A lot of this book was written by accident and this chapter is the perfect example of discovery writing in action. It has two scenes: an opening scene where Rahelu’s mother is helping her prepare for the challenges and a closing scene at the Guild when the challenges begin.
Rahelu and her mother
In the original draft, Chapter 5 didn’t exist, so this scene came straight right after Tsenjhe and Keshwar accept Rahelu’s Petition. It’s the exact same thing we saw in Chapter 1: Rahelu getting ready for the day, her father leaving early to the sea, and her mother berating her the whole time.
It’s a short, quiet character moment where not all that much happens. Strictly speaking, I probably could have cut it during revisions. I don’t know that you would notice its absence on a first read: we already have a strong sense of the dynamic between Rahelu and her parents from the previous chapters.
So why show it again?
Well, the narrative purpose of this scene is to serve as a contrast to the opening: while nothing has changed on one level, everything has changed on another. It’s the beginning of a shift in Rahelu’s relationship with her mother: their roles have been reversed but neither of them acknowledge it in the moment—in fact, they’re both doing their best to pretend otherwise. Without this moment, the final interaction between these two characters doesn’t quite land as well emotionally.
(It sounds like I was so deliberate in my intentions when you put it that way, but at the time of writing, I honestly didn’t give it much thought beyond “huh, we just got to the end of a pretty intense sequence so let’s take a breather, what would feel the most natural here?”)
The challenges begin
One of the upshots of writing a tournament arc is that the narrative structure is done for you. The tone and types of events vary depending on the story’s context—J.K. Rowling’s Goblet of Fire is a rousing inter-school sports competition; Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games is politically motivated oppression dressed up in the spectacle and dazzle of reality TV juxtaposed against the horror of death matches between children; Will Wight’s Uncrowned and Wintersteel is a showcase of military power by world factions through the vehicle of fantasy Olympics.
All I had to do was translate a real-world interview process into one that made sense in a high fantasy setting and I didn’t even have to change all that much: the challenges are basically full day group interviews.
Lhorne, though, was unexpected.
He wasn’t in the list of characters I had planned before I started writing. Not very surprising, considering that Keshwar hadn’t been in that list either. He simply grew out of that one line of description I wrote, about Rahelu having to peer around the head of the tall guy standing in front of her to look at what someone else was doing, and the realization that there was no way she could find a team on her own.
We’ve just spent several chapters inside Rahelu’s head, where she’s working alone to achieve her goals, building up a clear (but shallow) picture of what House-born are like in the process. To get more of the same wouldn’t be very interesting, so having Lhorne find all these little ways to dispel Rahelu’s preconceived notions was an easy way of doing that while keeping her off-balance.
There was one, significant change I made in revision. Originally, the chapter ended when she accepts that Keshwar had organized a team mate for her. In revision, I extended the scene further to do two things: first, to give you a better sense of Lhorne as a character, and second, to set up another tone promise for Rahelu’s arc.
Again, I don’t think you would miss this additional exchange on a first read. But I’m fairly certain that if I didn’t put it in, the ending would feel shakier.