Editing in action – part three

A week ago I gave a detailed, blow-by-blow account of how the first part of my Prologue went from First Draft status to Second-Draft-after-the-nitpick. Today’s post takes a closer look at the second half of my prologue, which is where things get really tricky.

No, really. The reason for this is that while I’ve still got the first draft, I’ve now overwritten the second-draft-before-the-nitpick version. This was a bit silly, I know, but I’m not much for saving stuff that I’m not actually going to use. I’ve been able to salvage some from e-mails (yay for editing through Googledocs!) but not all of it. Still, it’ll probably make this post a lot less waffly, so let’s crack on anyway!

We left our first-person protagonist reminiscing about the past, and in the old draft, this continued:

Father did not seem inclined to move yet, so I let my mind wander further back, to the day when he and mum had come to the orphanage to find a child to adopt. With hindsight I presumed that they had been looking for someone lithe and flexible with the promise of strength, though how you could judge that in a five-year-old child I had no idea. For my part I had been shy, but encouraged by the friendly green eyes of the woman and the ready smile of the man when they spent a few measures with me to get to know me. The deal had been sealed and sorted that same day, and I fell into a life that started off as a mixture of play and practice, which had gradually shifted to only practice by the time I was ten. By then I had been joined by both my sisters as well, and we all practiced together.

God knows what I was thinking here – people don’t actively reminisce about the past, unless they’re true navelgazers, and no one wants to read about those. The new version went like this:

It seemed a paltry amount of time to learn something as complicated as magic. I’d been adopted at five, and had been learning my juggling and acrobatic skills ever since then. Mum had told me they’d wanted a lithe, flexible child, with the promise of strength, and I’d always wondered how in Eternity they could have judged that in a five-year-old. But she insisted training had to start at that age, and I’d fallen into a life which was initially a mixture of play and practice, and gradually became just practice. My first sister joined us when I was seven, my second when I was nine, and the entire family practiced together.

Next paragraph!

It wasn’t a bad life, not really. I enjoyed seeing new places, got satisfaction from mastering a new trick, and the applause after a performance always gave me a warm glow of pleasure that I’d found hard to beat until I lost my virginity. Yet somehow I knew that the challenges ahead of me would be just as satisfying, even if they would probably also be just as tedious at times.

Here I really have lost what I turned it into, but I don’t think it was changed too much. We’re nearly done now, these are the last three paragraphs:

I would still practice my juggling of course; I had promised after all. I had also promised to continue developing my riding acrobatics, or my father would never have let me take Kestrel and Sparrow with me. But here, at last, my magic would come first.

He finally gave a deep sigh and gestured to the horses, so I walked back, took up Kestrel’s lead rein and mounted up, settling myself on Sparrow’s back. I watched as he mounted his own horse, but waited for him to make the first move.

“Well,” he said. “I guess there’s no point in waiting any longer. Come on, son, let’s go.”

Again, second draft is lost, but the only thing I remember changing for definite is the last line, where I changed ‘son’ to ‘boy’. More on that later.

Ultimately it makes no difference what I changed it to, because then The Editor went through the section with a fine-toothed comb and basically said ‘too introspective, no one wants to read that shit’. Her advice was to intersperse all the introspection with dialogue, to spruce it up a bit. My reaction to that was to more or less ditch the introspection altogether and try and expose the pertinent bits through dialogue. The final result is that you can completely disregard everything in this post and the latter part of the previous post. The last line in the post from last week which still stands is this one:

The one who had spoilt it all by waking up one morning, just after I’d turned twelve, with my blankets on fire.

This is one of the most important lines in the prologue. This is where we learn that our protagonist, who has been training as a juggler ever since being adopted, sparked as a sorcerer at age twelve. The next paragraph is the last bit of introspection I kept:

Five days he had spent ranting; at mum, at me, at my sisters, at the Gods, and at anyone else who had the misfortune to come within earshot. Oh, he had also dragged me to the nearest sorcerer to be taught the basics of how to control my magic, but he had complained all the way, and I suspected that the speed with which he did it was less to do with how terrified I was than with the fear that I would set fire to all the equipment.

This is to provide insight into the father – nothing is more important than juggling, and the sorcery of our protagonist is nothing but an inconvenience to him. The next bit of dialogue builds on that:

“I can’t help it that I sparked, dad,” I said. “You know I tried to forget about it, but I just can’t anymore. It’s only four years, then I’ll be back.”

“Only four years!” he said, making it sound like I’d said four decades. “I still don’t see why you need to stay for four years anyway. Didn’t they say the minimum is two? Why can’t you just do two?”

We already got the feeling that our protagonist doesn’t agree, and the next bit makes this clearer:

I counted to ten in my head before I replied. We’d been having this discussion at least once every day since leaving Arlis, and I’d long since lost patience with it. “Because the Masters recommended four,” I said through gritted teeth.

But dad won’t give up, as evidenced in the next two paragraphs:

“Maybe they’ll change their minds,” he said hopefully. “Maybe they’ll test you, or whatever it is they do, and decide that you’ll only need two years after all.”

“Maybe,” I conceded, but couldn’t resist needling him. “This is magic though. I’ve been juggling for fourteen years and I’m still not perfect, so I don’t see how I could possibly learn how to use my magic properly in only two years, even at the Academy of Sorcerers.”

“You’re only here to learn to control it, remember that,” he snapped. “You don’t need to learn how to use it properly.”

So the next part was where I had to really drive it home that while this is how daddy thinks, our protagonist is very much at odds with him over this. It also gave me the opportunity to shoehorn in some sarcasm, because that’s one of my protagonist’s character traits:

Did you never stop to think that I might want to learn how to use it properly? I nearly said it out loud, but bit my tongue just in time. “Maybe two years isn’t enough for that either. But if you really want me to come back after two years, I suppose I can. You can call me ‘the amazing juggling firestarter’. Our reputation will soar, and we can even perform on dark evenings. All those burning buildings will give enough light. Of course, after a while they might not let us–”

“Haven’t I told you before to curb that sarcastic tongue of yours?” Father interrupted me, and his voice now had that dangerous, quiet edge that told me I’d gone too far.

And this is the point where I had to wrap it up, even though I lost a few bits that were in the original prologue, such as the implied age of our protagonist (unimportant at this point, since it becomes clear later in the book), the remark about applause being almost as good as losing your virginity (fun but ultimately unnecessary) and that the time ahead would be challenging (beh, who cares, really?). So the prologue ends like this:

“Sorry,” I muttered, even though I wasn’t. Still, it was best to try and placate him. “I promise I’ll practice whenever I can, dad, and I’ll let you know if they change their mind about the four years.”

He gave another deep sigh and nodded. “I guess there’s no point in waiting any longer then,” he said, beckoning. “Come on, boy, let’s go.”

With all that, nobody probably noticed that throughout this entire prologue I have been very careful in not revealing the gender of my protagonist. Only in that last sentence, when he calls him ‘boy’, do you find out that he’s male. As I mentioned before, initially it said ‘son’, but when I got someone to read it, they didn’t actually notice, so I figured ‘boy’ is even more obvious.

There’s no real way I’m going to keep this secret, but ultimately the thought behind this is to trick those people who have read my first two books and go straight into this one without reading the blurb or any other info, and are expecting another girl to be the focal point. It’s purely those people I’m hoping to surprise, and for no other reason than ‘because I can’. Does this bit read neutral enough? I don’t know. Does it read like a boy when you know that’s what he is? Don’t know that either. I guess I’ll just have to take a chance on this…

So there you have it, my prologue from first draft to its current stage. And if I haven’t bored you to death yet, you can look forward to my next post, which will be about my recent Harry Potter re-reading experience.



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