Mon, Oct
20
2003

The Battle of Turning Point Bridge

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"You're trapped here, Rosemary," said Marjorie, levelling her laser pistol. "The hero has no choice but to come back."

Rosemary shot up onto her hands and knees. Her breathing quickened. Her eyes glistened. "The hero always wins!" And with a yell, she made a mad dash at Marjorie.

Marjorie caught her and twisted her arm behind her. "Not always. And never without sacrifice." She nodded at the Machine.

Rosemary stared up. A new slab had been added on its right. Suspended in midair opposite Theo was Peter.

She sank to her knees.

Work continues to bolster Rosemary and Time (as of yesterday, now eleven months with Groundwood Books. You've all read the prologue; I'm also rearranging scenes in the climax, to give Puck a stronger death scene, give Rosemary a greater involvement in her turning point, and at the same time make her parents' contribution more meaningful.

These changes are over and above any move I may make to shift the story into middle-grade territory or to age it up into a full-fledged teen novel. The changes darken the story, making it easier to turn it into a teen novel, but they shouldn't prevent me from going the middle-grade route either; they just fix things which I've come to see as flaws in the story.

Revision doesn't come easily, however. Sometimes, when you change something, you take something away. Consider this segment, where Peter, Puck and Rosemary are being chased by Zeppelins. Here's the original draft:

Peter took a moment to get his breathing under control. He nodded. He held onto the feathers and looked back. "They're following us. What's it going to take to shake these things?"

"What do they want!" shouted Rosemary.

"To bring things to a head," said Puck. "They want to attack before you are ready. They are no longer interested in the story, only its climax."

"What do we do now?" asked Rosemary.

"If they no longer care about the story, we no longer care about the story," said Puck. "Enough of challenges. I shall take you to the centre of the Land of Fiction, quick as I can."

He swooped close to the cliff face, turning a corner in the valley. Peter looked back and saw the pursuing Zeppelin banking as it flew after them.

Then, turning another corner, they found a Zeppelin waiting for them.

It hovered at the rim of the valley, its sides almost touching either wall. It towered over them, eclipsing the sun. The grapple struck towards them.

"Hold on!" Puck screeched. He swerved down and right. Rosemary yelled. The wall of the valley swept towards them. The grapple was just feet behind. They were in the middle of a gap between grapple and cliff, and the gap was narrowing by the second.

The grapple swung in. Puck put on a burst of speed. The grapple hit the cliff face, raising a spray of rock and dust.

Then Puck's wing smashed against the cliff with a sickening crunch. Puck cried out, and fell.

Rosemary and Peter clung for dear life against his back. The wind whistled in their ears. The ground rushed up to meet them.

Rosemary looked ahead. Around a turn in the valley, the train tracks emerged directly onto a high bridge before plunging into the cliff face opposite. The roadway led up to it, a narrow ledge. Puck was heading for it, much too fast.

Behind them, the Zeppelin rose above the rim of the valley, and began a ponderous turn. A second Zeppelin sailed past it in pursuit.

"Puck, slow down!" Rosemary cried.

"I can't!" Puck shouted. "My wing is broken!"

The ledge rushed towards them. Puck banked, his body shuddering. They were feet above the roadway, the gravel rushing past.

Then Puck banked up, so that the road wasn't rushing by as fast. "Jump!" he cried.

Peter grabbed Rosemary and rolled off Puck's back. They hit the ledge hard, rolling over and over.

Puck topped out and fell, hitting the road and cartwheeling. A cloud of dust rose up around him. When it cleared, they saw the eagle lying on its back, still.

Puck shuddered back into his accustomed body as Peter and Rosemary rushed to him. His arm and one of his legs were bent in directions they weren't supposed to go. His bright face was darkened with pain.

Rosemary knelt beside him, afraid to touch him. "Puck! Are you okay?"

He lifted himself a little, smiled, and fell back. "No." He took a deep breath. "But I can recover. It will just take some time. Sooner than you think, Peter. Being mythological has its advantages. But until then..."

Suddenly they heard the deep rumble of engines. Peter pointed. "The Zeppelins!"

Rosemary looked. The three Zeppelins had risen high in the sky. They crossed the valley with grapples tucked in, ignoring them.

"They've given up?" said Rosemary.

Peter shook his head in disbelief. "Not after all that!"

"The final challenge cannot be far away," said Puck. "They know they cannot stop you from entering, but they have hampered you. They have deprived you of your guide."

"Puck?" Rosemary stared at him. "What do you mean?"

He gave her a sad smile. "Brave Rosemary, you must go on. You must leave me."

"What? No! We can't go on without you!"

"You must. I need time to recover, and time is always of the essence in the Land of Fiction." He touched her cheek with his good hand. "I will follow you. I won't be far behind. But you are the hero. You must go on."

Rosemary hesitated.

"Go!" shouted Puck.

Peter took her by the shoulders and pulled her to her feet. "I don't think we have any choice."

Her jaw tight and her eyes stinging, Rosemary took Peter's hand. They walked to the railway bridge. Casting one more look at Puck, Rosemary started across. The wind shivered the fringe of Rosemary's dress, but nothing attacked.

They hesitated at the mouth of the tunnel before Rosemary squared her shoulders and marched inside.

Puck would later reappear near the climax, just when all looks to be lost. He fights Marjorie... and is killed. And all looks to be lost, again. So, how about rearranging the scene as follows:

"I see the tracks," Peter gasped, pointing. "The tunnel leading out of here!"

Rosemary looked ahead. Around a turn in the valley, the train tracks emerged directly onto a high bridge before plunging into the cliff face opposite.

A Zeppelin guarded the way.

Before them, a roadway led up to the bridge. Puck was heading for that road, much too fast.

Behind them, the first Zeppelin rose above the rim of the valley and began a ponderous turn. A third Zeppelin sailed past in pursuit.

"Puck, slow down!" Rosemary cried.

"I can't!" Puck shouted. "My wing is broken!"

The ledge rushed towards them. Puck banked, his body shuddering. They were feet above the roadway, the gravel rushing past.

Then Puck banked up, so that the road wasn't rushing by as fast. "Jump!" he cried.

Peter grabbed Rosemary and rolled off Puck's back. They hit the ledge hard, rolling over and over.

Puck topped out and fell, hitting the road and cartwheeling. A cloud of dust rose up around him. When it cleared, they saw the eagle lying on its back, still.

Puck shuddered back into his accustomed body as Peter and Rosemary rushed to him. He clutched at his arm, which was bent in a direction it wasn't supposed to go. His bright face was darkened with pain.

All was silent save for the hum of approaching Zeppelins.

Rosemary knelt beside him, afraid to touch him. "Puck! Are you okay?"

He staggered to his feet. "No." He took a deep breath. "But I can recover. It will just take some time. Sooner than you think, Peter. Being mythological has its advantages."

The two Zeppelins behind tracked along the valley, their grapples clasping at thin air. Rosemary stared in horror. "What are we going to do?"

"We can't get past them," breathed Peter. "They'll snatch us off the bridge!"

"Then I must clear a path." Puck stared up at the Zeppelin guarding the bridge. Then he clasped Rosemary's shoulder. "Brave Rosemary, you must go on."

Rosemary looked up. "What? Puck, what do you mean?"

He gave her a sad smile. "I must leave you."

"What? No! We can't go on without you!"

"You must. I can no longer be your guide. Once the path is clear, go across the bridge, quick. The final challenge cannot be far away, and time is always of the essence in the Land of Fiction." He touched her cheek with his good hand. "You are the hero. You must go on."

"Puck, no!" Rosemary hugged him.

The Zeppelins' engines whined closer. A shadow fell across the trio as one swung over the valley rim, taking up position above the Zeppelin guarding the railway bridge.

Puck pried Rosemary loose. "Brave Rosemary, I must go."

Peter blinked, gaping. "What are you going to do?"

Puck turned from them, took two staggering steps, and jumped off the cliff.

Rosemary ran forward. "No!"

Puck flayed his arms out, and transformed back into a bird, a great golden eagle, with feathers like fire. He soared up with a sweep of his giant wings, even though one was broken. He turned his beak to the Zeppelin guarding the bridge and surged forward, faster and faster, becoming a blur, then a streak of flame.

Then Rosemary realized that Puck was aflame. He was a phoenix, wings spread out, flying like a bullet towards the Zeppelin's silvery skin.

Peter pulled Rosemary into the cliff face, shielding her with his body.

The Zeppelin burst, sending shafts of flame in all directions. It caught its neighbour and its neighbour exploded. Falling like limp balloons, the airships cracked against the railway bridge and crumbled, their burning metal skeletons raining on the valley floor below.

Rosemary shook Peter off and stood up. She staggered at the devastation.

Behind them, they heard the rising whine of engines. Peter looked up. "I don't believe it."

The remaining Zeppelin had risen high in the sky, tucking in its grapple. It joined its comrade and turned away, ignoring them.

"They can't have given up," said Peter. "Not after all that."

"They know they've won," said Rosemary, her voice very small. "They-- Killed--"

Peter touched her shoulder. "We have to go on."

"Why?"

"Because he said so," said Peter firmly. "You're the hero. He-- he did what he did so that you could go on."

Rosemary stood up, cast one more glance at the burning wreckage on the valley floor, and cleared her nose with a sniff. Her jaw tight and her eyes stinging, she walked onto the railway bridge, Peter following. The wind shivered the fringe of Rosemary's dress, but nothing attacked. They crossed in silence.

They hesitated at the mouth of the tunnel before Rosemary squared her shoulders and marched inside.

So, which version is better? The latter is more visually impressive, and it gives Puck's death a much stronger impact here, rather than splitting it across two chapters as the first version does. But Erin believes that the second version loses a sweetness that the first version had, and I'm not sure how to get it back. I'll be interested in hearing what you think.


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