The first steps of the first journey are always the hardest. You’re never 100% ready until you’ve done it before to know the mistakes and pitfalls. And you never know how your early decisions will affect the final product until after you’ve done it several times.
Obviously, this is no different with a book. Or a blog post.
The final draft of Chapter 1 of Ancients is almost unrecognizable next to the first draft that was written almost a year before the first readers got their hands on the book.
For those of you who haven’t read our “about” page, or are members of our mailing list (sign up now and you’ll get a free prequel book!) this might be news to you:
Riley S. Keene is a pen name for a collaborative writing duo.
It should be no surprise, then, that the final draft, after all the editing, could be unrecognizable when put next to the first draft. They are, after all, the product of two completely different people. But only rarely is the alteration as drastic as it was for Chapter One of Book One.
Part of the reason for this is that Kristen (the "Keene" of RSK) has some very strong opinions about catchy opening lines, smooth character introductions and subtle story hooks, while Robert (the "Riley) of RSK) has some very strong opinions about also writing chapter two.
But there’s more to it than that for Ancients.
When we began Ancients, we were both working full time jobs in the city. Our writing time was basically only nights and weekends, and most of the time we were burnt out from work, had plans for the evening, or were just feeling too mentally drained to be productive.
The first three chapters of Ancients were written slowly, over almost four months. The writing usually took place late at night and sometimes into the early hours of the morning. We could only catch about 2 or 3 hours of productive writing time, and sometimes not even that.
On average, those first few chapters were written 300 to 500 words at a time.
And it showed.
The early chapters had serious issues with rambling and pacing due to the stop-and-start nature of our writing schedule, and Chapter 1 was the worst offender.
While most of the changes were just clean-up of that issue, there were two much larger problems in terms of world-building and story structure, and both of them come down to one problem: Ermolt’s conversation with the blacksmith.
In the first draft, as in the final, the discussion is about doing something with Ermolt’s hammer to enable him to more easily throw it. But in the original draft, Athala joins the conversation as it starts to veer into the idea of enchanted weapons. This is where the two major problems come in: the first is building enchantment into the magic system, and the second is the problem of Chekhov's Gun.
We began working on Ancients as a more serialized ‘popcorn fantasy’ series. It wasn’t until after we began writing that the larger plot - one with an ending - resolved itself. The magic system wasn’t really developed when I was writing Chapter One, and as it started to come together, based around the ideas, challenges, and needs of the plot, enchantment as a common product of individual mortal wizards no longer fit.
While it would be possible for a mortal to create an enchantment with draconic runes, collecting and calling the energy to power it was the active work of a wizard. Without a wizard to manually (literally, as it involves hand motions) call up the energy required, the enchantment wouldn’t function. The only way for such a thing to work is if a God or Dragon gave the enchantment the constant attention necessary to power it.
As such, Athala’s whole part of the discussion had to be cut.
The second problem was worse from a storytelling standpoint. This conversation based around Ermolt wanting some ability to throw his hammer went on for about two thirds of the chapter.
It was a major component of your introduction to these characters.
It was putting a very obvious gun on the mantle at the beginning of the story.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have a place at the end of the story for that gun to go off.
The climax of the story didn’t involve Ermolt needing to throw his hammer, and it didn’t make sense to force it to do so. We did add some points in the early parts of the story to call back to this discussion, but without it being a major plot point, focusing on it for almost 1,200 words was a waste of everyone’s time.
As a result of all of this, the final version of chapter one was basically entirely rewritten.
Chapters Two and Three also had major revisions, but none quite so severely as Chapter One.
It was just a perfect storm of our differing creative focuses, the poor conditions it was written under, and the larger structural issues involved in making 70% of the first chapter center around a discussion that neither fits into the world, nor pays off later in the story itself.
And that, Heroes, was the first edition of Inside View! Check by on the 15th of every month for new posts that give a glance into the hows, whys, and whats of whys of Riley's Heroes By Necessity series!
Until next month!