Thursday, March 10, 2011

Guest Post: Angela Cerrito


I am delighted to announce this Thursday's guest, Angela Cerrito! She is a fellow American living in Europe, a "kindred spirit" traveler and home birth mom.  Her book END OF THE LINE is being released by Holiday House this month. Her website invites readers to share their list of who they are, just as her main character, thirteen-year-old Robbie did at The End of the Line, AKA Great Oaks School. Here she shares the power of one word. Enjoy the post - thanks so much, Angela! (Jacket Photography by Edward McCain/Workbook Stock Collectin / Getty Images)                                                                                                                         
The Weight of Words

If you kill someone you’re going to hell. That was the first sentence of the first draft of THE END OF THE LINE. It remained the first sentence through many drafts and it was the opening line of the first, second and third final versions. (I mistakenly thought about 10 versions were the final version).
Out it went to two editors and a few agents. (Thank you editors for your direct feedback; thank you agents for pointing out the need for more revisions.)
That line lasted as I gave the entire manuscript a major overhaul. If you kill someone you’re going to hell.
Before I sent the latest (but not last) final version out to the world, I evaluated every chapter, every page, every word.
I liked the line. I especially liked the word hell. It sounded strong, certain –final. But I considered that word, that one hell, in the context of the rest of the novel and it didn’t fit.
The line represents the thoughts (and fears) of Robbie, the main character. At no point in the rest of the novel does he think about hell. Also, he never reflects on his personal religious beliefs. He doesn’t spend time worrying about institutions or other people condemning him for his past. He’s already full of self loathing.
There was something else I had to consider about the word hell in that sentence. Hell represents the future or a possible future.  In THE END OF THE LINE, Robbie isn’t focused on the future. He can barely cope with the present. He can’t escape the past.
Hell was dishonest. It promised the reader a character suffering with a crisis of religion, a character worried about his soul. This didn’t fit Robbie’s story.
Hell had to go.
And because hell was such a strong word, such a weighty word, it took more than one word to replace it.
The opening now reads: "If you kill someone, you are a piece of murdering scum. When I saw his body all twisted and still, I knew...I knew my life was worthless. It didn't matter what Dad said or how hard Mom cried. There was nothing they could do."
See the entire first page at www.angelacerrito.com


Have you ever struggled with one word or phrase in your writing? Maybe it was in a conversation, where you knew that each word counted, or a single word could be taken wrong?  

5 comments:

  1. Hell is what you make it.

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  2. So interesting to read a little bit about your process and that an important edit can happen after 10 revisions! Thanks for sharing, Angela.

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  3. Jemma, thanks for posting this interview. It's interesting to think about how that first line sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Angela, thanks for sharing your thought processes.

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  4. Great, though-provoking essay Angela. I'm just now reading "Hooked" which is all about openings -- how to make them strong enough to reel in a reader. I imagine it must have been tough for you to give up your opening line after living with it for so long. Very brave -- but authentic -- decision.

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  5. Yes - what a great specific example of "killing a darling" and honest revision! Very instructive. Can't wait to read The End of the Line.

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