As I promised last week, I will offer up a “dual feature” to make up for my computer exploding and thereby stopping me from posting anything last Monday. While I hope you’ll want to read both of them, if you’re only here for the [cover reveal](#cover) I won’t hold it against you.
Look at revision
When I write, I have a long process that starts before I even put pen to paper–or fingers on keyboard, as the case might be. After my first draft I go through the story in detail: add missing scenes, clarify the storyline(s), remove superfluous scenes and many more things. The current step I want to show is how I go about deepening the point of view, through narrative voice.
At least for me, when I first was introduced to the idea of narrative voice, it was a bit of an aha! moment. A character’s voice, as you probably know, is how they speak, and move, and overall present themselves to the world (simplified, since thoughts are also written in a character’s voice). Their narrative voice, in contrast, is how they perceive the world. Not by how they react to it, but how they experience it.
Everything is filtered through the point of view’s mood–are they feeling generous and happy with the world, or are they assuming that it’s against them; their experiences–where did they grow up, what memories do they associate with colours, flavours, or words; their senses–if they’re hard of hearing they’ll probably not pick up on subtleties in someone’s voice, and if they’re not used to differentianting between shades, they’re likelier to view a fabric as red rather than crimson, white rather than eggshell or dark bluish-green rather than teal. All of this, together with the assumptions they make, creates their narrative voice.
And yes, if you’re using this properly, your narrator will be just a touch unreliable. Maybe not enough to affect the story, but remember that a deep point of view isn’t necessarily about what is true, but what the point of view considers to be true.
Satinder’s narrative voice
The scene I’ll be showing is the very first one in the story. I think I’ve cut off all the unnecessary events, and started it at the right place. I haven’t yet looked into filter words and checked what verb+adverbs can be transformed into a stronger verb, that’s the step after building up the narrative voice.
Warning, this will contain some spoilers, mainly about what led up to the story.
First, state of mind. This is for this scene specifically, as the point of view will slowly recover some during the story.
Satinder is suffering from post-partum depression after miscarrying at five months. It’s what’s referred to as a ‘psychotic depression’, which means that outside of more common symptoms of depression, it also includes psychotic elements like seeing or hearing things that aren’t there. In Satinder’s case, the main symptom is an auditory hallucination that speaks in the voice of a boy Satinder knew when they went to school.
While Satinder is not suicidal, their outlook is bleak, to say the least. They are very drawn-in, not having enough energy to focus too much outside themselves. This is made worse by them just having woken up from a nightmare which triggered a panic attack.
They’re also heavily dysphoric, in particular their breasts is a source of anguish for them. They were assigned female at birth, but a few years prior to the story came to realise that they are non-binary. They are neither male nor female.
Specific things to look for in this scene:
- Weather is going to seem glum
- Colours are simple
- Physical reactions are dominant
- They mainly experience things that are very close, their senses not having much reach
- The state of panic is bubbling under the surface
The scene itself
Waves crash against the cliffs outside, a roaring barrier between me and a world that has forsaken me. I clutch the cold edges of the sink. Iron and bile flood my mouth. Tears streak my cheeks, and sweat sticks tufts of blond hair stick to my forehead. Another restless night; is there an end? I don’t know.
My hands grip the porcelain until they are as white as it is. The mirror is covered with a black towel; I don’t want to risk meeting the eyes. Of the stranger that is wearing my face.
You are a freak. Henrik’s voice drips with contempt, appearing behind me. Maybe by the door?
My every breath is shallow. Short. Searing. I fight the traitor in me and reach for the white box and the sheet within. When I punch out a white pill, my trembling fingers drop it on the floor. It bounce, bounce, bounces behind the cabinet. My stomach contracts as I sink down on my knees. A vein on my temple pulsates painfully.
“Can’t I just have one day?” I whisper into the silence. “Just one good day, without nightmares and without—”
No. You know what you did. He seems closer, his voice growing stronger.
I swallow the pill and close my eyes. “It wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t …”
Of course you couldn’t. His voice looms over me, and I wrap my arms around my body. You never could. Or did.
Dim sun-rays flicker through the bathroom window. Exhaustion floods my senses.
“Leave me alone.” I grip the sink and pull myself back up. “Please, leave me alone.” Staring away from the mirror I grab the binder and tighten it around my chest. The lumps go away, and the hips to slim into nothingness. I can breathe again. With tank-top and loose shorts, the feminine stranger has transformed into me.
You can’t ignore me. Henrik’s voice grows weaker as my beating heart slows. I pad outside on bare feet.
With each breath, my lungs fill with salty air. The September chill caresses me, and the chilly bedrock bites into my soles despite patches of wilting grass. I sink down and rest my head back against the greying logs of my cottage. Goosebumps spread along my bare skin. Numbing my body numbs my mind.
The mist hangs low, with the sun reflecting in morning dew. A sudden wind tears through the leaves, and I choke on the stench of death. Every hair on my arms stand on end, and malevolence drowns my skin. It feels like someone, or something, is watching me. Seagulls cry and laugh in the distance.
I rush inside to get away, but the oily sense of evil clings to me.
My phone blinks on the counter, with a new message, but instead of dealing with that, I move to the mat in front of the hearth.
With feet tucked underneath me, I close my eyes and force deep breaths. In through the nose, hold, out through the mouth slowly. After five breaths I open my eyes again and stare at the fireplace’s scorched bricks.
My mouth chants Waheguru—Wonderful Teacher, creator of all—but my mind roils with memories of the crying of children and the laughter of a crone.
Protect the innocent? How can I, when I couldn’t even carry a child to term?
Serenity slips out of my grip.
- One too many "stick" in it, remove one
- Technically the first sentence breaks the rule on experiencing things that are close, but it sets the stage. As it’s the first paragraph, a slight break of PoV is fine in my opinion
- The imagery of white hands/porcelain against the black towel drives home the point of simple colours
- The choppiness of I don’t want to risk meeting the eyes. Of the stranger that is wearing my face. helps reinforce the state of panic
- Adjust white box/sheet within to read white box/aluminum sheet, for a clearer image
- Remove "white" from the pill, it’s to repetitive
- While using "contract" in this way is acceptable, it seems unlikely Satinder would use that as a word for how their stomach feels. Replace it with "clench"
- While "his voice" is the technically more correct term, Satinder is likelier to think of it as "he"
- Move the tightening of the binder closer to the "I can breathe again", for juxtaposition. The lumps go away, and the hips to slim into nothingness as I tighten it. I can breathe again
- Connect the two sentences. Doesn’t need to be filled out more, but connect them
- Remove "with each breath"
- One of the chill/chilly should go … replace "chill" with "wind", and replace "despite" with "between": The September wind caresses me, and the chilly bedrock bites into my soles between patches of wilting grass.
- While I love the wording "seagulls cry and laugh in the distance", it’s too … distant to stay
- Wait, "oily sense of evil clings"? Ah, no. The important part here is that the external sense of evil stays with them, so it’s oily that needs to go. Replace it with "putrid"
In the end, I didn’t fix too much in this revision, mainly because I’ve already picked up most of the weather/colour cues in prior revisions (such as the theme/motif one). If we pretend that this was a complete story, the next few steps would be:
- Remove words that are filler, put distance between the reader and the point of view, or are just unnecessary
- Spelling/grammar (yep, for me this is one of the very last steps)
- Evaluate cause/effect (and, if necessary, add more senses)
- Finally: evaluate the rhythm of each unit. Word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph. Finding the perfect word and placement of words/sentences/paragraphs
The story about the cover for Änglamakerskan (literal translation: angel maker) starts in the beginning of the year. At that point, I was planning on a March publication, but due to various reasons (mainly wanting to extend the story on advice of beta readers) that didn’t happen.
I didn’t want to spend too much time or money on the cover, but I also didn’t want a ugly/badly composed cover. When looking for various cover artists, I found one that sold pre-composed covers that were quite okay, and for a good price. Sharing that one with a few people on twitter, my friend Kristine Wyllys slid into my mentions with a few comments on the composition. We decided that she would make the cover, if I got the resources together.
So, without further ado: The cover of Änglamakerskan.