How Writing Evolves

evangelineTime is the best possible thing you can give your work. If you don’t give it time, it doesn’t evolve into something you can be proud of. Here’s an example of how my fantasy novel has evolved over the last year and a half. The characters and idea remained the same, but the setting, writing style, voice, and tone of the work shifted from high, serious fantasy into… well, you’ll see.

Original Opening Lines:

For as long as I could remember, I had experienced the dreams, but until that day they had never become reality. In them, I was being followed. I never saw anyone or anything but still sensed an ominous presence, felt a shiver of fear that began at the base of my spine and moved upward, and increased my pace as I traversed the shaded lane toward the arched wrought iron gate outside our family home. The dream remained unchanged from childhood into my older years, when it became more infrequent and thus permitted me for a short time to forget.

That warm spring afternoon, I had not thought of it in some time. My attention was preoccupied with my studies at the ladies’ college and after spending several hours in the library it was pleasant to stretch my legs and put my mind at ease. Several other girls walked with me and we parted at the fork in the road, each wandering home with the scent of wildflowers accompanying them. Birds twittered in the branches overhead and I breathed in deeply of a recent rain. The road was muddy and I strayed to the side of it, treading in the new grass. My mind drifted in enjoyment of the day and it was into the midst of this happiness that fear intruded. It is such an unusual thing, fear, striking at the strangest of moments and crippling us from within. It might not have crept over me had not I seen the patch of wild roses that grew along the ditch at the end of the lane…

[There’s too much exposition here, the voice is awkward, and it needs to launch into action sooner.]

Second Draft / Revision:

The Magic was strong in the north.

I felt it as I stepped off the train onto the station platform, the cat in my arms. Darkness crept over the trees and the wood trembled in response to my arrival, the wind stirring the long grass and casting up a scent of wildflowers. The conductor followed and placed my trunk nearby. “Someone is coming for you?” he asked.

“My aunt, I should think,” I answered.

Satisfied, he left me there and went into the station. I sat down and let the cat go, knowing he would not run off. The stays of my corset pinched me as I removed my gloves. Mother had told me nothing of this place. I wondered what my aunt would be like. There were no portraits of her and Mother never spoke of her…

[Better, but still trying too hard to “build a world,” rather than let it happen naturally.]

Final Draft:

Nice people stayed out of Beggar’s Lane. Not because criminals hung out there, or the paving stones tended to eat socks right off feet, but due to the Unseen.

No one had ever seen the Unseen, of course, but that didn’t stop the stories. Some claimed they were ghosts, others that they were the demonic spawn of ninth century warlocks and the Invisible Fiends from the east. All anyone knew for certain was one trip down the lane lifted every last hair on your head, presuming you had any.

Evangeline had a lot of hair. Candy-apple red, it spread out in every direction. It flew behind her as she ran down the street, knocking anyone and everything over in her path.

But at the end of the street, much to the relief of the donkey hitched to the apple cart parked there, she skidded to a stop.

It came barreling toward her.

Facing it, and placing her hands on her hips, she said, “Show yourself.”

The donkey flinched. People ducked into doorways, in some cases fighting for the privilege.

It stopped. It then came into sight.

Damn, it said.

[You know exactly what kind of a person Evangeline is through her behavior — show, not tell; you know this is a zany fantasy world, and there’s no exposition — it launches right into the action.]

Happy writing — and remember, show… don’t tell.

12 Replies to “How Writing Evolves”

  1. I love how dramatically you changed it all! Now I want to write something pretty again. Maybe once January is here I’ll put pen to paper again. 🙂

  2. That was interesting, and I liked following the the progression from romanticism to an attempt at huilding mystery, and finally to a person who I immediately like 🙂 The world descriptions don’t hook me in, but a character does.

    1. Growing up, I loved descriptions… watered silk… dancing golden ringlets… rain shimmering as it slid down the windowpane.

      But really, in this modern, faced-past world, you have to hit your reader with something that keeps them reading. Classic, long-winded, heavy-exposition-and-description writers wouldn’t have a chance in this market. I’d much rather read six excellent short novels than one super-long, heavily-padded one. 🙂

  3. This was really interesting to read the changes that you made! When I was working on a fantasy story a year or two ago, it went through some similar changes (esp. with the show, don’t tell concept). I never did finish it, but I agree that it’s true to go into the action first.. not to kind of “over-milk” the story, where you force it out, instead of it coming naturally.

    1. Finish your book. Or at least a first draft. 😉

      Even PUBLISHED authors milk stories now… it’s SO frustrating to me, both as a reader and an editor. It makes me want to go through published 500 word novels with a red highlighter pen and mark all the telling, not showing passages.

      1. Haha, well.. I kind of drew a blank eventually. I had a plot, but I wasn’t sure about the conception of some parts of the story, so I tabled it until I feel I can pick up the story again.

        Yes! I think it also explains why certain stories become popular, because they *don’t* do this – I think it’s part of the reason why books such as the Hunger Games have been popular. For comparison purposes, never mind about the story- the style of telling is also just attractive in that it is very action-based.

        1. Well, maybe someday you’ll be inspired to finish it. =)

          Yeah, that was part of the appeal of HG — even though I didn’t like the books, at least they were fast-paced and well-plotted.

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