"Of Heaven and Hell" began as comment!fic posted on pocochina's journal. This meant I had no way of going back and editing (erasing! hiding! forgetting!) my initial choices once she'd commented. Poco preserved that shit in amber (hai, girl!), providing me the opportunity to observe and comment on the evolution of this short piece.
She’s been burned by holy fingers.
Underneath her left breast, fanning the bones of her ribs. Not this body’s ribs, of course. This body was new and clean and already vacant when Ruby was ripped free from Hell. But beneath the flesh that is not hers, beneath the artful span of bone, her undulating black carries the remnants of a divine torch.
An angel burned her heart, burned her where her heart should be if hundreds of years in the Pit had left her a slab of meat capable of holding profound feeling (oh sure, she feels, smoke can feel hot or cold, but it always slips through her like sands through her hourglass and she just wants a heart she can squeeze).
She’s all smoke inside, burning black, now burning grey, as that scar of light smites every speck of ash.
She’s a demon burning white. Just another way to be a freak among the freaks.
At night she dreams of white-hot supernovas and she wakes with sweat on her apple-round cheeks. Listless fingers wipe the moisture from her chin and trace the tight rope of tendons weaving beneath her skin, just meat strapped across smoke. Grotesque, horrifying, nightmare smoke.
But whose nightmare is it now?
She’d give anything to look into a mirror and see her face, see the searing irises of her ivory eyes and test the sinking feeling that’s been haunting her dreams. That the smoke’s no longer smoke, but porcelain hardening beneath her borrowed skin.
She wonders if Anna’s pleased.
She’s been burned by holy fingers, underneath her left breast, flush against her ribs.
(Not this body’s ribs, of course. This body was new and clean and already vacant when Ruby was ripped free from Hell. Delivered, if you wanna get technical.)
Beneath the flesh that is not hers, beneath the artful span of bones, her undulating black carries the remnants of a divine torch. An angel burned her heart, burned her where her heart would be if hundreds of years in the Pit had left a slab of meat capable of housing profound feeling.
(Oh sure, she feels, smoke can feel hot or cold, but it always slips through her like sands through an hourglass. She just wants a heart she can squeeze—is that too much to ask?)
She was all smoke inside, burning black, now burning grey, as that scar of light smites every speck of ash—she’s a demon burning white.
(Just another way to be a freak among the freaks.)
At night, she dreams of white-hot supernovas and wakes with sweat on her apple-round cheeks. Listless fingers wipe the moisture from her chin and trace the rope of tendons weaving down her neck. Just meat strapped on smoke. Grotesque, horrifying, nightmare smoke.
(But whose nightmare is it now?)
She’d give anything to look into a mirror and see her true face, see past the searing white irises and the semblance of humanity to test the sinking sensation that’s been haunting her dreams: that the smoke’s no longer smoke, but porcelain hardening beneath her skin.
(Are you happy now, Anna? Am I supposed to say 'thank you'?)
The answer whispers through her:
Yes. You're welcome.
The major differences between the rough and final drafts:
- tightening up my imagery and precision in word choice
- minimizing repetition while strengthening specificity
- creating a sense of stylistically nuanced and purposeful language
I liked the first line, it was a good place to start, but it felt awkward standing alone there so I brought it together with the next paragraph. I changed "fanning the bones of her ribs" to "flush against her ribs" because I used the phrase "beneath the artful span of bones" later on. Likewise, I'd already used bones so I wanted to be less repetitive. I decided the second use of "span" and "bones" was just better writing, plus I wanted to change the clinical feeling of that first line to give it more of an air of poetry.
Other changes in word choice continued throughout the piece. Deleting unnecessary conjunctions, connecting lines that worked more effectively as a single unit. I also tried to sheer down phrases of the unnecessary dregs. For example, "the searing irises of her ivory eyes" (which reading it now makes me gag) became "the searing white irises". Or "the tight rope of tendons weaving beneath her skin" became "the rope of tendons weaving down her neck." First, I deleted "tight" because it's implied that a rope of tendons is tight, so that word was pointless. Second, I changed "beneath her skin" to "down her neck" because specificity is always better when describing physicality, but also because I use the phrase "beneath her skin" near the end of this short fic to describe the "porcelain hardening" and that's a far more important place for that phrasing to be.
Also, a this-just-in edit: the line "it always slips through her like sands through an hourglass" has been bugging the crap out of me nonstop because TRITE and also I can't stop hearing thinking of the soap opera Days of Our Lives every time I read it. I just changed it to: "it always ghosts through her, flashes of feeling evaporating quicker than she can catch." I I like how Ruby's trying to catch the feeling connects to the next line about her wanting a "heart she can squeeze."
One of the most noticeable changes is my altering the structure to include Ruby's internal thoughts in parentheses. I'd already started towards that in the rough draft, and I built upon that in the final draft. The language outside parentheses is more formal and poetic while the language within is meant to capture a sense of informal, internal voice. I deliberately used the word "wanna" in the first parentheses for demonstrating vernacular; also such phrases as "of course" are added and there's a sense of irony.
In building this contrast of Ruby's bodily transformation in the more formal prose and her internal worrying over that fact in the informal parentheticals, I reached that final line in the rough draft: "She wonders if Anna is happy." This I changed to internalized thought because that's what it should be. Instead of blandly wondering, why not show it? And in doing so, I escalate the sense of questioning from the previous internal thought, "But whose nightmare is it now?", to show Ruby despairing of her existential crisis and reluctantly moving towards a resentful sort of accidental prayer. She's angry at Anna, but also entreating, I think, as Ruby's such a snarky character (her snark ratchets up when she's actually directing it a target, like Anna).
And of course, Anna hears her 'prayer' and replies, a more benevolent sort of God, ignoring Ruby's resentment and instead choosing to recognize an underlying gratitude (that perhaps Ruby's not even aware of). Because Ruby's changed existence is better than being tortured in Hell. But it's not that straightforward, I think, as that reply also demonstrates Anna's obliviousness and egocentrism: why be dark when you can be light? Obviously light is better and Ruby must be grateful.
Other stylistic notes I worked to include were alliterative language, assonance and consonance, as well as mirroring imagery. Feelings "ghost" through Ruby which she's too immaterial to capture and hold, but because of Anna's interference, she's begun to feel more solid (though I chose "porcelain" to convey a sense of brittle fragility). And while Ruby's feeling lost and eventually resorts to speaking to Anna in her mind, Anna's voice immediately answers, "whispers through her" in such a way that Ruby catches hold of. Shouldn't it be harder to hold onto an angel's voice? Yet Ruby's beginning to feel more and more and Anna's connected to this transformation.
THERE. Now you know why it takes me forever to write anything nowadays. All the words have to count. Writing is the best/worst thing in the world, amirite?
I have to give a shoutout to Lirazel/penny_lane_42 who helped teach me the uses of parentheticals. I'm cribbing from her stylistically in this regard. And I've noticed some people using plus signs to mark off sections of fic. I thought it especially appropriate as it reminded me of crosses bookending the story.