I’m hoping to release a full novel (Vexation: a Tale of Swords and Sorcery) within the next few months, but it’s proving to be a challenge. I finished the first draft of what was then called The Pumpkin Knight back in November of 2014. Ignoring a 150,000 word in-joke novel I wrote for my wife, it marked only the second time I completed a serious novel from start to finish, and it also marked that terrifying period of editing and rewriting.
Having completed a few first drafts of novels by this point, the elation of writing “The End” quickly gives way to the daunting task of making your work something you can actually put out there. I imagine it’s something like making it to the big leagues of a given sport: it’s an incredible accomplishment and a huge success just to get there, but the real work is actually still in front of you.
When you’re doing that first draft, there’s a lot of leeway. Nothing needs to be set in stone: characters can be easily tweaked, plotholes and questionable decisions can be left alone, and the goal is just to make it from point A to point B.
My previous novel (also unreleased) was an incredible learning process, and each of the handful of rewrites I did marked drastic changes in the overall storyline and character make up. I had little grasp on acts and structure (although hints of the natural tendency toward three acts were there), and it was more-or-less barreling ahead blindly and learning as I went.
With Vexation, things worked a bit differently. I had a solid outline in place before I even started, with characters and the general flow of events in place and still present in 2018. Yet I’m somewhere on the fifth or six ground-up rewrite in terms of the actual text. What I’m learning now is the sheer amount of nuance that comes into play in any longer work.
Why would she do this? Where is his family in all of this? What season is it in that specific geographical region? What’s the time frame? Why does his magic help here, but not there?
To illustrate further, let’s take the idea of traveling, since it’s a fantasy novel and they’re off on their quest. Why would Randell insist they take this route instead of that? The obvious answer is because they need to arrive at a specific location for a specific event, and in the first run through or two that’s acceptable. Yet this location can’t occur on the main road–so what excuse do they have to go tromping off the beaten path? The later rewrites need to address that.
Further still, there are no easy answers. Maybe the bad guys are watching the main roads. Maybe the main road is blocked because a bridge is out, or local warlords are battling back and forth. Maybe Randell just has a terrible sense of direction, or Idona can feel the magical pulses given off by this location and they can follow that. Maybe this even can occur on the main road: maybe the village only appears to those it wants to.
The choices are myriad, and when you’re the author, it’s your world and your decision. So which explanation is the most reasonable and fits best within the overall tone and style of the story? Now multiply the above situation over and over again across every event, every important bit of dialogue, every meaningful choice made by a character, and the daunting task of rewriting and editing becomes clear.