I've been working a lot lately on Lost Birth, the second volume in my upcoming young adult novel series to be released this summer. Lost Birth was originally self-published back in 2007, but now that I've grown more comfortable with my writing style, I'm revising the entire series.
A little while ago I posted an example of what the revisions are looking like to Endangered Memories (the first volume in this series), and I figured I'd give everyone a glimpse of some of the revisions I'm dealing with right now with Lost Birth.
Here is an excerpt from the original version of Lost Birth. In it, Carrie Green meets the man who has abducted her into his cult sanctuary known as the Complex. In the original version, Carrie is a bit timid and confused by things. In the revision, I decided I wanted her to have stronger characteristics and more of an attitude. She is a hero who helped save the world in the past and has been kidnapped and taken to a place she knows nothing about. I doubt she would take that lying down.
Excerpt - Expired Reality Lost Birth
Carrie eyed the guards for a moment, recognizing them from a past memory…a memory of a hotel and an explosion. These can't be the same ones, can they? Just a strange coincidence, right? Her heart started to beat rapidly, as if she was facing a nightmare she had been fearing her whole life.
"We’re here to see the Master. Tell him the Marked One has awoken."
Both of the guards turned and pulled the mammoth black doors open to a reveal a small inner sanctum.
"Go ahead, Carrie. I'll be waiting out here to help you back to the rooms after you speak to the Master."
Carrie stood for a moment, staring at the girl, and then shook her head warily as she passed through the doorway. The doors creaked and popped as they slammed shut behind her. She stood facing a small stone bench at the top of three layers of stone flooring. Small stone pillars at the top were burning with blue flames, and a large mural inscription on the wall behind them was glowing with marvelous colors of light.
Carrie walked up the layers and stopped in front of the fire. She examined the mural on the wall, trying to make some sense of the place. Etched in blue light was a small stick figure, a red pinwheel etched above it. Next to the figure was a hexagonal item with a glowing green center. Next to that was what looked like a large temple. Floating above the temple was what Carrie could only guess to be a book of some sort. Rays shot out from the book and arched over to dark clouds that hovered over what looked like dead stick figures strewn across each other.
"Strange," she whispered to herself.
"The truth usually is."
She turned around swiftly, realizing she wasn't ready to see what was before her eyes. "Wha--"
"Ryc?! What--" Carrie backed up against one of the small pillars as Ryc Waterford, adorned in a shining black robe with the strange symbol on the front, started up the layers toward her. "I…I saw you die. I pushed you off the chopper myself. How did you survive?"
He rubbed his bald head with one hand, his icy blue eyes peering out at her with an evil she hadn't seen in so long. "A loaded question. One I don't have time to explain to you. Not yet, anyway. And while you are in my house, you will refer to me as the Master, Ruler of the Elements."
He laughed. "You will know the answers in time, my dear. You will learn a lot in your time here."
"Why have you brought me here? What do you want with me?"
"What I've always wanted." He stopped a layer below hers.
"David is dead.” He rolled his eyes. “This time, he is actually dead and there is no bringing him back. Any wild notions you may have of your hero rescuing you this time should be discarded right here and now."
“I don't believe you. I don't believe that David is dead and nothing you or your followers around here tell me will change that belief, understand me?"
"Hm. Yet, you have doubt. I can sense it in your voice." He sneered. "You can believe what you want. Believe what you want, but I’ll even have his corpse delivered here so you can see for yourself. Of course, I imagine that might get a little emotional for you. Carrie, you are mine now. You are in my domain, in my home, and this is where you'll stay until the day your spirit is swept back into the elements."
"No, I won't stay here. My friends will rescue me or I'll make sure I die before I live in this stone prison with you!" Carrie started down the layers. Before she could pass him, he reached his arm out and grabbed her bicep, squeezing it like it was a squeaky dog toy.
His lips came up to her ear as he tightened his grip. "Understand that you are my property now. You are the Marked One and you won't be allowed back to the surface ever again. If they find you," his voice deepened and came out raspy and strong as the grip on her arm tightened to match, "if the wrong people get a hold of you, they will have hold of a power they do not understand. You are a key in the hands of some, a weapon in the hands of others, and a curse within yourself."
She turned her head, snarling. "Let go of me.” She struggled her arm out of his grip, the skin red and raw. “You need to understand that if you ever decide to lay a hand on me again, I'll make sure it's the last. I’m not the same fragile girl I used to be."
He scoffed. "You’re more fragile than ever before! I brought you here to protect you from your own terrible destiny because you don’t have the sense to do it yourself. Simple as that."
"Since when do you even care for my well being? I will leave this place sooner or later and I will find David and we will destroy you once and for all. That is a promise!"
He smiled at her. "No. No, you won't." He grabbed her wrist, turning it over to the underside. "This will make sure you don't leave me this time. That detonator has been strategically implanted in your wrist. If you leave, I will set it off and your arteries will explode inside your arm, killing you. And I doubt you’ll want to dig it out yourself. You always loved life a little too much to do anything that drastic."
Carrie stared into his deep eyes. The ocean blue gaze made her feel like she was drowning. The hope she had partnered with her adrenaline was now gone and all she had left was despair. He was right. She couldn't escape without him finishing her off and she couldn't take out the implant herself without slitting her own wrist.
"I sense you finally understand the situation, Carrie. Go, check out your sleeping quarters. Get some rest. You’ve been through a lot. Your first lesson in the truth will be starting within the hour."
"Yes. We're going to teach you the truth about Anaisha and the truth about yourself, about your curse. The one that has sealed your destiny in a most disgusting way."
"I want to leave."
"Go, rest." Ryc grabbed her arm again and pulled her to the doors. They opened wide and the girl named Rio quickly joined her side, pulling her out of the inner sanctum.
"You can't do this!" Carrie shouted toward the closing doors, Ryc’s face disappearing behind them. "No!!!" Carrie broke from Rio's grip and ran to the doors, pounding on the black surface with her fragile fists. The cloaked guards grabbed her by the arms and tossed her to the ground. She tumbled, hitting her head on the marbled tile. She lay there for a moment, her eyes closed, trying to rid herself of the dull pain.
"Carrie? Are you okay?" Rio bent down and rubbed her back. "We need to get you to your quarters."
Carrie lifted her sore head and stood up, a disgusted look on her face. Rio took her gently by the arm as they started back through the archway and down the hallway.
“Why do you buy into this?” Carrie rubbed the lump growing on her head as they approached the cafeteria.
“What is so appealing about him or this place that you would give up your life to serve him? You don’t know that man like I do, if he can even be considered a man."
Rio looked at her, disgusted at the comments and even more disgusted at Carrie's tone. "You don't understand yet, but you will. This will be your new home, just like it is mine." They stopped as she waved her hand toward the open doorway to the cafeteria. Carrie looked in at the long tables, white robes filling them up, going about their business of eating.
An angry look shot across her face as she stormed through the doorway and stopped at the end of one of the long rectangular tables. The people looked up from their food to notice the Marked One standing feet from them. They all bowed their heads down toward the table in reverence. Carrie watched their strange actions and realized they had been taught to act this way toward her, as if she was some sort of symbol of their culture, something that they didn't see everyday but had longed for their whole lives.
"Stop bowing! Stop bowing down and go back to eating, talking, whatever you were doing!" After the words left Carrie's mouth, she realized they weren't going to listen to her. "This is some sort of brainwashing cult, people! Don't you understand? This isn't your home, this isn't--" Carrie felt one arm wrap around her waist from behind and another hand wrap around her mouth to silence her.
Rio's voice was hot and harsh on her ears. "Keep your forked tongue in your mouth if you want to stay alive in this place." Carrie broke free from the woman's grip and spun around to face her. The woman's eyes were fire-red to match her outfit. Her fiery red nails extended at her side like claws. She was like a giant flame, seething with anger toward Carrie. "You may be the Marked One, but you still have to follow the same rules of respect and courtesy as everyone else here. You aren't some kind of princess, you are a weapon and you will be silenced if need be, like all weapons should be.”
Carrie turned back and noticed everyone at the table had gone back to eating. They were minding their own business again, as if nothing had happened. She turned back to Rio, her finger pointed, the end inches from the woman’s face. "You aren't keeping me here for long. I don't care what you or Ryc or any of these people here say, David will rescue me or I will find a way out of here."
"You better shut your mouth!" She grabbed the front of Rio's outfit and shoved the girl to the floor. The woman fell on her back, her eyes burning with fury. "You better shut your mouth and never utter those words again." She pointed down to Rio as each person in the cafeteria stood to their feet. The shuffling caused her to turn back around, just in time to see two figures in black cloaks make their way toward her from the back of the room. They stopped in front of Carrie, heads bent down.
"Fool! You've disturbed the shadow guards by threatening me!" Rio stood to her feet.
"I don't care!" She faced the woman again. "I'm not afraid of you or your guards or your Master. You've messed with the wrong girl and when the chance presents itself, you’ll pay."
Rio's lips hissed as her left eyebrow arched upward. "You still don't get it. You still don't understand. I was hoping you would have some sort of compassion on us or even Anaisha, but you don't. All you care about is yourself. You care about your own well being and not the well being of these people around you. Do their lives not matter? Do you only help those you feel like helping?"
Carrie felt a quick snap of guilt run through her and then she quickly realized it was the woman's intention to make her feel that way. These people aren't my responsibility. I didn't ask to come here. Ryc has never had the intention of helping anyone but himself.
Rio shook her head. “You had better cooperate or I’ll detonate the explosive in your wrist myself."
She had forgotten about that up to now. She glanced down at her wrist and saw the inch-long incision scar. She figured it may be in her best interest to bring her attitude down a notch, just until she could figure out what these people were up to.
"Come with me, Carrie. I will show you to your room."
She took one last look at the people before her, wondering what they had been told to alter them into this state of mindlessness.
Rio grabbed Carrie's shoulder and pulled her around toward her. "These people are counting on you to stop the world from being destroyed. Don't let them down."
“And how can I be expected to help them?”
Rio smiled, as if she was glad Carrie had asked. “By staying here. You being out there in the world will be the destruction of us all.”
Carrie was escorted back to her room. It was a small stone space with a twin bed covered in black sheets, a small coffee table with a lamp, and a three-foot high pillar with a blue flame escaping out the top of it. The wall to the right of her bed had a large etching of their cult symbol glowing in colored light.
"This is where you'll stay. Your lesson will begin in about twenty minutes."
Carrie reached out and grabbed the girl’s hand. "Rio, don't you see what is going on here is wrong? This is some sort of cult. Ryc isn't your friend, he's your enemy, and he's got all of you brainwashed."
Rio pulled away. Her eyes started to glow a fiery crimson again. "You are the Marked One, Carrie, that is why I will at least attempt to understand why you say such things, but please do not speak of my Master that way. He has done nothing but help us by directing us in a path of peace and balance. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.’ And stop using that term, brainwashing. These people are all here voluntarily, except you, of course. No one can afford to have you out there in the world. Even the world itself cannot afford it."
"He tried to kill me and the man I love."
"I’ve heard the story. Pure inanity. You pushed him out of a helicopter and then claimed yourself a hero because of it."
"Well, that’s a twisted point of view, but I did push him out of the chopper to save David’s life."
"I understand that because you’re the Marked One, you’ll feel the need to sacrifice others to please the elemental spirits within you, that’s why you tried to kill him. But the spirits would not accept your sacrifice and he survived and you must take that as instruction to better your own life."
"Spirits? Look, you need to help me get out of here. I need to find my friends."
"No." She stepped backward into the hall and waved to the side as the stone door slid shut, sealing Carrie in.
She walked to the bed and fell back on it, distraught over the events that had taken place since she had awoken.
- End of Excerpt -
And here is the revised draft I've come up with so far. This hasn't been professionally edited yet, nor have I done a final run through, but it's as close to the final product as I'm going to get right now.
Excerpt - Lost Birth, an Expired Reality novel
Rio stopped Carrie in the middle of the corridor. “I would hope you would keep your ill tongue from speaking anything blasphemous against the Dered. He is a kind man. He’s given you food and shelter and rescued you from the outside world. You owe him your life.”
“I don’t owe anyone anything,” Carrie snapped. “I just want to find out why I’m here.”
If she was irritated with Carrie’s tone, Rio didn’t show it. She simply smiled, those ruby red lips plump and jovial, and escorted Carrie to the guards. “She is here to see the Derad.”
The guards both turned in unison to open the double doors. Carrie remembered seeing cloaked beings like this back at a dance so many years ago. They couldn’t be the same ones though, could they? Shadow Fighters. It was a term David had given to them.
“I’ll be waiting here, Carrie. When you are done speaking with the Derad, I’ll show you to your quarters.”
Carrie walked through the doorway and entered a small, inner sanctum. The doors shut behind her. The floor went a few feet before elevating into a set of stairs that went up to a very small, stone throne which almost touched the ceiling. Blue candle flames burned from sconces upon the walls.
If she wasn’t completely claustrophobic before, she was now. This room seemed like something out of one of the optical illusion books Carrie read as a child, with steps that led to nowhere. Seeing nobody in the little chamber, she turned around to open the door when a cold breeze moved past her cheek.
“Please,” a voice moaned. “Please, don’t go.”
Carrie looked up at the throne again, at a man sitting in it. He wasn’t there a second ago.
“Come up here, please.”
There was a blue glow in the man’s eyes. His head was bald with strange symbols drawn upon the front of it. From where she stood, which is what she considered to be a safe distance from him, she couldn’t make out the symbols, or the exact face of the man.
“I’ll stay right here, if you don’t mind.”
He sat there for a moment in silence.
“I do mind. Please, come up here so I can get a better look.”
“There’s no reason you should be looking at me. Tell me why I’m here.”
He rubbed his chin with long skeletal fingers. “Why you are here is a very important question. Probably the most important.”
“So answer it.”
“That...that I can do. You are here so I can safeguard you from the outside world. You see, you are the Ancient Key.” He stood up from the throne and began slowly making his way down the stairs. He wore a long black cloak which seemed to trail behind him like a drift of smoke. “Prophecies. That is why you’re here. The prophecies speak of you, of your mark.”
Is he referring to my birthmark, the one on my shoulder blade? The red pinwheel?
“You are the key to a great evil that must not be unleashed upon this land. You are also the key to a great good that must also not be unleashed upon the land. You see, you must be kept away from both good and evil, to keep balance and harmony to this world we live in.”
As he drew closer to her, she felt the urge to scramble out of the chamber. There was something dark emanating from him, something she couldn’t quite pinpoint. She just felt...sick. Overwhelmed by fear. That blue glow in his eyes came closer, paralyzing her with its radiance. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he began walking, very slowly, toward her.
“Don’t fear me. You’ve feared me in the past and it did you no good.”
When he was within five feet of her, Carrie suddenly realized who he was. The guards outside clued her in, but now, staring into those icy pupils, she knew the enemy that stood before her.
He held his arms out, as if he wanted to hug her. She stepped back a few feet, touching the surface of the doors with her fingertips.
“Carrie Green. It flatters me to find out you remember me after all this time.”
She could see the marks on his head clearly now. Her pinwheel symbol was drawn in black ink in the middle of his forehead and the top of his head was scribed with strange symbols and characters she didn’t recognize. Carrie turned and grabbed for the door handles. Before she could pull one open, she felt his hand on her shoulder and she almost leaped out of her robe. His other hand came down on the other shoulder, the weight of his touch anchoring her to the floor.
His soft voice slithered into her ears like black eels. “Just relax. Relaaaax.”
She felt her body release its tension, her muscles melting under his touch. Dread filled her spirit to know he was using such powerful magic on her. She wondered what he would do with her in this state. Unable to move. Unable to control her own will.
“I need you to stay caaalm. Just listen to what I have to saaay.”
She nodded. He took his hands off her and stepped away. She turned toward him, her body moving involuntarily. She felt as a marionette might feel with the strings being pulled from the top of its form, turning it left and right with no regard to what direction the marionette might want to go.
“Now, we may have been enemies in the past, you and I. But that is no longer the case. I have worked very hard to bring you here, to protect you and keep you safe. This is your home now. I will give you time to get to know me, to get to know my assistant, Rio. There are others I wish you to meet, but that won’t happen today. I am sure this is a lot to take in, so I will give you the time you need to let everything sink in.”
“David.” It was the only word she found herself thinking. David would rescue her. David would find her and tear Ryc apart piece by piece. He had saved her once from this madman, he would do it again. David –
“David is dead, my dear. My naive, fragile Carrie Green. The man you thought you were in love with for so long is dead. I know, I tried to kill him so long ago, but that was to protect you. He wants you to stay out there, with the heretics and heathens. I want to keep you safe, to keep you behind closed doors where the rest of the world can’t see you, can’t hurt you.”
Carrie took a deep breath and forced her arms to move. They wobbled at her side. Her legs started to walk forward, but buckled, throwing her to the floor.
Ryc shook his head, lifting her up by the arms. When she was standing again, he shook his head at her. “My magic isn’t meant to control you. But, I will use it to keep you in place while I say what I have to say.”
“A madman who thinks he’s a magician.”
Ryc laughed. “Madman? No. Not a madman. A pioneer. A bringer of truth.”
Carrie shook her head. “You are a madman. And I’m going to escape this place one way or another and find David. Or David’s going to find me. If that’s the case, you’re going to be sorry.”
“He tried to kill me before. Remember that? Threw me off a helicopter. But here I stand, before you, alive and more than well. He won’t kill me. He’s dead.” Ryc lunged at her, grabbing her wrist, shoving the scar in her face. “You won’t be going anywhere! I’d rather see you die than see those monsters in the outside world get their hands on you again. David is gone! Veronica is gone! Everyone you knew is gone. This is your new home!” Ryc pushed her against the doors. They swung open as she fell backwards to the floor between the two guards.
“Get her out of here! Take her to her quarters and make sure nobody is disturbed by her constant ramblings!”
The doors slammed shut as the shadow guards stood at attention, staring down at her from behind void faces. Carrie stood to her feet, brushing herself off.
“You okay?” Rio asked.
“How can you possibly believe the lies of that madman?”
Rio led her back into the hallway as they made their way toward the living quarters. “Madman? The Derad is a noble man, fully capable of leading us into a new future.”
“Give me a break. You really believe that crap that’s coming out of your mouth? His name is Ryc Waterford. He tried kidnapping me years ago, even tried to kill the man I love. If you think for one second I’m going to believe a single word that comes out of his mouth, you have another thing coming to you.”
“Ryc Waterford? Well, his name doesn’t really matter. My real name isn’t Rio. Rio is my perfect name, and Ryc – or the Derad – has no name now, only his title.”
Carrie stopped in the middle of the hallway, throwing her arms in the air. “You really think I care what his real name is? You really think I care that all of you misled people have chosen to follow a demon into the pits of the Depths?” She lowered her arms, taking a deep breath to try and calm herself down. “I don’t care. I want out of here, now!”
Rio snarled. “You don’t understand anything yet. But you will. Soon. If you want to share you thoughts about this place to the Derad, that’s fine. But out here, where followers of the fire element are busy studying and worshipping, you will keep that forked tongue in your mouth.”
Red stood so close to Carrie’s face, Carrie could smell the woman’s bitter breath, probably from the mushroom glaze. “You may be the Ancient Key. If the Derad believes you are, then I will accept that. What I won’t accept is your insubordinance.”
“I don’t have to take orders from anyone in here. I am under my own free will. I stopped taking orders from people when I decided to leave Jerad. You really fought my way out of his clutches just to stumble into yours? Don’t think for two seconds that your empty threats mean anything to me. You won’t kill me. Ryc won’t let you. He’s infatuated with me. He used to stalk me. The walls of his house were covered with pictures of me, and he even had a shrine set up in his garage, dedicated to me. ME.”
“The Derad worships the elements. Nothing more. You are a mere mortal.”
Carrie grinned. She thought she had caught on to feelings of lust Rio had toward Ryc earlier. The way she mentioned him as the Derad, the way she took offense whenever Carrie spoke ill of him. It was time to use that to her advantage. “All he thinks about, all he’s really dedicated his life to is me. I am the object of his out-of-control desire.”
Rio bared her teeth and grabbed the front of Carrie’s cloak, shoving her against the wall. “You whip that tongue of yours out one more time, and I’ll cut it out of your head. Ryc may need you, but he certainly doesn’t need your tongue.”
Carrie grabbed Rio’s wrists and pulled her hands away from her chest. Then she pushed Rio back a few steps and drew away from the wall. “Don’t lay your fingers on me again.”
Rio crossed her arms in front of her chest, the silver bangles shining under the lights. Carrie watched as the woman tried to compose herself, attempted to control her emotions. She was definitely infatuated with Ryc, for reasons Carrie neither understood nor found all that important.
“You are a weapon, Carrie. A weapon. I want you to realize that above all else. Doesn’t matter what Ryc – the Derad – has done to you in the past. I don’t care. What I do care about is the safety of the followers, the preservation of this world, and the will of the elements. I need you to feel compassion for the people around you. Do their lives not matter because they believe in something you don’t?”
“Show me to my quarters. I’d like to get some rest now.”
Rio scoffed. “Very well.” She led them down the hallway Carrie had guessed earlier to be the living quarters. Stopping in front of one of the metal doors, she waved her hand toward it and it opened to a small room inside. “This is where you will reside.”
Until I escape, Carrie reminded herself. She stepped inside as the door slid shut behind her, leaving her alone with her thoughts.
Inside the small space, they had managed to fit a twin bed covered in black sheets, a small coffee table with a lamp, and a three foot high pillar in the corner that had a normal-colored flame escaping from the top of it.
On the wall to her right hung a large painting of a strange beast Carrie had never seen before. It looked to be a dragon, but it had three heads – two of which were human. The middle head resembled a dragon’s, but there were horns protruding from the top and its tongue lolled from its mouth like an exhausted rubber hose. In the background stood tall trees, the leaves of which were a dark blue. Behind those trees, peering above the landscape, rose what looked like black pillar or tower, the top of which disappeared into the fluffy white clouds that had been painted quite recklessly in the sky.
An inscription in the bottom of the frame read, “Slipheed, God of Pandemonium, Destroyer of Worlds. Circa 1942.”
Slipheed? Carrie went to the opposite wall where another picture hung depicting a cluster of planets. Carrie looked closer and saw what she thought might be a black hole in the midst of them. One of the planets, the closest to the black hole, was tearing apart, chunks of the surface slipping into the void. The inscription read, “The Black, Swallower of Worlds. Circa 1912.”
Carrie turned to the bed, feeling a bit worn down. She understood the paintings as well as she understood why anyone would follow after Ryc. She knew what he was capable of. Well, thought she knew what he was capable of. How could he still be alive after she saw him fall from the helicopter? Nobody could have survived that. Nobody.
Sliding onto the bed, Carrie crossed her arms underneath her head and stared at the stone ceiling, the blue flame light dancing across its surface. She devised a plan in her head. A plan of escape. She would get some rest. Let Rio’s anger die a bit, let Ryc’s passion build. If Carrie could get him to trust her, she would be able to manipulate him into doing what she wanted him to, which was help her escape.
- End of Excerpt -
Yes, your 2nd version is snappier, and Carrie comes off as stronger. I do agree that most people in her position would be fighting and asking hard questions. I see that the revise is more concise too. That's important. Story usually reveals itself more clearly when excess words are cut out. Just make sure to keep a hint of her fear and internal emotion, despite the fact that she is taking a bold stance.
Carrie is definitely a compelling character!
Thanks for reading my revision, Catherine. I agree that story reveals its self more clearly when excess words are cut - and there are a lot of excess words that are being cut in this revision. I see your point about keeping hints of Carrie's fear/internal emotion and I'll keep an eye on that as I continue through my edits.
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