Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cutting Room Floor, Part 2

More backstory that didn't make it into the final draft.

I was so skinny and weak that no tradesman would apprentice me, and my father understood that the only thing to do with me was to have me educated. When I was six years old he sent me to the bishop’s Latin school. This was once the place where all Wittenberg’s men, except for those few who could afford private tutelage at home, began their studies. The Latin school had been housed for nearly a century next to Schlosskirche, in one of the buildings owned by the diocese. After the Lutheran usurpation of Wittenberg, the bishop’s school was closed down and a Lutheran school took over that building. The City Council turned a blind eye as the bishop continued to run his own school, on a much-reduced scale, outside the city limits at the abandoned Benedictine monastery. Our teachers were aging monks; a few of them had once lectured at the university. Under city edict, theology and the Catechism were banned as subject matter, and at times the City Council opened its eye and closed the exiled school to remind the bishop who it was that really held the keys to Wittenberg’s kingdom of knowledge.

It cost money to attend Latin school, and oftimes my father could not afford my tuition. When I could not attend school, I made an effort to help my father and his apprentice in the shop, running errands and getting in the way. From my father I learned nothing of the bookbinding trade, having neither the dexterity nor the interest for it. I did learn how to avoid a beating when I could, or take one when it came. These skills served me well at Latin school, where it was said that youth learn neither manners nor grammar passively; knowledge is taken in through the skin as well as the eyes and ears.

With the interruptions to my schooling, a course of education that normally took no more than four years lasted eight in my case. A boy usually left Latin school at nine, having learned his basic grammar from the histories of Cato, the letters of Cicero and the comedies of Terence. He then went on to one of the colleges, or the seminary if he was destined for the priesthood--or the clergy, I should say, as there were no longer any Catholic seminaries in all of Saxony. Those few Catholics left in the city were fortunate that the bishop’s school retained the monks who had lectured at Wittenberg, for by the time we were old enough to enter the university we were not only fluent in Latin but also knew our Xenophon, Demosthenes, Virgil, Catullus and Ovid. Perhaps our studies in music, geometry and arithmetic were not up to the same standards as our Lutheran neighbors, but certainly we surpassed them in rhetoric and dialectics. I was not the most brilliant boy at the bishop’s school, but I took to Latin like a native of Rome, and when I’d read some of the classics I dreamed for the first time of more than beef and mutton. My schoolmates and I stormed the walls of Troy, founded great cities along the Elbe and captured foreign princesses before wandering home to our hovels and our fathers’ workshops. When I was ready to sit the university entrance examination I was well enough prepared for the challenge. What nearly kept me from my degrees was lack of money.

My father could little hope to afford my university education. While he had at last been allowed to join the lowest tier of his guild, in Wittenberg the trades were not yet as powerful as they were elsewhere; there was steady work but the Duke’s taxes were heavy and the guilds had more ambition than wealth. Our family lived in a shack built against the bindery, we ate gruel morning and night and there were months when no work at all came my father’s way. I was another mouth to feed from his small portion of food--food better spent feeding the ugly apprentice who now lived in the shop. We argued over my going away to Italy or France to enter a seminary, but I felt no calling. I refused my father’s suggestion of the priesthood and greatly vexed him. I was a headstrong boy, even at fourteen.

“I want to raise the family name to respectability and honor here in Wittenberg,” I told him. My proud claim meant nothing to my father; he cared naught for honor and knew that I mistook respectability for no more than a clean bed.

“Hmph,” my father said, and dragged me off to see the bishop.


  1. I can see how this back story would greatly add to your character's depth, but knowing a little bit about your book already, and having read some, I can also see why you cut this out. It's so hard to decide what can't stay when we're close to the work.

    Thank you for sharing this, Scott!

  2. Michelle: I honestly don't know why I feel compelled to post this stuff. But I am. I'd be interested in seeing what other writers decide to leave out of their novels.

    The father character used to have a bigger role in the book, but after eliminating all the childhood backstory, he was no longer needed. Sorry, dad!

  3. This cutting room floor idea is a great one. I'm just too embarrassed to put up some of my older cut stuff... I should, though. It'd be good for you, and would satisfy your interest to see what I've slashed out of my work.

  4. I figure if I ever become rich and famous, some people might like to look over my books' drafts. Then again, my associates probably would want me to package it up as "Lessons Learned" by Important Bowman.

  5. Michelle: Yeah, some of the stuff I cut from early drafts isn't anything I'd care to share! But I would be interested in seeing what you've decided doesn't fit, especially if you also think it's good writing.

    JB: I look forward to reading a copy of "Lessons Learned" when you're rich and famulous. Do you want me to email you when I'm ready to see your draft, or are you just going to send it to me and let me ignore it until I have time? Huh?

  6. Scott, that's the problem. I don't think it's good writing. :P

  7. I'll e-mail you. It's not you; it's me. Uh, yeah, I've got about 3,750 words to revise/create. That's not too bad, so I expect early next week to finish the draft. That's assuming no disasters occur, no random tests, work isn't busy, etc. But I'm still writing. Really. And that be sumpin', I tink.

  8. JMB: I've begun typing my edits into my Word document. It's very soothing and calm work. I don't have to think about the story, I just have to type. Yay, me.

    No hurry for me on when you send your draft. Just write at a comfortable rate, but keep writing, darn it.