There you are, elbows deep in the carcass of your precious draft, its viscera laid bare before you, your sterile gown smeared with its blood. You look over at the monitors and see the dancing line that is its pulse, hear the slow rhythm of its feeble heartbeat. It’s faint but fierce, clinging to life the way living things do.
It’s laying on your table because it needs help. You’ve sliced it open to see how its insides are arranged and to try to put them back into some semblance of order, but with that first cut all the slimy bits came pouring out like so much spaghetti from an overturned pot, and you have no idea how all this was ever contained in that tiny vessel, nor do you have any idea how you will ever put it back together again. Add to that the fact that you’ve got a few prosthetics waiting to be implanted as well, and the entire ordeal seems about as likely and possible as stuffing a camel wholesale into a shoebox.
So you poke and you prod, and you begin the tedious task of testing what happens when you tug on this muscle, when you nudge that bone, when you tickle this mass of nerves, and watch as the whole organism jumps and dances, demonstrating with shocking clarity all the connections you never saw between this character and that plotline, this complication with that resolution, this joke in the first act with that death in the third. This isn’t just hipbone-connected-to-the-legbone stuff. This is every-blood-vessel-feeds-every-organ-in-the-body. Change one character’s reaction to a simple greeting in the first few pages and the story can end in a completely different place. As intricate and well-formed as the web of story elements may be, it’s imperfect. It needs to be fixed.
You sever a vein here, trim back some muscle there to make room for the new element you have to introduce, and the patient starts hemorrhaging. You get the sense that you’ve ruined everything with one little cut, and blood is rushing to the wound and you can’t see what you’re doing and the only way out is to keep cutting, keep sponging, keep tearing, until the hole is big enough and you can cram the prosthetic in there and begin the bizarre work of reattaching the existent tissue to the alien device, and you’re thinking to yourself, this will never work. It doesn’t fit, it isn’t right, this is a disaster. I’ve killed my story.
But then something strange happens. Through the haze of inkblood and wordgore, you see a sign of healing. The native tissue is accepting the new organ, the capillaries slowly starting to feed it rather than strangle it. The tissue is mending itself, almost of its own volition, as you stitch the narrative flesh back together. As much as you want to save the story, the story wants to survive. The characters adjust the way they react and behave, the plotlines snake and coil into new, more correct pathways, and while the task at hand by no means looks easy, it suddenly looks like it just might be possible. You work and you sweat and you call an intern over to wipe your brow (okay, I have interns in this scenario) and you work some more, suturing and clamping and staunching and stitching, and in what feels like minutes, hours have passed and the patient is stable and has a brand new leg right next to the other three (hey, nobody said I was building a human-normative story here) and if you look at it from the right angle, it might actually be better than the original after all. You close the patient up and he’s stable for the time being and you scrub down and you feel like maybe you’ve done some good for your story despite all your doubts, and then you remember that this is only the first in a six-week regiment of reconstructive surgeries before this patient is cleared to stumble, blinking, into the light of day.
And that prospect is terrifying.
But you’ve survived one day of rewrites, which somehow tells you you can survive another day.
Man. Day one of the serious rewrites is in the bag, and I am exhausted. But I hope — no, I think — that the story is one day better.