Last week I talked about designing your books to focus on the things that your readers value and to minimize the amount of effort you put into adding things that they don’t.
One of the things that my readers seem to particularly enjoy are my descriptions of Hell as a giant dysfunctional corporation.
I wound up cutting the scene below from my first book because my editor felt that it put too much emphasis on Lilith, who was a minor character in that story.
I recently pulled it out to look at because she is the central character in my work-in-progress, but it doesn’t work for this book, either, because I’m trying to redeem her and this scene doesn’t help with that effort.
Even so, the scene was a lot of fun and deserves to see the light of day, or at least the light of blog.
“If you could just sign right here, sir.” Hovering behind the red granite counter by means of his substantial wings, Focalor pushed a quill and a three-part form toward Belial. The griffin had run the Travel department since time immemorial.
Behind him, row upon row of men and women sat at cramped desks, arranging various demonic missions. Their chairs were bolted to the floor six inches too far back from their desks, forcing them to hunch forward to reach their keyboards. After just a few minutes, their backs burned with the strain and they worked twenty-hour days.
Focalor’s wings opened and closed and a sheet of paper lifted from one of the desks and went sailing across the room. A worker jumped up from his chair and gave chase, only to have the paper sail into a smudge pot and burst into flames before he could reach it.
“Oh, man.” With dragging feet, he walked back to his desk and dialed the phone.”Could you give me your travel dates and locations again? I seem to have lost my notes.” A blast of fire issued from the receiver, setting his hair aflame and blistering his ear. Yelping, he slapped out the flames with one hand while he wrote down notes with the other.
Behind Belial, the door opened. Lilith came in, accompanied by a pretty blonde in five-inch stilettos. The blonde’s face was streaked with tears. She limped past the counter and took a seat at one of the desks.
“What’s wrong?” whispered the redhead sitting beside her.
“Lilith invited me to go shopping,” the blonde said. “She said to wear these heels, that they’d make my legs look pretty. But then we walked twenty miles.” She slipped off her shoes, revealing feet that were bleeding and covered in blisters. “Over cobblestones.”
Lilith’s tail curled in a sinuous little dance, a sure sign she was pleased with herself. She stuck one of her hooves out in front of her and flexed her ankle. “I don’t know what you’re complaining about. My feet are fine.” She set her hoof back on the ground. “Tell your friend about what we bought.”
“I didn’t buy anything.” The blonde’s voice caught on the final word. “We tried on swimsuits and every single one of them made me look like a blimp.” She ended on a keening wail of misery.
“Seriously.” Lilith laughed merrily. “You must have put on twenty pounds since you got here. You looked like a total porker in that yellow bikini.” Lilith held up a little shopping bag. “But the next smaller size looked great on me.” She giggled. “Let me know when you’re ready to go shopping again, girlfriend.” The blonde burst into fresh sobs.
“You are such a bitch.” The redhead sitting at the desk next to the blonde’s was braver than she was wise.
“And you’re here because boinked your sister’s fiancé the night before the wedding,” Lilith said. The redhead crumpled as the other workers snickered at her humiliation.
Lilith loathed human women, especially pretty ones. She frequently volunteered for Cruelty Detail. A lot of demons did, because the Boss was fulsome in his praise of the one-on-one tormentors. Belial never signed up. In his mind, working it made demons come across as small thinkers, eager to substitute tactical bitchiness for demonstrations of strategic thought. Acts of compassion, no matter how trivial, had the capacity to compound into nobility if repeated often enough, but similarly inconsequential acts of selfishness remained just that. And while the Boss was in favor of petty self-indulgence, he didn’t consider it a special talent.