The First Paragraph: Before & After
If you’ve ever read something and wondered about the process—Where did this come from? Did it always read this way? What did the author and editor(s) change?—well here’s a bit of insight into that:
The original first paragraph of APOCALYPSE ALLEY (original = the first version I sent to the editor, which was far from the actual “original”) read like this:
Spent casings everywhere across the parking lot like peanut shells on a bar floor. A dead off-the-shelf, ball-based Danoru Technologies Samurai Interceptor in a twisted, gleaming heap, drowned in its own hydraulic oils. Scraps of high-tensile netting. Plastic shards from burst floodlights. There were bullet holes punched in the corrugated walls and divots blasted out of concrete. The whole compound stank like burnt wiring.
The published version reads like this:
Spent casings littered the parking lot. A dead Atari Koroshiya 036 urban combat drone lay drowned in its own hydraulic oils, a twisted, scarred wreck. Scraps of high-tensile netting and plastic shards from burst floodlights sparkled in the afternoon sunlight. There were bullet holes punched in the corrugated walls and divots blasted out of concrete. The whole compound stank of burnt wiring.
Walking through the changes, first the relatively minor but significant change: the name of the drone.
Using an imaginary company, “Danoru Technologies,” didn’t really do any work for the story. “Atari,” on the other hand, shows the reader that this world is sort of like ours—both have a company called Atari—but in this world the video game company also manufactures killer drones, which is a comment on… well, a lot of things.
“Samurai” became “Koroshiya” because I wanted to ditch the connotation of “nobility” or “honor” and focus on sudden death.
I added the designation 036 mostly for my own amusement (I make a lot of references no one but me will get). In this case, .36 is the caliber of the 1851 Colt Navy revolver, the gun used by a character in my short stories.
I changed the description slightly because the overall look of the drone also changed in my head. It was no longer “off-the-shelf” or “ball-based” (think BB-8, or the dwarven spheres from Elder Scrolls) but more mantis-like, because mantises are cool, yet creepy.
And then the major change: I took a bunch of sentence fragments and made them into sentences. The original idea was that sentence fragments would feel “edgy.” Instead they felt clumsy and static. The word “littered” was better than the peanut simile; and “sparkled” was a nice contrast to the violence it described.
The editing on this paragraph isn’t necessarily representative. There are plenty of paragraphs in APOCALYPSE ALLEY that weren’t changed at all, and others that were rewritten entirely. But I chose this one to share because the changes were pretty straightforward and gave a useful insight into how books change over the editing process.
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