Revising tends tends to be a complicated process. As I’ve said before, I do not view this as merely editing. Revision of a book must be the willingness to look at what was written with fresh eyes, acknowledging both strengths and weaknesses. I’ve posted four different drafts of the first give pages. Hopefully, you’ll be able to see the core of what’s stayed and what’s changed over time. I will make comments where appropriate, but a lot stuff has been moved around.
Below are the first give pages of an early draft of the Tears of the Phoenix. I know for sure it’s not my first draft, but my official records say it’s my second complete draft. I take that to mean these pages are taken from a completely written draft, front to back. This does not include the countless times I’ve tried and failed to write the first chapter. This draft was completed a long time ago, at least summer of 2008.
You’ll note the narrator at this point is Stein, one of the protagonists. This opening scene originally took place on the first day of class, where Stein arrives at the Elite Force for the first time. In the first first draft, this was also going to be the first time he meets Sypher. Instead, now he doesn’t even meet Sypher, his roommate, in these first five pages. We do see him encounter Laynie here.
Additionally, what you won’t find here, is the note that in the first draft, Felicia-Maria also did not have PoV chapters, which she will in future drafts.
These were the first significant revisions made that I can actively remember. I hadn’t touched this draft since originally being completed sometime in 2008. This draft was examined starting in early 2012, when I attempted to recommit to making revisions. I can’t believe, now that I’ve pinned the dates down, that it took me almost 3 and a half years to come back to this. I had no idea it had been this long.
At this point, a few major things have been changed. Now, instead of being the first night Stein and Sypher are even in the Elite Force, it has now been a few moonnights (the time for a moon to fully wax and wane). You’ll also notice that a lot of the same information is spewed by characters. However, I realized at some point, we didn’t need to actually begin at the beginning, like the unfortunate comparisons of Harry Potter. There was nothing relevant to the story that happened. I cut out some detention scenes. In fact, much of the same information here established is the same, but the different entry point, via time, allows for different stories to be told.
Also note, Susan (Sypher’s twin sister) is introduced rather early. Before, she was merely referenced and not seen a lot. The introduction of Laynie now happens a few pages earlier, though her introduction remains roughly the same.
Between early 2012 and Nov 2012, something wasn’t clicking. While the story beats were happening the way I wanted, something about the story felt off. After a late night, probably 3am, mulling the situation over, I concluded I needed to switch the narrative perspective. Stein as an Islander, is a new comer to this world, doesn’t know a lot or enough about the world to properly inform the readers. Also, he’s blind, so he can’t give a visual of different Sovereign, nor would such a thing matter to him.
Which led me to Sypher narrating. As soon as I made that decision, the world’s voice clicked. Suddenly, explaining the world became easy. I had someone who knew, from his life, the things that readers wouldn’t and could explain them in context. If I were going to use a popular comparison, I’d go with Harry Potter. Harry Potter gets away with dumping a whole lot of information in the beginning because Harry is new to that world. He’s never met a wizard, he’s a our way in. in comparison, despite Stein being a first year cadet, this is not a new world for him. To him, the fact that Islanders/humans are not the dominant species and that the world is ruled by a Matriarch from the Safehaven family, these are all common facts. He wouldn’t go around reciting them and certainly no one would sit down and explain to him in an information dump. That’s like explaining that red lights mean stop and green means go. These facts are important but when someone, the narrator, already knows them, they aren’t just going to spout it out in conversation.
Below is the final version that I’ll show for revisions. At this point in time, the hook still isn’t working for me. So, as you’ll notice, I’ve made significant changes to the opening hook. It’s the same thought process but I’ve decide that as a hook, the words don’t catch.
Now, the opening scene doesn’t even take place in the great hall. Instead, there is more interaction between Sypher and his friend Oberon. This change became necessary to inform the readers of the rules of the world. Now, the information distributes itself more organically throughout the initial pages. The problem of defining a world that comes with almost completely different ground rules than the one we live in. Neither Sypher nor Oberon is human, but initially when I wrote the scene, that’s not obvious. I had to tell it. Now, I have Sypher use description to better show what I want.
There’s also a lot more character interaction that’s important for later on. Introductions to characters tell readers a great deal about these people. Oberon meet’s Sypher after fighting with Laynie. You’ll notice, she isn’t even officially introduced by name. Which makes sense. In real life, we see people around without knowing who they are, all the time. Just waiting for the proper moment, which happens around page 22 or so.
You’ll also see that certain sets of letters are consistently highlighted in a lighter grey. This is because at this stage, I really am tweaking the results. If you pay attention, you’ll notice the combination is always a “to be” verb. Rightly or wrongly (cause am and be also show up in other words). Removing this helps to remove the stagnation in sentences, removing undue grandiose vagueness. There are, of course, times when these can be kept and even need to be. You’ll notice my writing is generally riddled with these problems. That’s what editing’s for. Yay that.
You’ll notice that in the last section, an extra page appears. That’s the back of the first page. As I indicated, the hook did not work for me, so I kept shifiting it to make it fit
There were always requirements in the opening of a book. The first chapter (more importantly, the first paragraph) must capture the attention of the reader and hold that attention. A lesser matter is developing a world that doesn’t feel like it’s being forced. Many books establish this by relying on concepts a reader may already have an innate understand of. US government, worlds where unicorns exist. But humans are almost always the core. This is not the case in the Tears of the Phoenix. I need to indoctrinate the reader to a way of life all the characters are already taking for granted.
Clearly the evolution was staggering. But that’s how the process works.
Next time: On Tuesday, I’ll be posting more character profiles. Look for Henry, Jennifer, and Felicia-Maria. Then on Friday, I’ll be posting a history of the world I created, including the seven races that compose the Sovereign and how they came to exist.