LESSON #6 IN REVISION
In my original version of chapter one, the mirror sat waiting on the wall until Ivana came along and found her. She knew the queen had to be dead because she didn’t come back, but Mira was very passive. Of course, she was a mirror, but I had to make her feel human to the reader:
It would take a great magic to transform a mirror back into a girl, more even than it had taken to suck the girl into a mirror. And who would get that magic for me, since I could not get it myself?
Not the princess I had betrayed. Not the huntsman whose oath I had proved false. Not the dwarves who had spent their lives telling tales of the queen’s wickedness, and mine.
It would have to be a wanderer who had never heard the tale, a traveling gypsy or a warrior half-broken on some foreign battleground, perhaps. I would have to convince them to take me down, promise them whatever they would, if only they would do my bidding.
My editor wrote, “It’s unclear to me how Mira plans to turn back into a girl. I know that she needs more magic, but how much? What kind? And how does she know this? Perhaps Mira isn’t sure herself, but figures that by having someone carry her into the world, that she’ll eventually find a way. In any case, this plan of Mira’s needs clarification throughout. She occasionally mentions her need to get this magic, but her plan is very, very vague!”
One of the ways I fixed this problem, though not the only way, was to have Mira be more active form the first. She tries various ways to get magic from people who come by, and only at the end is she forced to accept a peasant girl wandering by as her last hope. This is a classic case of show, don’t tell and why it works so well.
And again, why I added so much to this manuscript in word count. Showing takes a lot more pages than telling does. But it was especially important to this manuscript because it makes the mirror more human. She is so limited. She can’t move on her own, and her senses are limited, as well. This is one of the disadvantages of having chosen an inanimate object as a viewpoint character. But it also forced me to do interesting things to make the story work, and that was a great advantage. It made the book stand out as unique.
I think sometimes that this is the reason why Shakespeare wrote sonnets. Yes, the form is restrictive. And there is a certain pride in being able to write well within those restrictions, as I took pride in being able to tell a story written entirely from the viewpoint of an inanimate object. But restrictions actually help the writer to focus on the story at hand, on the limitations of this world, this character, this moment. You can’t tell everything. You can only tell this.
Year after year I hung there. In the beginning, I kept myself alive by taking from the objects which had never been human. The magic cauldron that had been made to keep bubbling soon stopped. The swirling crystal ball the queen had used to see distant places went black and cold. The magic light dancing above my head went still.
I even took from a passing fly who had been caught in a spider’s web in the corner by me. And a beetle, overcome by its load. But things of magic lose power day by day. It is the same law of nature which bleeds death constantly to the sky, so that it will be gathered again in new life.
After fifty years, I had hardly more than my voice and when I heard the first footsteps in the forest outside the shaky stone walls, I called out in desperation, “Please, come. Anyone, help me.”
A warrior came out of the forest, his beard grizzled and graying. “Maiden?” he called. “Where is the maiden who called for me?”
“Here I am,” I said, my voice trembling as my glass could not.
He searched for me, found me at last, and then tightened his lips. There was hatred in his eyes, though I knew of no reason why he should hate me. Stories told by dwarves, perhaps, of a magic mirror used by a horrible queen?
But I did not have time to ask him, for I saw his axe begin its ascent. I acted quickly, using the last of my magic on his face. The sight of his own grandfather looking back at him gave him a sudden fright. He stumbled on a crack in the warped wooden floor, then fell forward and cut his own head open.
It was fortunate for me that he died, and quickly, so that he did not have time to escape. I needed magic to replace what I had lost. So I listened to the gurgling of the blood draining his life from him and took it to myself. It was not as powerful as it would have been had the queen killed him herself, as she so often did. But he had been surprised by his death, and that was enough.
In the months following, the warrior’s bones were taken by wild creatures and scattered through the forest. Only his skull remained in the far corner where it had rolled in a driving rain that broke through the roof above him. Perhaps I should have pitied him his nameless end. As a warrior, he had trained all his days to die gloriously in battle. Instead he had died to give a magic mirror power to hope for another twenty years, if she was stingy with her use.
It was a gypsy who came next. Just when I was ready to think my chances were over, I saw her tall, thin form through the broken window. She was nearly the same size as the queen, and for a moment I had a start of hope that the queen was not dead, that she had come back for me, after all. Then I saw the rags she wore, and the cane she hobbled over. The queen went in disguise now and then, but surely not like this.
“There is magic here,” said the gypsy, sniffing along the outer edge of bricks. “I feel it.”
If she could sense magic, I thought, perhaps she was a witch herself. A witch with magic.
“Here,” I called. “On the wall. The mirror.”
The gypsy found her way in, then moved forward. She did not mistake which piece in the room still had magic. Lifting a gnarled hand to brush the ivy from my face, she sighed with pleasure. “Ah. You will make a fine piece at a fair. No other fortune teller will have a talking mirror.”
A fair? A fortune teller? Now that she was full in my vision, I could taste all her magic. It was not much. A few chickens, no doubt, stolen from a nearby farm. And from the smell of her breath, the unhatched eggs eaten raw, as well.
But unlike my sister who had been queen, I was in no position to be particular with my magic. I would have to take what I could get.
The gypsy chuckled softly to herself. “Pretty, pretty. Good luck to find you. Yes, yes.”
Good luck, indeed. But not hers.
I stole from her quietly at first, but soon she began to shriek at me, threatening to break my glass. I had to protect myself. So I used her own magic to wither the hand hovering near me. The gypsy howled in pain, but she did not retreat.
I blinded her in one eye next. I could have taken both, but I did not have to. Moaning and mindless, she lurched away from me. The broken section of the wall she had come through crumbled further as she slammed against it. When she was gone at last, she had left behind nothing but the echo of her powerless curses.
I was alone again and I must fend for myself. I saved as much magic as I could for the future, and then I waited.
A hundred years I waited. Then in the dying sunlight of a golden spring, I saw a shadow of a girl huddled under the bushes near the ruined window.