Scratch That

The chapter wasn’t working. I had an opening that grounded exactly where and when after the very last chapter (in a transport), and a natural result (cracking out of the combat suits so they can repair and recharge), followed with a joke to make light of the rather horrific consequences (the smell of soldiers who’ve been in powered armor suits for several days.)

(I’ve smelled people who’ve been using a suit with forced-air breathing apparatus, MOPP suits, and similar for extended periods of time while doing heavy labour. I have an utter certainty that soldiers getting out of powered armor after a few days of fighting aren’t going to smell of deodorant and roses.)

It was all good, except the punchline fell flat on no further words.

If I were dedicated to winning NanooNanoo, I would have stressed at the crash in wordcount. Since I’m just grimly trying to stagger onward and finish this WIP, I didn’t. After two days of thinking about what’s coming next, where they’re at, why they’re there, and what else will be going on…

I scrapped the opening, and rewrote it from a different point of view. (All those words, lost! Like tears in the rain!) This time, instead of starting with making fun of the smell of soldiers, I started with making fun of the bane of every officer: now that he’s back in range, he has *lots* of paperwork waiting. Reports to read, reports to file or creatively misfile…

And planning with the pilot on how soon they’ll be far enough away that they can do a quick wipe-down and change clothes. At which point, he plans on surprising the civilian riding along with the gift she didn’t know she’d need, since it was supposed to be a quick out and back trip: a clean change of underwear.

The words promptly started flowing again, and the chapter didn’t turn out like I planned, but it turned out well.

…and the comment from a female alpha reader sealed it: “I’ve done back to back Suez transits. Clean underwear is a godsend.”

Verisimilitude achieved!

What was the last set of smells you made sure were in your WIP? And have you had to scratch out words and restart lately?

16 thoughts on “Scratch That

  1. Scratch out! No, no, no! They’re in that huge folder full of scenes I’ll probably never use, but every once in a while . . .

    Umm, yeah. Lots.

  2. Getting stuck is one time when they have to go at once. Otherwise they might end up nibbled to death by ducks as I figure out their flaws.

  3. Scratch out? Yes. When I was telling a story to someone as a true fairy tale, I realized that I needed to dump a chunk of words in order to keep the “fair tale” flow going properly. Which explained why I kept having the sense that I was writing myself out of that story world and into a different story world.

    Smells? Food at a party, and before that, the scents of a normal night in mid-Autumn in the Eastern woods, but with something “off.” And not “Eew, someone startled a skunk” or “Ugh, really dead cow” off.

    1. Skunk isn’t really all that bad, after the initial recoil. You can get used to it. (Though when I hit one once with a black BMW, I thought for days that I might as well have painted a white stripe down the top of the car.)

      When I was following foxhunts (by car) you could sometimes get ahead of the pack and watch them work out a trail, and that introduced me to what fox-marking smelled like — just like skunk, but without the bass note.

    2. dons expert hat

      Remember when telling fairy tales to choose what tonality you use. You can tell a pure fairy tale, a high fantasy version, a relentless modern one, a gritty cyberpunk version. But you have to justify your tropes as suitable for your tale.

      1. The tone shifted, from “traditional fairy tale” to “modern version with modern story logic” and then back to “traditional fairy tale.” That was not what the story wanted, nor would it please readers.

        1. You take a fairy tale, and you retell it in a cyberpunk setting. You rationalize all the magic as cyberpunk stuff. 0:)

          Frau Trude, maybe

        2. Oooh, take Adalmina’s Pearl, and instead of a Pearl giving beauty and intelligence, it’s nannites powered by the pearl-sized power source. (Some handwavium required, maybe make it a fusion reactor.)

          When our little super-intelligent, no-common-sense, spoiled brat escapes the walled compound into these mean streets of the gritty part of LowTown, her crown with the reactor gets swiped by a theif, or she gets mugged. Without active nannite programming and holograms for utter beauty, her skulljacks and the deformed scars from having them since shortly after birth show, and she is ugly.

          And she ends up doing (low-down-dirty cyberpunk like job here), under the aid of a gruff old boss with malfunctioning, outdated cybernetic limbs who lets her sleep in the back, since girls shouldn’t be out on the street.

          To be truly cyberpunk, replace prince charming with a merc, one of many who’s after the prize… whether that’s the promised reward, or the generator itself.

          No, muse, I don’t have time to write this.

          …and I greatly dislike spoiled little brats, so I’d not want to write anything from her perspective until at least the point she gets out of the gated community, which is entering late for a fairy tale. Probably have to do it from the merc’s perspective. And then you have to account for his backstory, and next thing you know, I’d have a novel on my hands…

          1. Make her a nerd, but smart enough to act like a spoiled brat to fit into the mean girl crowd of the glitteratti. And smart enough to learn quickly how to fit in on the streets, so well the merc doesn’t realize he’s found the prize.

  4. I use smells quite a bit, generally, in my stories (and in life).

    In my new series WIP, there are various magic skills (some inherited, some acquired), and one of them is the SNIFF. The main hero has the SNIFF, inherited from his distant mother’s clan, and it figures prominently all the time in his current location — usually in jokes at his expense, but also in private reminders of sexual partners, loss, loneliness, nostalgia. It’s even useful in his research.

    It’s one of those senses that automatically triggers — you don’t know when it will derail your train of thought and send it in another direction. And it’s another way for the POV character to take in a place/situation.

  5. Rosemary tea.

    One of the characters had gotten hammered hard and was in that area’s equivalent of the hospital. Thing was it was a fantasy setting, so I needed a fantasy style hospital.

    Did some research into pre-modern medicine and discovered rosemary tea was used for a lot of things, so the place smelled like rosemary, with unidentified herby undertones.

    That is one of the few scenes I’ve been really happy with too. He’s finally found her after she vanished, the room is this bright airy, almost idylic place, she smiles at him, and then asks, “I’m sorry, but do I… did I know you?”

    1. That’s bad. Rosemary for remembrance — scholars would plant outside the windows of their studies.

      1. I did not know that. Ironically appropriate, but completely unintentional.

        It all works out for them. She never gets the missing memories back, but she does piece together what all happened. That one wraps up with, once she’s more or less recovered, she shows up at his place, because he owes her his story of what happened and how they actually met, and she’s finally up and running enough to collect.

        She was a fun character to write: she has such a direct personality that it meant I could que up a lot of romcom tropes, and then she would do the obvious sensible thing that bulldozers her way through them.

  6. For smells: wet wood brought into burn when the reactor goes down.

    I’m doing NaNo and took Wheels down a bad path totaling maybe 4k words. I did not delete them. In the spirit of NaNo’s “don’t delete” edict, I redlined them out so as not to interfere with my word count. Now, I’m not a crazy person, so I do constantly delete words and even sentences that are wrong. However, when we reach the pargraph level, I draw a line through them. I’ll put the redlined material in my Outtakes and Takeouts file in December. For another four days they’re staying right where they are.

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