If there was one chapter that summed up my experience of writing Petition, it was this chapter, which has the dubious honor of being the most revised chapter in the entire book.
For the most part, I write very clean first drafts. That doesn’t mean they don’t require editing—they do!—but I generally have a good feel for whether or not something is ‘working’ after I write it. Thankfully, this is most of my scenes, most of the time, but every now and then, I will be stuck with a scene that I know sucks and that I have no idea how to fix.
Such was the case with Xyuth and the Tattered Quill.
The extent of my planning for the entire chapter was “Rahelu tries to salvage her Petition by sticking the torn pieces together” and since we’re in fantasy-land, the logical place for her to go was to a scrivener.
Here’s the first draft of this scene.
It is perfectly readable and narratively, it hits the same beats: Rahelu tries to convince Xyuth to help her; he refuses; she won’t take ‘no’ for an answer; he acquiesces; she leaves with writing supplies and a weird rock.
Yet it doesn’t quite work. It’s an odd, not entirely convincing interaction where the characters’ respective motivations aren’t clear—with two pages of egregious Magical Macguffin discussion in the mix to boot, which my beta readers absolutely hated.
I sympathized—I hated it too.
So why did I write two pages about a stupid magic rock in the first place?
Real answer: I got stuck while discovery writing the scene. Rahelu had no money and needed writing supplies; Xyuth is unsettled by her (for reasons that aren’t clear from the scene) but unwilling to help her. I needed something, anything, to break the stalemate so I just started having Xyuth throw out random things that he might plausibly have in his shop to get rid of Rahelu, and a mysterious rock turned out to be the most convenient thing that worked.
What does it do?
Well, that would be telling, because at the time that I wrote it into the story, I had absolutely no idea. I parked it to one side and kept writing the rest of the book.
(Of course, I’ve now worked out what it does…and you should find out in Book 2.)
It wasn’t until after I’d finished the whole draft—and was able to look back at the entire shape of the book—that I got a few inklings of possible directions for revisions.
The biggest structural issue with my first draft was that the two halves of the book felt like two different stories, hence the new prologue. By the time we’re at the Tattered Quill, we’re almost 8,000 words into the story—long enough that the details of the prologue have begun to fade. I needed something else to shake the narrative out of what otherwise feels like the ordinary (even if it’s a once-a-year, big deal kind of ordinary for Rahelu).
Having Xyuth engaged in dodgy dealings in his backroom with a strange mage solved a few of these problems, at the cost of clarity:
- I’m pretty certain that most first-time readers will be super confused about what is going on with the Augury, though hopefully by this point in the book, I’ve delivered enough pay-offs that they’ll trust me to deliver on this one too and decide to keep reading.
- I’m also reasonably certain that there aren’t enough context clues for a reader to figure out who the unknown mage is on a first read-through. I hope, though, that anybody doing a re-read will be able to guess at their identity.
The final, interesting thing I can share is that I didn’t intend Augury to play such a big part in this book.
One of the things I’ve learned from reading Brandon Sanderson is that it’s nice to keep the early books focused on exploring the core bits of the magic system and utilizing the basics in creative ways, so you can save some bigger reveals for later books. (This is done particularly well in the Mistborn books.)
I do worry that I might have introduced too much Augury, too early. It is important for future books so showing how it works in principle here is probably necessary.
I’ll just have to come up with some really cool stuff in later books! (No pressure…)
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