another rewrite example: show don’t tell

Time for another rewrite example.

Here’s the original:

== 7 Aug 2064

John had finally stopped hustling Mike, Javier and the rest of the group from loading dock to loading dock and from rented vehicle to taxi to hot wired truck after be became convinced that they’d lost any tails they had.

Mike’s nature preserve was deemed too obvious a spot to use, as were the various warehouses that Morlock Engineering, First Class Homes and Offices, Guaranteed Electrical, and Red Stripe owned outright. In the end the group had washed up in an office complex that Javier’s “First Class Homes and Offices” had outfitted for the now-defunct “Northern Logistics”. The power, water, air and other utilities were all on, drawing on accounts prefunded before the firm overextended itself and collapsed, but the clenching argument was that the only connection between the space and any of the Boardroom Group was that Javier’s firm – along with a half dozen others – had a lien on the scant assets until the whole mess was resolved in a week or two by a bankruptcy service provider. Until then, though, it should be safe and comfortable to camp out here.

After they’d been there for a few hours Dewitt and a few of his men showed up and John let them in.

Dewitt and John conversed quietly to one side until Mike interrupted them.

“How do you two know each other anyway?”

John looked at both men before answering “Mike and I served together for a while.”

Mike looked surprised. “You were in the PKs?”

John recoiled. “Not the PKs. The US Army.”

“They’re pretty much subsumed into the PKs since Second Azores, though, right?”

Both men remained silent for a while, then Dewitt spoke. “Not all of us think so.”

After a moment John spoke. “Tell him about the ships.”

What are the problems here?

1) There’s too much exposition. I’m explaining why John chose the Northern Logistics office as a squat space instead of letting the characters explain it.

2) I’m not showcasing any of the characters.

I want Mike to be abrupt, a bit too big for the space he’s in, yet with a bit of a sense of humor about himself. He’ll drag the best chair in the house to his preferred position then sit in it like a throne…but he’ll also volunteer to be the coffee-bitch. I want to reflect this in Javier’s wry tolerance of Mike’s larger-than-life behavior.

I want quick throw away lines to develop minor characters. Mark Soldner can decline coffee – “oh, right, he’s the Mormon!”. Albert Lai is a very correct more-British-than-the-British Taiwanese gentleman.

Albert Lai is the kind of person who dislikes the dusty office space. Mike is the kind of guy who makes sure that even the grunts sit at the table and have something to drink. Mormon Mark isn’t too hung up on rank or privilege either – he’s willing to do his fair share of gofer work and go fetch some beverages.

3) The office space isn’t really described. The action is all happening in a formless white cloud. So I need to add a few details: unwatered and dying plants, a logo from a defunct corporation, promotional coffee cups.

4) As I fix problems 1 through 3, I want to dovetail each sentence and paragraph so that it does more than one job at a time.


In explaining the office space I’m also talking about bankruptcy procedures in an anarcho capitalist system. Paperwork and disagreement are the only thins more common than hydrogen and stupidity, and even anarchotopia isn’t truly a utopia. There’s friction, annoyance, and hassles.

…and while touching on bankruptcy, I explain why the power and lights are still on in the squat.

I mention human territoriality and customization where the execs all carve out their own spaces in the squat. Systems that ignore the human propensity for private spaces (communists with shared kitchens, Greens with public transit, advertising execs with open office plans) are missing something fundamental about who we are. This novel strives to be ancap all the way down in a fractal way: even the trivial asides are cranky and uncompromising.

I attribute competence to the bad guys – they’re watching the obvious places and might even have decent hacking skills… so I preempt one potential reader objection concern by tossing in a throw-away line about “anonymizing proxies”.

Anyway, here’s a rewrite of this scene:

== 7 Aug 2064: Northern Logistics offices, Aristillus

John looked around the empty office space. The gray industrial carpet was unvacuumed, prefab cubicle walls and desks were partially disassembled – and partially scattered with abandoned office toys, promotional coffee cups, and stacks of flyers and other detritus. Many of the corners container planters of unwatered and dying plants.

Mike marched away from the group, around the empty receptionist’s desk and over to a cluster of over stuffed chairs in the reception area. He lifted one easily in the low gravity, carried it back past the wall mounted chromed logo of the now defunct firm to where the group was standing. Mike put the chair down, plopped himself into it and rendered his judgement. “This place is OK. Javier, do you think that there’s a kitchenette with a coffee maker in here?”

Javier shook his head at Mike – or more precisely, at what he internally called “Mike’s performance art”.

“Once Northern went belly up we moved to reposess…and so did a dozen others. Turns out that the rehypothecation is a mess – some of the other firms also used Trustworthy for their – anyway, the short version is that nothing has been taken. The office is exactly as it was the day Northern closed their doors. So, yes, there should be a coffee pot around here somewhere.”

Mike sprung out of his chair. “Excellent! I’m putting on a pot. Who wants some?”

There was a murmur of assent, with just Mark Soldner waving his hand to pass on the offer of a caffeinated beverage. Mike nodded then marched off into the warren of corridors and cubes looking for a kitchen.

Albert Lai looked around the slightly dusty space and the cheap furniture with a slight look of disdain.

“It’s a shame we can’t find a slightly more upscale place to squat.”

John shook his head.

“We know from Dewitt that there are other teams out there…and they know who you are. Mike’s nature preserve is the first place they’ll look. After that, the offices of Morlock, First Class Homes, Guaranteed Electrical – all those are either already bugged or being surveilled right now. No, this place is perfect – there’s no paperwork tying it to any of you.”

Javier interjected “And the power, water – all the utilities are on. I know – I spent hours arguing with the bankruptcy court, trying to attach the prefunded accounts.” He pinched his lips. “…without success, I might add”.

Under the circumstances there wasn’t a ton of sympathy for Javier and his failure to enact a speedy repossession.

The group soon settled in, moving furniture around, making contact with their home offices through anonymizing proxies, and each setting up their own offices and bedrooms.

Mike was just about to loudly ask who was making the next pot of coffee when John’s phone rang and he excused himself to head to one of the loading dock doors. A moment later he was back… with Dewitt and a few of his men in tow.

Mike walked over and stuck out a hand. “Dewitt? Nice to meet you. Mike Martin. Sounds like we all owe you a major thank you. Great work…all of you.” He nodded at the rest of the troops. “…you guys want coffee?”

Dewitt declined but one of his men said “Some fruit juice, if you’ve got it.”

“It turns out we do. Don’t go anywhere.” Mike turned to get it but Mark Soldner indicated he was on it. Mike turned back to the group “I want to hear everything…but Dewitt says you guys are old friends. How do you know each other?”

John answered “Matt and I served together.”

Mike was shocked. “You were in the PKs?”

John flinched. “No!” He paused then elaborated. “Not the PKs. The US Army.”

Mike was puzzled “Pretty much the same thing since Second Azores, right?”

Both men remained silent for a while, then Dewitt spoke. “Not all of us think so.”

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