A Tale in Three Scenes

Enemies Like These went through almost two years of drafts and rewrites. I think there were maybe ten different versions of the opener, but if you want a look at the editing process, here were the most significant three:


(Early draft)

 

Flying and falling aren’t as different as I used to think. They’ve got all the same trimmings: the wind whipping at my face, the alarming acceleration in the direction of sidewalk and the roaring against my ears.

 

That first time, it took me about two stories to realize I’d made a huge mistakes, and another ten stories to decide that I’d really prefer survival over splat.

 

Then all of a sudden, I was flying not falling.

 

It’s weird to think how many of us superheroes must have bottomed out before they came into their own. Because how else do you find out how to fly except for jumping off something huge? How do you find super strength if you don’t get in a massive fight. Maybe that’s why so many supers wind up on the other side.

 

People bottoming out tend to be in a dark place.

 

At the same time, most superheroes tend to get their powers in a burst, chemical accidents that would kill normal people, freak explosions that no one could have survived and most heroes tend to find their villains in that same accident, the universe’s way of evening the score.

 

I’m not someone like that. In fact I’d been on the hero circuit more than a year before I met Malevolence. I don’t really know my origin story, but I know this:

 

I was a hero without a villain and Malevolence was a villain without a hero.

 

Perfect match.

 

Nemesis at first sight.

 

Except nothing ever goes that smoothly.

 

It’s strange to read this one. It’s not the one from the nano draft, because no one will ever get to see that mess, but it’s a very early draft. I don’t think there’s a single phrase that made the final. Looking at it now, it reads more like it’s describing the rules of this universe than telling any kind of coherent story. As a matter of fact, there was a draft pretty soon after this one that had the teaser scrapped all together.

 

But it came back. 


(Mid-Revisions Draft)

 

Free fall.

 

It’s not so different from flying. The wind biting at my cheeks, the roaring against my ears, the alarming acceleration in the direction of sidewalk.

 

That time, the first time, it took me about two stories to realize I’d made a huge mistake. Another ten to realize I’d prefer survival over splat. Then instincts kicked in, and presto—flying, not falling.

 

No one learns about their super powers until they’re in a position to use them. Indestructibility means surviving a wound that should have been fatal. I learned how to fly by jumping off a building.

 

This time, I can’t stop. Hurtling through the air as the ground lurches up to meet me.

 

Brooks is laughing in my ears.

 

I can’t remember how to fly.

 

People bottoming out tend to be in a dark place. Probably why so many of us superheroes wind up on the wrong side of things. Most supers get their powers in a burst: Freak explosions, chemical accidents that would kill a normal person. Usually heroes and villains show up in pairs, the universe’s way of evening the score. Wasn’t like that for me. Falling’s kind of a solo activity.

 

The treetops whiz past.

 

Too long on the job and all the dreams are like this. Fighting, falling, flying, it’s all the same. Always wake up before I hit the ground.

 

Finding Malevolence makes the fight mean something.

 

He’s my perfect match.

 

Nemesis at first sight.

 

It’s easy.

 

Waking up’s the hard part.

 

This draft was part of the revisions I did post-Walk a Mile. At this point I knew that I couldn’t scrap the opener because falling/flying became the defining image of the series. This version is more upfront about the suicide attempt, and does a much better job of setting up Alex’s fight against depression, which is his major underlying character arc. I can’t remember how to fly is probably my favorite line of this version, but that’s because it has emotional resonance that echoes all the way through Sidekicks. At the same time it’s still too introspective, and with the change of focus from superhero origins to falling, the part about Mal at the end seems out of place.


 

(Final Draft)

 

Free fall.

 

The wind bites at my cheeks, roars against my ears. 

 

No one learns about their super powers until they’re in a position to use them. I learned I could fly when I jumped off a building. 

 

This time, I can’t stop, hurtling through the air as the ground lurches up to meet me. 

 

Brooks is laughing in my ears.

 

Too long on the job, and all the dreams are like this. Fighting, falling, flying. It’s all the same. Always wake up before I hit the ground.

 

The treetops whiz past. 

 

I can’t keep doing this. 

 

I’m going to wake up.

 

I need to wake up.

 

 

The final version is pretty bare bones compared to the first two and a lot less introspective. I scrapped the part about Mal because you meet Mal maybe two paragraphs into the next chapter. What made this work better than the last one is that Alex isn’t thinking about falling, he’s trying to stop. Alex is a character we meet mid-suicide attempt, so it was important to orient him in the right direction. Though Enemies Like These does hit a few dark places, Alex’s character trajectory isn’t about breaking down. It’s about getting better.

 

 

Another, more technical reason for stripping this scene bare, is that it makes it easier to tie it to other threads. Because you’re going to see Alex on a roof again in Walk a Mile and the consequences of this moment echo all the way through Sidekicks

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