This week, I began Draft 5 of my story.
I spent the last week of April and first week of May poring over the feedback I received from the beta readers who were able to make it through the entirety of the previous draft. Then I brushed up a few things, wrote a tighter outline for the character arcs, figured out a few plot holes, and then I decided I might as well take the dive and start the next draft.
There’s always a moment’s hesitance whenever I start a new draft. I always feel like I could plan just a little better, I could answer a few more questions, or maybe wait for my writing “flow” to come. But I understand that’s just a little bit of anxiety caused by a blank page. After you’ve been writing 100K words, it’s hard to go back to the beginning. And I’m also the type of writer who finds momentum in the previous sections of my story. That’s why the beginning is so important to me, because the tone I set there, the voice I begin with, will permeate the rest of the novel.
So I really took my time this week to begin with a good note.
Here’s the starting paragraph of the previous draft:
When Sano left his hut that morning, he was dreaming of the longhouse he would own once he was rich and famous. That was why he forgot to bring the hooked pole for picking mangoes. But how could he have resisted? The rows of shadowed trees surrounding his home had receded from his sight, and in their place came the image of a spacious village brightened by the sun. The stillness of the forest had faded against the hustle and bustle of villagers as they formed a crowd around him, around his wide, ten-roomed longhouse, decorated with a golden gong on the wall – couldn’t forget that detail. The people cheered his name, “Sano! Sano! Sano!” Some threw grains of rice over his head, while others showered him with jasmine petals. As was his due. He had just saved the village from… well, from something. Sano’s daydream had not gotten that far yet.
Now here’s what I came up with in the new draft:
Lie on your belly: that was the best way to peek at the bottom of a cliff without losing your balance or your last meal. Sano would know. He had done it dozens of times.
And he was doing it now. He peered over the lip of the bluff, the edge of it just hitting his chin, and he gazed at the village that hugged the cliff face below. He smiled with giddiness. His mother discouraged him from spying, but she wasn’t here right now, and he wouldn’t even consider this ‘spying.’ Spying meant he was after information of some kind, maybe a secret, or a conspiracy. Even if he had been spying, the most informative thing he would learn was who’s on duty to forage for food. Hardly titillating.
I opened up with an entirely different scene, skipping to the part where Sano watches the small village in the forest, a favourite past-time of his. A couple of beta readers pointed out that the previous introduction was a little confusing in the way it switched from reality and imagination, and you know, I have to agree.
I’m also trying to strengthen Sano’s voice a little. The first 3 drafts were written in my usual fanfiction-y style, which to be honest is not the kind of style I’m aiming for in the book. I tried to change it up in draft 4, but somehow it ended up very tell-y and very dry, now that I’m looking back at it. The latter part of the novel was better, because I think at some point, when I was trying to meet my self-imposed deadlines, I reverted to what came easiest to me.
Sano is actually very difficult for me to write, because his personality is just so different from mine. I created Sano because I needed to see a character like him. I mean, yes, there are bits and pieces of his story that reflect the way I feel sometimes, but although the feelings are the same, his actions are different. So one of the challenging things about writing him is to, first of all, convince myself that he’s doing reasonable things, and secondly, to write it emphatically and in an interesting way.
I can also be quite verbose. One of my favourite types of fanfic to write is introspection. Trust me, I can write upwards of 10K just extrapolating on what a character thinks or feels. I’m still aiming for this novel to be MG-level, so I really trying to constrain myself to around 100K words.
That said, I do believe I’m in a good place right now. I like the way this chapter flows much better, and I really think that Sano’s voice is shining a lot more. I find that I’m really enjoying this rewriting phase, when I can focus more on voice and style, rather than putting the pieces of the plot and the world together. It’s like writing fanfiction, I suppose. I have the world and the plot set, and now it’s all about character, and I find that very familiar and cozy.