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The Lost Circus, Part 7ish
This part won't make the final cut.
Hello, dear readers! It’s time once again for a brief snapshot into The Impossibly True Diaries of Actual Writing!
Spoiler alert - it’s pretty boring. Not exactly something that’s worth setting up a camera and streaming. I mean, if you’ve ever seen an IRL cooking stream, writing would probably be worse. It’s bad enough watching somebody put too much salt into a dish. I’m not sure anybody else wants to be part of the typing process.
So we’ll skip the boring part and talk about something I’ve always found interesting: words that don’t make the final cut.
When writers talk about editing, they often mention all the things they had to slice. 100k words became 80k. 50k turned into 25k. A massive 250k volume disintegrated into only 75k words.
I always wonder what they cut out. Extra words, sure - this and it and and and all the little filler words like these that don’t really do anything, but take up a lot of space. That makes sense to me.
But I also wonder about the story. I’ve heard several people talk about cutting out characters, scenes, whole plot lines. Sometimes there’s just too much going on, and the story doesn’t balance the way it should. It falls one way or the other: too emotional, too dry, too fast, too slow. The list goes on, ad infinitum.
Maybe I’m curious. Maybe I’m just nosy. Maybe I’m trying to learn, and I just want to see what somebody else didn’t deem worthy enough for the end.
So, in the spirit of sharing what shouldn’t be shared, here’s a chapter of The Lost Circus that won’t make it to the final draft.
Next week, I’ll have a better, more improved Part 7 for your enjoyment, which will hopefully stay in the book forever. This one, though, is on its way out.
The purpose of those chapter was to flesh out (pun intended) some character development for our hero. Thus far, we’ve dealt with terrible fear, nauseating events, and a loved one’s terrible fate. We still don’t know why the hero is locked in this circus, other than a combination of bad timing and horrible luck. Nothing has happened to them directly, so for some reason, they’ve been relatively safe so far. We don’t know what happened to the circus itself. We’ve heard a rumor that something awful took place, but nothing close to fact. And who had the brilliant idea to make a documentary?
In other words, it’s messy. Something’s going on. If we want to find out what it is, we’ll have to shake things up.
From a story perspective, something needs to change. The stakes have to get higher. The rules need to adjust. More terrible things will definitely happen. Something has to be the catalyst and push our hero into discovering the truth about everything. Realistically speaking, there’s about a million ways to do it. Is this the right version? Is it enough? Does it work?
I’m not sure that it does.
Anyway, take a look. I’ll see you at the end to go over some final thoughts. Good luck, dear reader!
I hate this Gypsy. I didn't really have a reason before - she didn't eat the Fat Lady, she hasn't tried to kill me yet, she's not bleeding all over the place - but I despise her. Knowing that my beloved mother will try to off herself with a nail gun is awful. No, not awful. There isn't a word for how bad this is.
I want to go home and throw it away. Get rid of all the tools. Take away anything that looks like she could use it as a weapon and burn it, then hide her credit card so she can't buy more.
"You cannot stop fate," says the Gypsy. Again, she reads my mind like I'm screaming it at the top of my lungs. Her eyes dance in amusement as I clench my fists. "It will happen, one way or another. All you can do is watch."
"Screw your fate." I spit on the table. Her eyes harden, but she doesn't flinch. "That's horse shit. My mom is fine. I'm gonna be fine. I'm not gonna kill myself, and she's not going to kill herself either. Now I'm going home."
I stand up, bumping the table, but somehow the cards stay in place. The Gypsy stares me down, her eyes locked with my own. It's a battle of wills, and damn it, I've had enough. I'm done being scared. Done being dragged around. Done being told what I will and won't do. I'm going to win this petty little argument, and then I'm going to walk out of here, straight into freedom, and never look back again.
A tiny smile curves her lips again, and I brace myself for the rebuttal. If she really can read my mind, she'll probably have something scathing to say. Tell me I'm too old for temper tantrums or other shit. It's no skin off my back, though. I've dealt with it before, in angry bosses and lazy coworkers and everybody else who tries to bring me down. She can hit me with whatever she wants. It won't change my mind.
Instead of ripping into me, she shrugs. "Your loss. I have told you nothing but the truth. It is your decision what to do with it."
"Damn right, it is." I should stop there, but I don't. I've got too much fire in my blood, and somebody's gong to pay for this hellish day. "And another thing: I'm done. I'm leaving now. And if you have anything to say about it, you might as well shut the hell up, because-"
A heavy hand slams down on my shoulder. Startled, my knees buckle, and I sit down hard in the chair that I've only recently vacated. Despite the disturbance, the cards still don't move. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the clown's bloody face morph into a grimace, and he shakes that finger at me again.
Oh, I'm being rude. My bad, it's not like I was dragged into a hellhole by a bunch of freaks or anythi-
The cards leap off of the table and circle us like birds, flapping their edges and stirring up little cyclones near my ears. Suddenly the Gypsy's on her feet, her scarves swirling around her head. Her one eye flashes in anger, and the darkness in the other is so deep it threatens to pull me in. "You will not speak ill of us," she hisses. "You have no right. After everything, you still feel you can speak down to us. We tried to tell you, but you didn't listen. You never did."
Before I have time to understand what she's talking about, there's a whooshing sound and my right ear twinges in pain. I reach up to touch the spot.
I pull my fingers away. The red smudge on my skin tells me what I already know, but it doesn't make sense. Something just ripped into my ear. It attacked me, and I don't know why. Nothing else has hurt me so far in this godforsaken circus, but apparently the rules changed.
I can be hurt. I can be injured. I can die.
A hissing sound, and something slices through my other ear. That one hurts like a bitch, and I grab at it. My fingers close around something that feels like paper, then it's gone. Liquid leaks down my neck, dripping into the collar of my shirt. I flinch away from it and run a fingertip along my ear. When I hit the raw edge of skin, half my head explodes into pain.
Something stabs through the other side. This time it's the top of my ear, and it hurts just as much, maybe more. Warmth drips into my ear, filling it up like I'm underwater. I reach up to stop the flow, try to bring relief, something- and my eyes land on the table.
It's empty. There's nothing on it any more.
Oh, God. The cards.
The air fills with white noise. My ears become alive with pain as cards zing past, nicking my skin as they soar. Tiny paper cuts, thousands of them, slicing and chopping, taking bits and pieces of me and leaving them on the floor. It's so loud, and it hurts so much, I can't think. It sounds like somebody's screaming and oh God it's me, I'm screaming. I can't breathe, but somehow I keep crying like a little kid stuck in a nightmare, sobbing for his mommy.
Blood soaks into my shoulders and spreads to the rest of my shirt, slowly flowing down my sides and curving onto my back. Everything is sticky and wet and hurts, and I don't know how to stop it. I try pressing my hands onto what's left of my ears, but the second I touch the raggedy edges of skin dangling from the sides of my head, my fingers jerk away. My stomach rolls over again - why is this happening - and I can't stop the tears from leaking out of my eyes.
This is wrong. This is wrong. This is wrong.
The words pound through my head, somehow louder than the noise and pain. I don't understand. Why are they hurting me like this? When did I stop being part of the audience and step into the show? I don't even know these people! Why do they hate me so much?
The cards halt in mid-flight, then lazily tumble to the ground like the pieces of paper and cardboard they are. The pain in my ears hums, but it's not unbearable. The white noise turns back into laughter and conversation, the chatter of the Fat Lady's party next door. The air stills, the gauzy curtains drifting back into place as if they didn't bear witness to an attack from a deck of cards. Across from me, the Gypsy resumes her seat, her fingertips resting lightly on the tabletop.
One card floats down and settles itself between us. I don't have to look down to know what it is.
Something presses into my hand, and I look down. My camera. I must have dropped it in the scuffle somewhere without realizing it. I look up at the clown to thank him, and his silent eyes gaze back, empty of the Gypsy's malice. Before, he was jovial, prancing around and shaking his shoulders in mute laughter. Now, he seems subdued. Serious. Not at all what I'm used to from bleeding clowns.
The camera sits awkwardly in my hands, as if I've somehow forgotten how to hold it. When I raise it questioningly at the Gypsy, she shakes her head and points directly at me instead.
Not a picture of her, then.
The hand on my shoulder gives me a pat, then withdraws. Understanding dawns slowly, and it tastes sour and malicious. I can still feel the warm stickiness on my neck, the strands of skin bumping against my head as I turn the camera around.
I've never been on this side. For a second, I'm intimidated. I've used this camera for six years or so, and I've never been the one staring down the lens. I admire the sleek black exterior, the shining chrome accents. My fingertips brush over a scuff, and my heart sinks. If I dropped it in the attack, it might not work. Somehow, this makes me sadder than anything else I've experienced so far today.
From the look in the Gypsy's eye, checking the damage isn't a good idea right now. So instead, I lift it, level it at my face, and squeeze the trigger.
There's a flash of light, which startles me - I rarely use the flash if I can help it - but then it's done. Somehow, I find myself on my feet, moving towards the gauzy door. To my surprise, the Gypsy doesn't rise. Instead, she watches as the clown and I duck under the curtains and head towards the party. I keep glancing over my shoulder to see if she follows, but she fades into the background as monsters and midgets and Fat Ladies all clamor for my attention. The last thing I see is her bony smile and a card balanced between her fingers.
Death. It's coming for you.
I shiver, and breathe a sigh of relief when the attendees part to reveal an opening in the side of the canvas. The door. We're finally leaving, and we're almost there. I wish I could shake the feeling that she's still there, watching. Hidden behind her curtains with her demonic cards, waiting for another chance. Maybe she'll slit my throat next time, if she's lucky.
Maybe I'll survive. I hope I do.
Don't worry, Mom. I'm coming home soon.
So? What do you think?
I know, it’s bloody and slightly wrong and yikes, what the hell is that but from a writing perspective, how is it?
To me, it seems like the story can go on without this chapter. Character development continues further down the road. More terrifying things happen. More weird freaks pop out of shadowy corners. More photographs catalogue the events. But is that worth taking it out?
Or, more importantly, is that worth keeping it in?
Here are some things I like about it:
Our hero gets mad. Fear has been an undercurrent of everything so far, but we’ve finally reached the point where they snap. At least, they try to snap. The circus has other ideas.
Our hero gets a scar. Mutilating the ears isn’t just for dramatic effect. Everybody who’s somebody so far has been horribly attacked, and this brings our hero onto the same level as every other performer they’ve met so far.
The picture. Taking a selfie makes it official: whatever happens, their fate is sealed. They’re part of the show now.
And here’s what annoys me:
The Gypsy basically has a temper tantrum. I like that she’s a bit wild and unwieldy, but I’m not sure slicing our main character’s ears to shreds is the right way to display that anger.
The clown doesn’t really have a role here. Granted, he doesn’t need to be the star in everything, but it seems like he’s taking a back seat to the Gypsy’s fury and that’s not the role he’s played so far. He’s the guide, not a minion.
The hero’s ears get shredded. I’m not sure why I’m so stuck on this. It just doesn’t feel right. During writing, it felt like poetic justice. Main character doesn’t listen, loses ears. Problem solved. Looking back, I’m not sure it actually addresses the deeper unrest that I’m trying to convey.
And another thing: this story is a novella. It won’t end up with 80k words, or be anywhere close to a full novel length. I need every single word to snare readers and keep them glued to the page, and if they bookmark this spot to come back later, it failed. I owe it to the reader to keep things interesting. They - and you - have already spent so much time here. I want to make it worth your while, too.
So, I’ll rewrite it. I still need story elements, like a transition between the Gypsy and the next tent. I want to drag our hero deeper into the tale, and I’m sure there’s a better way to do it than this.
What do you think, dear readers? Like it, hate it, rewrite it, forget about it and throw it in a burning pile of trash?
(I hope not!)
Let me know your thoughts. I’ll get working on Part 7.1, and I’ll see you next time - hopefully with a better story.
Have a marvelous week, and see you next Wednesday!