her poor little mind?”
“Well, why do you have her in here all day grinding the root, then? Adhering to the same old strict schedule you put me through when I was her age?” Miriam was more than a little frustrated, and let it show, for a change.
Mabel looked at Miriam with a glint in her eye. “There’s more than one reason to keep her around the root as much as I did you, Mir,” she said. “And it’s the same reason I ask you to help from time to time. There’s two ways to get it into, and that’s directly—” she raised a hand to her mouth, “—or indirectly. By grinding it up, getting it all ‘round you.”
Miriam was incredulous. “What?! Why…what do you mean?”
“You’ll see,” Mabel said. “You’ll see. Try it, if you will. Stay away from the root for a week and go near the Great Pylon. See how you feel after that.” Mabel tapped her temple. “You’ll thank me, Mir. Before long you’ll need the little bit of help that the root gives.”
Miriam shook her head slightly, closing her eyes, trying to come to grips with Mabel’s words. The Pylon did what? And that meant…all her life Gram had been, what? Drugging her? If the Corvites found out about this, they would—
“Oh, don’t you go worrying about them blue hooded fools, Mir. I can see it in your eyes. The bigger point is you’re doing this for all the wrong reasons. You say it’s for them simple folk, fine. You say it’s for Sofia, or even me, fine.” She waggled a finger at Miriam. “But don’t you think this gets you off the hook, Mir.”
“Off the hook for what?”
“These people look to you, Mir. Not just Sofia, not just the simpletons. The women who survived the rigors of childbirth, those same damnable trials that took Sof’s mother. The young girls who don’t see an example of women doing anything other than serving a tit to a baby or food for their Range-defendin’ menfolk, except you. Needless, all those hardships, if they took the root. But in any case, they look to you.” She pointed at Miriam, then.
Miriam stood dumbfounded. “Me? What—?”
Mabel threw up her hands and laughed. “Oh, the ignorance of youth. And at two dozen and four summers under your belt, no less. Sands, girl, but you’re pretty blind for one so clever. Pretty and blind, in fact. Not that it does you any good.”
“Gram! I nev—”
“Now don’t you go getting’ bothered, girl. You take my point, here. You take it good and you keep it deep inside you, ‘cause I might not be around much longer.”
Miriam exhaled sharply, but nodded.
Mabel raised her brows and closed her eyes, seeming satisfied. “The point, my dear, is this. There will come a time, and maybe soon, when those little skills you’ve taken time to hone and sharpen might turn out to be worth more than just the thrill of a little private deviance.” She fixed Miriam with those cold, grey eyes, just as she had when Miriam was a girl. But now, those eyes held something different. Respect?
“Have you ever done a binding, girl?” Mabel asked, looking at her steadily.
“A bind—like the pillars on the Range? The lantern flares? No, I—”
“It’s more than pillars and lights, girl. The kind they do for the bolts you spend all day whittling and sending up to the sands. A binding.” Mabel said, emphasizing the word.
“No, of course I haven’t. Why would I?”
Mabel cackled, her cynical levity returning. “Well, that won’t be your answer after today. Now go fetch the lantern outside. We can do without porchlight for a night. And go get that—” Mabel clucked and gestured impatiently at the bundle Miriam had tried to hide earlier. “Bring those over here.”