First Draft!

printed first draft - stack of coil bound 244 pages

My plot took on a broader dimension when I finished reviewing all of the characters I wanted to include. My baby, the character idea that was my entire reason for starting this project, is no longer the main. He’s the main side, and the love interest, so I think that’s a fair trade off.

Feedback from a few people suggested that my most prominent side character (who was initially the antagonist) was more interesting, had a more complex backstory, more motivation, and would be a better lead – even though he was not easy to relate to. I resisted this idea for a very long time. I argued with people. I deepened the difficulties that half the characters faced trying to make it work the way that I wanted it to.

And 244 pages later, I had a physical copy printed so I could review, make notes, and finally heed the advice I’d been given.

I have printed out stories before. I write a lot. I have a shelf of notebooks that are totally full with my notes and ramblings from over the years. Journals, dreams, poetry (that will never see the light of day), song lyrics, short stories, story ideas, and quotes from all sorts of media. I’m not a stranger to having tangible evidence of my writing in my hands.

I’ve never had a single project this large to review before. The second largest is roughly 140 pages. Picking this up at the printer, and leafing through it at home filled me with so many different emotions. I went from excited and elated to anxious and overwhelmed in a breath.

Then I sat down and actually started editing. And hated it.

I’ve spent a year working on this manuscript, and I’m not thrilled to backtrack. It’s discouraging. I feel like I’m starting over and the effort that I’ve put in doesn’t amount to anything. Yet, in reality, I can hole this in my hands, review my plot outline, skim through pages of brainstorm notes, and know that I’ve put a lot of work into this.

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

Toni Morrison

I’ve never spent this much time on a single piece. I really want to tell this story, but I’m nervous. I’m scared. I want to print it, but I worry because it’s not a mainstream idea. It has LGBTQ characters, slavery, sex trafficking, violence, and magic.

I leaned into so many different ideas when I started this. The Magicians wasn’t renewed, Supernatural ended, and JK Rowling was cancelled. I read The Magicians book series, I re-watched Game of Thrones and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was starved for entertainment! The biggest source of my inspiration came from Tyger Salazar, a side character in Scythe by Neal Shusterman (something I’ve written about before).

That’s where I got the idea for my main character. Someone who dies. Often. I wanted to explore friendships and intimacy with an individual plagued with such an affliction.

But I write horror. Not science fiction, fantasy, or romance.

The Magicians (specifically season 4) gave me so many ideas about dark uses for magic, and ways to acquire energy. I really wanted to see something more like that. While I enjoy Harry Potter, I found it was cookie cutter (probably because it was geared towards children). Yes, the Dark Lord is after him, but nothing really happens for years. The first taste of real loss the audience encounters comes in The Goblet of Fire, but I never really believed any of the danger presented. I was more upset by Harry being sent back to his neglected muggle-life than I was with anything thrown at him at Hogwarts.

With those two things in mind, I filled out my favourite character in this piece.

In my first draft, we meet a young man who has touch-based magical abilities, but he’s held captive and exploited because of them. After a time, he escapes, and seeks refuge in a neutral territory, where he’s able to connect with other people who share the same gifts. They offer him education about his powers, and protection from his oppressors. All for the low, low price of indentured servitude and unquestioning obedience.

I wanted to explore hoping for better, and then ending up with worse. Not necessarily to yearn for what came before, but to learn how to thrive in a situation that’s more difficult to endure. That’s something I can relate to, as much of my life has been like that.

Going into my second draft, perspective for a few chapters will be changing to a character who is gaining prominence. He also came from an oppressive environment, and needs to learn magic. However, he is wearing another person as a disguise in order to do so, because his kind are not allowed to practice magic. He conflicted, but motivated. He is afraid to be pursuing this goal, but life without this risk is more dire because he could be returned to slavery, tortured, executed, or all of the above. He does not trust humans, and tries to maintain a distance from them despite his disguise. He tries to maintain an emotional distance from them, but through interactions with the above character, he slowly begins to realize that not all humans are evil, or cause harm to his kin.

In the first draft, everything about his identity, origin, and true motivations are hidden. He’s presented with false / unreliable details. I don’t explain what’s really going on, and why he is behaving the way he is until Chapter 13. I will admit that exploring his arc in this manner made the narration and interactions very unclear. Boy A wants to be friends, Boy B oscillates between being a prick, a deer in the headlights, and a nervous wreck. With no obvious explanation.

For the second draft, I will be introducing him in the first chapter, and revealing his secret at that time. The reader will know the truth, and the other characters will find out in their own due tie. It flows better, and with his added introspection, it helps illustrate his behaviours, mistrust, brashness, and odd mannerisms.

I do feel quite daunted to do this… but I am very excited as well.

I’m also very motivated by an episode of Writing the Wrong Way I listened to this week. Dr. Jonathan Ball explains an assignment he gives to his students; they are asked to retype five pages of a story. He encourages them to retype the entire book, but five pages is for the assignment. What I found so intriguing about this, was that his students reporting to him that they hated the activity at around the three page mark. He went on to explain that retyping is critical; instead of enjoying the story, you’re hyper focussed on each of the words, and it becomes a tedious experience. That’s editing.

This was so profound for me! I definitely get critical when I’m reviewing my work, and something that’s supposed to be productive and helpful, ends up being a study in self-deprecation. After listening to that, I have started actively taking a step back when I’m editing to remind myself that I love this piece, I love these characters, and I love writing.

It’s been extremely helpful.

Here’s to the next 244 pages. Wish me luck!

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