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The Revision Process

Some Thoughts on Revision
Deleted Scene from Chapter 2

Some Thoughts on Revision

By the time my books reach the publisher, they've been through a lot of polishing--the editing I do on an ongoing basis as I write (I'm not one of those writers who barrels straight through and only then goes back and edits; writing for me is a cumulative process, and in order to move forward I need to feel confident about what I've already done), a couple of complete read-throughs once I reach the end, critiques by several trusted readers. Inevitably, though, there's more my editor will want me to do to ready the manuscript for publication.

For The Burning Land, this mostly involved tightening. I tend to write long, and to include a lot of descriptive passages--there has never been a book I haven't been asked to cut. While I regret the background detail this usually winds up excising, I have to admit that it does result in a tauter narrative.

My editors (I had two for this novel) also pointed out some inconsistencies--from small, such as a character kneeling down in one paragraph and standing up in the next, to large, such as my forgetting in one section that it was supposed to be winter (oops)--and felt that one major character needed some amplification in order to make his motivations fully understandable to the reader. The biggest change requested, though, was that I add a prologue.

Fantasy prologues are a terrible cliche--and also, in many cases, a lazy way of spoonfeeding background information to the reader; it's far more challenging to incorporate such material into the body of the book. For those reasons I've avoided them. But my first editor felt that the section that discussed the legend on which the main religion of The Burning Land is based slowed the pace too much, and would be better framed as a prologue.

This section originally formed the end of the current Chapter 2. I thought I'd come up with a good way of revealing the legend without obvious infodumping--Gyalo, my male protagonist, is walking along the gallery of the First Temple of Ârata and looking at the religious paintings there, remembering his mother, who told him the legend when he was a child, and thinking about the recently-ended Caryaxist oppression that resulted in the Temple's vandalization. This allowed me not just to convey the legend to the reader, but to build character and add background.

My editor, though, felt that by the end of Chapter 2 the reader would be eager for Gyalo to set out on the journey he was ordered to undertake in Chapter 1, and would chafe at having to read through a more contemplative passage first. Leisurely story development isn't a problem for me as a reader, and I'm sure I'm not alone. But I understand that many readers don't agree--and I also understand that part of my editor's job is to help me make my book more commercially viable. So I agreed to do as she asked.

It wasn't as easy as just lifting the legend out of the text and sticking it at the front of the book. I wanted to find a way to present it that would be more interesting than the "Hey, it's another epic fantasy novel--but first you have to read the Central Legend On Which It All Depends!" sort of thing that's such a cliche of the genre. So rather than make the legend a piece of Ancient Mystical Lore, I decided to turn it into a bedtime story told to young members of the Brethren, the perpetually re-incarnated leaders of the Âratist Church, to remind them of the truth of their immortal natures. Not only did this connect the legend to the rest of the book, it had the unexpected benefit of allowing me to incorporate important information about the Brethren that I'd had trouble fitting smoothly into the later narrative. (You can judge the result here.)

The original section also contained a couple of things not related to the legend that needed to be kept--Gyalo's thoughts about his Shaperhood and the deadly temptation the coming journey may pose for him, and a description of one of the major rituals that, as an Âratist priest, it's his job to conduct. I relocated Gyalo's thoughts to an appropriate point earlier in Chapter 2 (here), and shifted a somewhat truncated description of the ritual to Chapter 3 (here).

Inevitably, though, when one makes such structural changes, something is lost--in this case, my description of the interior of the First Temple of Ârata. I regret this, because I feel it added depth, and helped to amplify Gyalo's world. But such is the process of revision.

Following is the deleted scene in its entirety.

Deleted Scene from Chapter 2

Gyalo emerged from the Evening City into the Temple square. Around the Temple, Baushpar slept, in a darkness unrelieved by street lighting (the secular administration and the Brethren had not yet been able to agree on who should be responsible), and a silence broken, far away, by the barking of a dog. The night was cold but very clear, the sky thick with stars--worlds like this one, many of them, god-created in the primal age. Above the Temple the moon was full, its ghostly light making the new-gilded domes seem silver.

Gyalo knew he should return to his room: he must pack, and try to snatch an hour or two of sleep before dawn, when the expedition would depart. But his nervous agitation, briefly soothed by the quiet of Utamnos’s rooms, had returned in full. Across the deserted square the Temple’s entrance shimmered with yellow light, offering a promise of peace.

By tradition, Ârata’s temples were circular: a cylindrical core surrounded by an enclosed gallery that was the only means of access. The gallery walls were painted with a sequential history of the earth and humankind; the worshiper entered at the moment of creation and followed the gallery round, the tale of all existence unreeling beside him as he went, until he reached the end of time and was delivered into the temple’s core. Here, at the symbolic axis of the world, waited a colossal image of the god in one of his four guises: World-Creator, Primal Warrior, Eon-Sleeper, Risen Judge.

The gallery swept off to Gyalo’s left. Oil lamps hung from the ceiling, their supporting chains vanishing into shadow. Along the outer wall ran a carved frieze of animals and plants both fantastical and familiar, a reminder of the abundant world Ârata had made. On the inner wall, the paintings were planned to a heroic scale, so large their upper portions lay in shadow. They had been extensively vandalized during the early years of the Caryaxist blockade, and restorers’ scaffolding obscured them for much of their length.

Gyalo did not need to see the paintings to know what they portrayed. In every land, in every style and every medium, the subjects were the same. He had memory to guide him also: memory of his mother, telling the paintings’ tale aloud as she led him by the hand along the gallery of the temple at Rimpang. He retained only a few clear images of his mother: a sweep of black hair, an embrace that smelled of spice and onions, a glimpse of a back bent over a kneading table, and this--a composite recollection that did not include her face, for his eyes had been turned toward the images she described, but which vividly returned to him the timbre of her voice, the pressure of her fingers, the warmth of her body. And the sense of her faith, whose intensity he had recognized, with intrinsic understanding, even as a child.

“In the time before time,” memory whispered to him in his mother’s voice, “All that Was and All that Was Not came together in union, and a million gods were born. Each god went out to create a world. Ârata made our world--Ârata, as tall as the sky, with skin the color of the heart of flame and eyes and hair like new gold. To men and women, whom he made last and loved best, he gave the gift of his own power of creation, so that we could shape anything we chose. Only the shaping of life did he withhold from us. For if we could shape life, we would be gods ourselves.”

Eons came and went: the primal age, when everything was perfect, and Ârata ruled in unbroken communion with all living things. Passing by the paintings of that time, Gyalo spanned centuries with every step; at last, through the scaffolds’ struts, he glimpsed fire and darkness, and knew he had reached the cosmic catastrophe that marked the beginning of human history.

“Ârata was a bright god. His nature came from All That Was.” His mother had had a slight lisp, a result of a front tooth lost in childhood; his memory accurately reproduced that quality of her speech, though he knew the words were not hers. He had read these stories written down, and those formal scriptural phrases had overlaid his recollection of his mother’s telling--which surely had been much less elegant, for she had not been an educated woman. “But others had more of All That Was Not in them, and these gods made dark, barren worlds. One, named Âdaxcasa, became jealous of Ârata’s beautiful creation, and decided to steal it for himself.

“The gods fought. One by one the continents were stripped of life and sank below the waves. At last only Galea was left. There Ârata defeated his Enemy, in a burst of light so powerful that Âdaxcasa’s flesh was turned instantly to ash. Only his bones remained. Ârata buried them, each in a different place so the Enemy could never become whole again. Then Ârata lay down beneath the wasteland the battle had made, to rest and heal. As he fell into sleep, the communion between his great consciousness and the small minds he had created was broken. The world was abandoned to the emptiness of the universe. Time began its cruel flow, and death came into being. That is why we speak of Ârata’s slumber as a time of exile.”

The image of the wounded, sleeping god--rendered according to tradition as a man-shaped figure drifting in subterranean darkness, half-submerged in the gleaming ocean of his own golden Blood--was the first of the painting-cycle’s three major images. The original temple artists had lavished it with all their skill, encrusting it with gold leaf, embellishing it with inlaid silver and copper and with gems. The Caryaxists had completely stripped it; behind the scaffolding Gyalo glimpsed the scarring of the stone, the pits where jewels had been pried out--and, where the restorers had been at work, the gleam of new-laid gold.

“Now, the burst of light that destroyed Âdaxcasa’s flesh spread the ash of his being over all Galea. Every living creature breathed it in. A piece of the Enemy’s cold dark nature took root in them, beside the warm bright nature Ârata had given them. Thus evil was born into the world. From that moment, all people were at war--each man within himself, every man with every other.

“The earth did battle also. Ârata dreamed, and because his nature is creation his dreams took form within the world. Good things came of that--soft breezes, new plants and creatures, the Aspects. But bad things came as well, from Ârata’s dreams of pain. Hurricanes and blizzards, plagues and demons, floods and drought--these too Ârata dreamed into being, in a world that had never known such things.”

The temple painters, concerned not just to depict the terrors of the past but to teach a lesson about human conduct in the present, took pains to make their representations of this time as gruesome as possible. Gyalo paced past images of blood and fire, torn earth and ravaged cities, corpses heaped on battlefields and bodies piled on plague carts. As a child, he had dreaded this portion of the painting-cycle, and had tried to hide his eyes in his mother’s skirts. Each time, gently, she turned him back.

“It’s past,” she would whisper to him. “And it’ll never come again, because the world won’t ever again forget Ârata. But you must know it even so, or you won’t understand the goodness and the value of your own life.”

He had carried that wisdom with him ever since.

“The world sank deep into corruption and godlessness, almost as if the Enemy, and not Ârata, had won the victory. At last the chaos became so terrible that Ârata could no longer rest. Rising a little way toward wakefulness, he shaped a summoning dream, and sent it out in search of a righteous man. The man it found was Marduspida.”

Marduspida, the First Messenger, who had journeyed alone into the desert in obedience to the dream’s command. His acceptance of this duty was the cycle’s second major image. He was depicted as a vigorous, black-bearded man, enthroned like a king in a golden bed with red coverlets, holding between his hands an image of the sun, Ârata’s symbol. On the floor beside him cowered six tiny demons--Doubt, Ignorance, Greed, Complacency, Pride, and Fear, the Six Failings that had driven him, six times, to reject Ârata’s dream. In the air above him hovered five celestial spirits: the Five Foundations of the Way of Ârata, which he was destined to bring to the world.

“When Marduspida reached the place where Ârata lay, he sank into a sleep as deep as death. For seven days and seven nights Ârata came to him in dreams, in the form of a man with skin as red as fire, and hair and eyes of golden flame, and terrible bleeding wounds across his body. Ârata gave Marduspida the wisdom of the universe, and told him of the Way that men and women must follow to overcome the dark nature of the Enemy inside them, so that the world might be kept safe until Ârata woke again to rule it.

“At last, when the dreaming was finished, Ârata ordered Marduspida to return to the world and write down all he had heard in a book to be called Darxasa, which in the tongue of the gods means ‘Book of Waiting’. Then, from one of his thousand wounds, he took a drop of his fiery Blood and set it on the sands, as a sign. Marduspida found it beside him when he woke.”

The painting-cycle was almost done. The final section, which told the tale of Galea’s conversion to the Way of Ârata, had suffered less damage than the rest; the restoration, already nearly complete when Gyalo arrived in Baushpar, had been finished two weeks earlier, and the scaffolding removed. Elsewhere in the cycle the artists had latitude in which scenes to depict, but here they were always the same, taken from the other great Âratist scripture, the Book of the Messenger: the conversion of King Fârat, the Covenant of the Brethren, the martyrdom of Prince Sadruko-to, the miracle of Fantzon, where the First Messenger had demonstrated Compassion, the Fifth Foundation of the Way, by giving alms from a purse that never emptied.

The final image, just before the entrance to the core, was also always the same. To the Caryaxists, with their atheistic view of a world that went on forever just as it was, it represented a particularly contemptible concept, and they had vented great fury on it, scoring it, hacking it, covering it with ugly slogans. But there was no scaffolding here, nor would there be. The defilement would remain, as a reminder of the Arsace’s eighty years of suffering.

Below the image the words of Ârata’s Promise, the god's last utterance to Marduspida, had once been inlaid in gold. The gold was gone but the Promise remained, sunk into the stone:

You are only the first. Watch always for the next. He will be born out of a dark time. He will come among you ravaged from the burning lands, bearing my blood with him. One act of destruction will follow on his coming, and one of generation. Thus shall you know him. He will bring news of me, and he will open the way, so that my children may be brought out of exile.

The painting above depicted the Promise’s fulfillment: the Next Messenger, clad only in a breechclout, burned by the desert sun and gaunt with privation, his hair and beard wild and tangled and his arms traced red from the wounds the razor facets of the shining Blood had inflicted on his hands. Behind him lay darkness: the uncounted centuries of human history. Before him blazed light: the brilliance of the new primal age, where the wakened god would rule as he had in the beginning and all living things would be cleansed of the ash of Âdaxcasa’s being. Few of the painting’s details were intact, yet Gyalo saw clearly what was there--with the eye of memory, whispering to him in his mother’s voice, and with the eye of his own faith.

He left history behind, and entered the Temple core.

The core was paved and faced with slabs of black basalt, each longer than a man. The ceiling, soaring to the height of the Temple’s central dome, seemed taller than the sky. Here and there trays of candles were affixed atop rods driven between the floor-slabs, shimmering like miniature constellations. The silence--of massive stone, of a place where no speech was made except in ritual, of century upon century of unchanging faith--was like deep water.

On the core’s far side reclined a colossal cast-bronze image of Ârata in his guise of Eon-Sleeper. Dozens of candle-trays were ranged below the image and on the wall behind it, so that it seemed to float upon the blackness of the core like the sun glimpsed across a void of night. The artist had chosen to portray the god as a beautiful naked youth at rest upon his back, one hand open on his chest and the other fallen at his side. The surface on which he lay was scored with tiny ripples, to represent the ocean of his Blood. Once, both it and the long hair that streamed around him had been gilded, but the Caryaxists had scraped the gold away; they had also gouged out the citrine and topaz and yellow diamond set into the gashes that marked his columnar neck, his muscled torso, his long smooth limbs. Only his face--an Arsacian face, with a beaked nose and curving lips and closed round-lidded eyes--was unmarked. It wore a look of transcendent peace, belying the terrible wounds or any thought of troubled dreams.

Gyalo approached. His feet seemed to rest on nothingness, the candles’ reflection to glow from fathoms down. Sticks of incense smoked in sand-trays before the image; below them lay a pile of offerings--amulets, prayer ribbons, promise cloths, and, from those too poor to buy from offerings-sellers, polished stones, oddly shaped bits of wood, scraps of metal. The pile would grow until sunset of the following day, when the Temple’s Shapers would unmake it all, banishing the offerings into the void of pre-being from which Ârata had called forth existence. Communion, the other major Âratist ritual, was a celebration of humanity’s connection to the god, but this one, the Banishing, was a reminder of its separation. Lamentation accompanied it, a bitter litany of loss and exile.

Making the sign of Ârata, Gyalo kindled an incense-stick and set it with the others. He seated himself on one of the meditation cushions scattered about the floor, rearranging the folds of his stole to cover his bare right arm, for it was chilly inside the Temple. At this time of night, there were no other worshippers; except for the two female Shapers on candle duty, and the little group of Forceless chanting night devotions, he was alone.

It was not his habit to meditate when he visited the core, but simply to be mindful in the moment, allowing his thoughts to drift. Sometimes this brought him answers; always, it brought him peace. Tonight, it returned him to memories of his mother; from there, after a little time and by force of association, to thoughts of his father.

His father had been an atheist. Gyalo had known this from early childhood, without knowing how he knew; he assumed his mother must have told him, though he could not remember it, nor recall anything his father might have said or done to support it. He had never been able to satisfactorily resolve the puzzle of his parents’ liaison--it was not difficult to understand how a faithless man might love a devout woman, but why had his mother, with her shining faith, been willing to marry a man with no belief? Gyalo had always suspected it was his father’s atheism, more than any desire to force Gyalo to a military career, that had driven his father’s efforts to remove him from the monastery. It would have made no difference, of course, once his shaping manifested; dince the time of the Shaper War, when pagan Shapers had attempted to destroy the church of Ârata, the church had gathered all Shapers to itself.

Shapers were Âratism’s priests, its elite. More educated than other vowed Âratists, more accomplished, they held most positions of authority within the church, and provided much of its administration, from the running of monasteries and nunneries and hospitals and church-sponsored businesses to the recording of Âratist history and the service of the Brethren. They were accorded high respect within the secular community as well, and it was not uncommon for them to grow wealthy through gifts and bequests. Occasionally they found their way to secular administration, even rulership.

Gyalo did not care greatly for these trappings of status. It was shaping he loved, not just the manipulation of form and matter he performed in religious ceremony, but the way the world appeared to him when he called forth his ability. Shaping lay in his soul like Ârata in the Temple core--walled round with training and manita, a mighty sleeping thing at the foundation of all he was and all he did, whose dreams, in the form of the rituals he conducted, touched and transformed the very fabric of reality. To shape was to see as Ârata had seen, when he called the world to form. To shape was to exercise, in miniature, Ârata’s own divine creative power. To shape was to return the god, for a brief time, to active life within the world. Of all men and women on earth, only a Shaper could accomplish such miracles.

Gyalo was aware that in many ways his ability was dangerous--not because of his childish experimentation, which was not so very different from others’, but because it was so strong. It had come upon him early--when he was eleven, rather than the twelve or thirteen that was more common--and with unusual violence, a sudden access of visions and hallucinations that swallowed him whole for four days, while the manita masters struggled to find the dosage that would properly tether him. It was a delicate balance, requiring that the ability be bound into latency yet remain accessible to will and training. Most Shapers needed frequent re-adjustment during the early years of their education; Gyalo had needed more than most, and from the first his tether had been larger. His dosage had leveled out by the time he turned fifteen, as most Shapers' did, but periodic adjustment had been necessary almost until the time of his Shaper ordination, at the age of twenty-five.

And yet he knew that what Utamnos had said was true. The very difficulty of his shaping talent, the very struggle he had had to wage to master it and himself, made him stronger than those who had not had to fight so hard. If indeed he came face to face with apostasy in the Burning Land, he was certain he would not be tempted from his vows. In spite of himself, he still dreaded the physical perils he would go out tomorrow to confront. But spiritual danger he did not fear.

He looked up at the god, burning in light before him. O Ârata, he thought, as he sometimes did, though he knew the futility of prayer, I will serve you faithfully in the Burning Land. I will fight my fear. I will reject my weakness. I will strive, as my master bid me, for compassion. We are all your children, even the worst of us.

A long time later he rose and left the core, retracing his steps along the gallery, moving backward through time and history to the distant beginnings of the world. He emerged abruptly into the present-day cold of sleeping Baushpar, and hurried homeward through the dark streets. The dreamy calm he had achieved inside the Temple was already slipping away. A few hours, and he would be traveling: even now, it was difficult to believe.