Celebrate your first draft, but know that it isn’t the end, just the beginning. The magic you’ve created is nothing compared to what’s possible. Now, let me take you on a little editing journey. Let me tell you a story…
I’m always inventing names for my own processes and one of those is editing with a broad brush. Don’t be impressed. It means I had to fix a disaster.
Like most, I complete a draft and set it aside, but under the right circumstances I make an exception. Genius or odd compulsion? Efficiency or the need to satisfy a quirk? Who knows. It works for me.
My first drafts are borderline wretched, but sometimes scenes are DOA on arrival, so bad a wholesale scrap and replace is called for. Such was the case with the opening to Book 2, A River in Each Hand.
First Attempt, First Draft
The initial draft opened with several scenes where my protagonist entered the Wilder Hills with two companions. The ensuing banter was dull, out of character, and smothered in backstory. Internal dialog. Memories. Pointless nonsense. It had it all.
The story stumbled forward until the protagonist returned home, improving after introducing three secondary characters who were unexpected treasures in the first draft. Unfortunately, the opportunity to draw the reader in was already lost.
I could have later added a more snappy (gimmicky) opening. I could have wrestled with the (stiff) dialog to improve it. I could have removed the (excessive) backstory. In other words, I could have twisted the opening dozen scenes until they were polished filler.
Yes, filler. Those early scenes relied on backstory because the story had nothing else to say. The characters acted out of character because the scenes were aimless, a monochrome background for bored characters to stand in and spew information.
I scrapped 90% of the first 4 scenes. In their place I had my characters enter Sprawn, a town of thieves and rebels they’d avoided in the first draft (because I was lazy). I took a sharp knife to the backstory. More tension appeared and the characters came to life. Too, instead of hearing how bad circumstances in Carrdia had become they saw them firsthand.
But there were still big problems. Two of the characters are separated from the wizard for no reason. The plot is contrived. The tension feels invented for the scenes. Sprawn had no personality.
Still, something BIG was close. I could feel it. Like King Kong emerging from the forest. I spent a few days thinking about the opening’s purpose and how events should develop and flow organically. I reread to where the three secondary characters were later added and it hit me. Oh yeah, it hit me HARD.
Third Attempt is the Charm
The key, in case you haven’t guessed, was the three secondary characters. Why was I waiting so long to bring them in when they energized the story? Because someone’s outline said that’s what I was supposed to do (whoops).
Dominoes toppled. Angels sang. Elves got real jobs. I couldn’t write fast enough.
I reimagined Sprawn, which revealed secrets, including weather foreshadowing an important location later in the book. Life in Sprawn reminded me there was a bounty on my protagonist’s head in Book 1. True character traits flourished. I introduced the three secondary characters, thus explaining the wizard’s absence (sorry, can’t say more). Threats. Deceits. Misunderstandings. Compassion. Mystery. An awkward reunion. Some heroics. Organic flow!
In the End
Finally, I was able to set the draft aside in peace. I was pleased with the opening and thrilled the end result eclipsed the original.
If I’d fought what I had at the start I’d have produced a drab, contrived opening. Instead, Sprawn is the epitome of creepy and dangerous. Events flow organically, a mix of current events and fallout from Book1, thus revealing backstory via showing. And in the middle of it all my protagonist is herself, which means she doesn’t do what wizards tell her to do.
What remains from the first two attempts are a few good lines of dialog and a couple of ideas (like introducing Sprawn). I’m excited about the result, a mix of mystery and horror in a fantasy setting that sets the stage for the novel. More edits will follow.
And the mystery…?
The girl started to turn, but Ergain squeezed her hand to bring her head back around. “Sphila, did you see what happened?”
“No, I…” Her tears started again.
“It’s okay. Did you see someone leave?”
“No.” Sphila gasped, her words rushed. “I was late. Maybe if I’d—”
“Shh. This isn’t your fault.” The attack made no sense. Life was cheap in Sprawn. People killed for little, but they killed for something. What was the point here? This was pointless slaughter, a madman’s calling card. “You say you were late. You were summoned?”
“Not exactly. I come by in the early evenings to help cleanup when Tebith is away.”
“The other healer. She started working with Darss six months ago. She’s away helping with a birth a couple of days distant.”
“Was there a problem with someone in the last few days? The last week?”
“No. She often has to mend men after fights in the taverns and such, but there hasn’t even been that the last few days.”
The rain became a downpour. At least the roar helped to mask the repulsive activity behind. No doubt these men would be heading to the taverns afterwards to drink and make a horrible tale worse.