The Weight of Words
If you kill someone you’re going to hell. That was the first sentence of the first draft of THE END OF THE LINE. It remained the first sentence through many drafts and it was the opening line of the first, second and third final versions. (I mistakenly thought about 10 versions were the final version).
Out it went to two editors and a few agents. (Thank you editors for your direct feedback; thank you agents for pointing out the need for more revisions.)
That line lasted as I gave the entire manuscript a major overhaul. If you kill someone you’re going to hell.
Before I sent the latest (but not last) final version out to the world, I evaluated every chapter, every page, every word.
I liked the line. I especially liked the word hell. It sounded strong, certain –final. But I considered that word, that one hell, in the context of the rest of the novel and it didn’t fit.
The line represents the thoughts (and fears) of Robbie, the main character. At no point in the rest of the novel does he think about hell. Also, he never reflects on his personal religious beliefs. He doesn’t spend time worrying about institutions or other people condemning him for his past. He’s already full of self loathing.
There was something else I had to consider about the word hell in that sentence. Hell represents the future or a possible future. In THE END OF THE LINE, Robbie isn’t focused on the future. He can barely cope with the present. He can’t escape the past.
Hell was dishonest. It promised the reader a character suffering with a crisis of religion, a character worried about his soul. This didn’t fit Robbie’s story.
Hell had to go.
And because hell was such a strong word, such a weighty word, it took more than one word to replace it.
The opening now reads: "If you kill someone, you are a piece of murdering scum. When I saw his body all twisted and still, I knew...I knew my life was worthless. It didn't matter what Dad said or how hard Mom cried. There was nothing they could do."
See the entire first page at www.angelacerrito.com
Have you ever struggled with one word or phrase in your writing? Maybe it was in a conversation, where you knew that each word counted, or a single word could be taken wrong?