Burn down the chapter to save it

There’s a half-sad, half-exciting moment when you realize that  there’s too much you need to change in a chapter for the text to be saved. It’s time to burn the town down and move it four miles to the west.

See, my editor helpfully pointed out that my chapters were in the wrong order, because the interesting character was 3 chapters back. To which I was forced to respond that in fact the main protagonists were actually in the first two chapters, but not the POV character. In fact, the POV character is what I call a “supporting actor.” He’s a great character, and necessary for moving the action along in several places, but what he does is move the action along for other characters. There’s very few occasions were a big plot moment revolves around him, if any. So why is his POV the first 2 chapters? Mostly what he does is stand around serving as an audience expy and watching the action. Not good.

But to put the POV where it belongs – with Fire-Eyes and Patrik – it would be impossible to save most of the actual text. It’s completely Keth’s text, and in order to move the POV, I have to delve into some backstory-hints for both characters, stuff that Keth doesn’t know (in some cases, never knows) and a completely different perspective on every event.

She also pointed out that there’s a lot of dead space in the chapters, stuff that’s either partially left over from other drafts, or just draggy sections that can be implied rather than shown in minute detail. Those details are never really important in the rest of the book (which I know and she doesn’t, having only read the first 3 chapters) so they don’t need line-editing as much as they need to be ripped up and tossed on the fire.

The thing that made me nervous is that the original real draft — and several drafts after, yes, this has been retuned a lot, and I could go into why but not now — the first POV was Fire-Eyes’. The thing that made me get rid of it is that it introduced setting information for a part of the world we literally never see again. Fire-Eyes and Rain-Shadow come from a piece of the… cosmology, I guess, that is never again visited in detail. Well, not that I know of. I can’t see it happening, but who knows what a future book could bring.

At any rate, some of my readers were confused by the way the setting does a 180 and never comes back, so I got rid of those chapters and gave the intro to a more “narrator” style POV. Like the narrator from Into the Woods, Keth is also a character who gets dragged into the story (and fed to a giant in many ways!) but since he never visits the place FE and RS come from, that ambiguity was never introduced.

It felt uneasy to be cranking back to a previous draft and trying to fix what was wrong with that iteration. After all, the editor edited that chapter, shouldn’t I be trying to salvage that one? Well, no. She was right — that’s not time for Keth’s voice.

I think I managed to do a good job of taking the POV back to FE without going in-depth into stuff that’s never important. Something very cool and creepy came out of it as well. Patrik’s chapter also made a lot more sense, and I think gives the reader more information about his character and background that aren’t “told” to them by Keth. They get to watch it happen in Patrik’s actions. And the length of both chapters was reduced and streamlined.

All in all, I definitely think it was a positive change and does the text a world of good. Of course, now I have to go through at least chapters 4 and 6 and possibly a few others to prune deadwood, because there’s a lot of text referencing stuff that’s been changed or removed. Hooray! Edits!

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