Analysis of a first draft

There’s a noticeable pattern to our first drafts.

For a 100,000 word novel the first draft usually comes in at around 80,000 words.

What happens in the first 50,000 words generally remains the first half of the book in the final version, even if it doesn’t happen the same way or in the same order. The last 30,000 words are the second half of the book. We race through this, leaving lots to fill in. But it ends up mostly as fill-in, not rearranging.

This first draft is missing lots of detail from the back end, but it’s also got no colour. It’s mostly a ‘this happened then that happened’ telling of events, with occasional flashes of in-depth colour and point-of-view. For example:

Siavash the demon looked around the long library filled with books, at the fire burning hot and green at one end of it, at his worktable with its neatly ordered crucibles and rare minerals.

The library had taken fourteen centuries to collect. In it he had records of the history of every major civilisation that had risen over that time. Most of them were gone now. Even other demons envied his library.

He looked at the neatly labelled bottles on his workbench. The rare minerals had taken almost as long to collect.

Siavash should have been content. Instead he paced the shelves, picking up scrolls and vellum at random, putting them down again unread. He set out the makings of a rare, intricate spell that would take two years to build, then swept the ingredients together into a heap and tossed them into the hearth.

This excerpt is from Wizard, an experimental project we’re writing in our spare time. (By spare time I mean writing downtime, when we’re stuck on our current story and need a break from it.) It’s pretty boring, isn’t it. It’s pure telling. Description only.

So we add some description, more storyline, and some thoughts. For example, this part of Wizard becomes:

The tiny rock fiend spat pieces of gravel out with his words—which was normal, because he was a rock fiend, after all—but he spat them all the way to Siavash, twice as far as he generally did.

Not to mention he would never dream of spraying Siavash with gravel under normal circumstances. Siavash endured the spray and tried to work out what the little creature was saying.

“No more eating rock.”

“Are you saying you refuse to eat any more rock for me?” The rock fiend had indentured to Siavash for 200 years. Only 45 of those years had passed.

“No more.”

“You’ve another 155 years of your contract to go.”

“I know.” The last was a wail, followed by something that sounded suspiciously like, “How will I feed my family?”

If he didn’t break his contract he’d be able to feed his family perfectly well for the next 155 years. If he did break his contract Siavash would see to it that no-one indentured the little fiend ever again. His family would starve.

“I fail to see—”

The fire blazed up green and hot from the end of the long room. “He’s trying to tell you, Demon-for-brains. He’s run out of rock to chew.”

“Oh.” Siavash looked around his workroom cum library. Last time he’d walked the full length it had only been half a mountain long. “Surely not.”

Even back then it had taken him all day to walk the distance.

The shelves—carved out of the mountain itself—were filled with books and scrolls, ordered by era and species. Further down, closer to his workbench, the shelves contained the neatly-ordered and labelled ingredients that Siavash used for day-to-day spells.

“What about new storerooms then?” He kept the more dangerous items, along with those he rarely used, in the storerooms that ran along the sides of the main room, safe behind great carved stone doors.

The rock fiend crossed his arms and shook his head. “No more.”

“Not even storerooms?” Where would Siavash store the new things he collected?

“No rock left,” which was exceptionally clear and articulate for a rock fiend.

“Maybe you could carve—” Siavash caught sight of one of the shelf ends, already covered with intricate carvings of demons and lesser beings. “No. I suppose not.”

Maybe the little rock fiend should take the day off. But that would be a cruel thing to do to an indentured creature.

There was no choice for it. He had to extend. He couldn’t go down, because his own living cavern needed the support of the mountain. He’d have to go up. Siavash sighed, and looked upwards—to the unadorned roof of his home.

Of course.

“Little fiend,” Siavash said. “I need you to work on my ceiling. A chart of the heavens. At equinox.” His favourite time of year. “Delicate work. I want it glossed and polished, and I want to be able to add gems for the stars later.”

He took out a star map that was a particular favourite of his. “Use this as a base, and the natural heavens as your guide.

The fiend took the map in his rocky little hands. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” and was gone before Siavash could even blink.

Siavash’s library had taken four millennium to collect. In it he had records of the history of every major civilisation that had risen over that time. Most of them were gone now. He’d been collecting rare minerals and potion makings for spells for longer still. There were things in his store one could never get again. Like the ground powder from the horn of a naga. The last known naga had been sighted a thousand years ago.

Even other demons envied his library.

Siavash looked at the neatly labelled bottles on his workbench and sighed. The rock fiend would take 50-100 years to decorate the ceiling, depending on how intricate he made it. But one day he would come looking for more work, and Siavash would give in and get him to start eating out a second level. After all, he had to store the items he collected somewhere.

Except he wasn’t sure he wanted to collect knowledge any more.

He paced the shelves, picking up scrolls and vellum at random, putting them down again unread. He set out the makings of a rare, intricate spell that would take two years to build, then swept the ingredients together into a heap and tossed them into the hearth.

The word count has jumped massively. It’s overkill now.

The story hasn’t been tidied up yet. It’s full of grammatical errors and lots of unnecessary words. But this is where we stop at draft one.

We need to edit it down and clean it up. This comes in the next major draft.

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