The better we become as writers, the easier it is to forget how valuable an extra set of eyes can be. When I wrote the first draft for my Steampunk short story Bitter Pill, I knew I’d hit on something special, but even though I wrote it, the story held a few surprises for me.
Finding a home for the story challenged me, and it would take a year-and-a-half before I found it’s proper place within the Tales from the Archives, which is an extension of the universe created by the Steampunk writing team of Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris. That series is known to many fans as The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences.
After Pip and Tee looked over the story and decided it would indeed work for the Ministry’s world, they found a few things they wanted to change to help the story. Most of the changes include the kind of editing you might expect for any story. They wanted to change a word here, add a word there. They wanted to rearrange a few scenes, an important detail considering the tale of assassin Yu Sharpe and her search for the Pill of Immortality is told somewhat out of order. One change they wanted to see involved the horses used to pull a carriage Yu rides in near the beginning of the story. The horses have been converted into machines that Yu describes. “These economical alternatives require neither food nor love, only a mechanic.”
Tee realized the cybernetic nature of the horses contained a certain horror to them. Tee’s notes to me stated, “We should make them even more horrific. Distress in the horses eyes or something like that.” I agreed, and as I went back to do my final edits, I discovered something that had remained hidden from me in this story I loved. The horses’ fate mirrors what will happen to Yu. The revelation shocked me. On a certain level, that parallel had always been there. I just needed a push from outside to recognize it.
Then came the big challenge. I needed to record the audio for this story. Part of the arrangement for Bitter Pill to go into the Tales from the Archives was that I needed to record it as a podcast. That created a big obstacle for me, because the story is told in first person and the storyteller is a woman. My wife, who has always owned a fine set of acting talents, offered to do the voice. I pointed out that since Yu was born in Hong Kong, I wanted a woman who could provide an Asian accent, something she wasn’t comfortable trying to do. Then my wife asked why Yu would speak with anything other than an English accent. The observation surprised me. Even though it made sense, I’d never considered it. Yu comes from a mixed heritage: her father from England and her mother a native of Hong Kong. Even though she is raised in Hong Kong, it’s clear she always holds a much greater admiration for her father and his beliefs. Once she’s on her own, she immediately ditches Hong Kong for London. Even if she hadn’t had the English accent in her youth, she would certainly have adopted it the moment she landed in London.
Again, I’d discovered something to my story that had always been there, but I needed the extra set of eyes to recognize it. I was grateful for that, because recording the story with my wife (I provided the voice for the male characters) was a lot of fun.
Just goes to show that a writer needs good partners. Without that help, he or she will never see the true story they’re trying to tell.
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