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Rewrites

Rewrites

After finishing the System Apocalpyse: Kismet trilogy yesterday, I immediately dove into my passion project: The Salish Rift series.

Before I started on the SA books, I'd already finished the first draft of the intro book to the Salish Rift series, but something felt off about it. I sent it out to a few lovely beta readers, and the feedback I got was dead silence or feedback that was positive, but didn't show the impact I was hoping to get. Which is totally fair. I was proud of what I wrote, but also—unsure.

Now that I finally had some time, I went ahead with an idea that I'd been toying with. It's been three books since I wrote that novel, and I'd become a better writer over that time. Instead of editing, I felt like a better approach might be to rewrite.  I re-read the opening scene. 

It was garbage. Flat. Lifeless.

I knew what I wanted to get out of it, so I just started writing. Going forward I want to be more open about my writing process, and share the good and bads, so I'm going to show my work on this process.

For reference, here are roughly the first 500 words of the old, and then the new for comparison:

Original

“It might be better if she is gone forever.”

Jaela just barely heard the voices. Her parents were trying to keep their voices down. She’d gone back up the stairs to the fencing salle because she had forgotten her favourite gloves after her last sparring session. Last one before she left Bell’s Faire. Left home. It had been a good session. She’d beaten everyone, including her usual nemesis, Tiberius. She could usually beat him, but she’d always had a secret goal: to beat him so decisively that he’d never feel her equal again. And she’d finally done it.

She began by letting Tiberius think he was winning, and walking right into his favourite setup. She left her dagger low, stepped just in range and threw her best false edge cut into his eyes. He’d taken the bait as expected, leaning back to slip just out of the cut’s arc. He knew her weakness and immediately lunged back to return a thrust to her eye now that she was over-extended on the cut. And as expected, she flinched back and made the just-in-time parry to move his sword aside.

Which would have worked, but clever Tiberius had thrown the lunge as a feint, only extending his arm and not committing his feet. He barely needed a disengage to continue his true lunge on the now open line. Just a tiny relaxing of the fingers to let the tip drop under her parry, then tighten them right back up and step and lean into the lunge. Because Jaela had left her dagger too low, she wouldn’t be able to use it to parry. A classic error in posture, and Tiberius had exploited it with textbook perfection.

But Jaela had been reading other textbooks… the secretive and mostly forbidden manuals of the Pender schools of fence. So she’d violated the unspoken line-centred strip rules of Bell’s Faire’s fencing tradition, and as she threw the cut, she cheated her left foot behind her right. She used the momentum of her parry to let that foot continue in a full arc to her right, almost turning her back to Tiberius. His lunge met only empty air, and her hand rolled palm up and punched her return thrust clean into his mask.

Her fellow fencers had applauded, and they’d hauled her off for her last celebration. In the excitement, she’d left her gloves behind. She was already in bed when she remembered and hastily re-dressed for the short walk back to the training hall. She’d seen a light on in the library next to the salle, and heard her mother and father speaking quietly as she snuck past. She knew they were talking about her. And Pender.

It wasn’t like they hadn’t fought against her going. Or at least made the motions of it. She would never fit in. She’d always known that. Belle’s Faire was no place for anyone who couldn’t toe the line and dedicate themselves to fighting up the social ladder at all costs. Like her parents had done. Successfully. Resoundingly so. But Jaela had always felt lost in the crowd. She could never shake the discomfort that trying to fit in caused her.

New version

She shook her hand once, hard, to get some of the frustration out.

Across the Sallé, Cyrus noted that with a grin. The grin was easily visible through the mesh of his fencing mask.

Jaela took a quick, hard breath in and let it out. Slowly.

She wasn’t losing the bout. They’d had four exchanges without either of them landing a touch on the other. That was par for the course of most of their sparring sessions.

Jaela wanted to do better. This was her last bout before leaving for Pender, and she’d been training hard to prepare for the trip. She wanted–needed–a win. A solid win, too. A real kill, not just a sneaking hand shot or grazing cut to a leg.

She wanted to plant her rapier right in the middle of Cyrus’s smug face.

A quick roll of her shoulders, and then she tightened up the grip on her rapier. She was still out of range. Still had time. She sliced her dagger down along her rapier blade, reveling in the harsh rasp of steel. It was one of her small triggers. The sounds, the faint ring of the steel, that was one of the things she did as a signal to her mind that it was time to stop dicking around.

It was time to win.

Cyrus took up his rapier in the Academic style, the only method taught in Belle’s Faire. Profiled, knees bent, rapier held over the right knee in a palm-up grip, point online. He had a dagger in his left hand, held low near the hilt of the rapier.

Jaela had the same training, but she adopted the Pender style she’d been taught. Rapier held low, outside on the right knee, with the tip pointed down at the ground. Dagger high on the left and pointed towards her opponent.

Cyrus sneered when he saw that. The previous four passes had been done in the Academic style, the “proper” style. Jaela was well aware of the disdain Cyrus had for the style. Everyone shared that, the entire class. The only reason they’d been exposed to it was because of Jaela. She’d insisted her parents bring in a coach from Pender, at considerable expense.

Jaela had cherished every lesson. She’d also learned quickly not to use it during weekly fencing practice. It’s not that it wasn’t effective. It was that the social shame was too much.

It wouldn’t do for a scion of the one of the better Houses of Belle’s Faire to step out of line. Bad enough that she practiced something as arcane as fencing.

This was going to be her last practice for a long time. She was going away to fabled Pender tomorrow, so to hell with what everyone thought.

And she was tired of not kicking ass.

She didn’t want to just beat Cyrus. She wanted to crush him.

In the old version, I was full up of things I felt like I needed to explain. I actually felt pretty good at the time about not doing too much of an information dump, but I think what really shows is that I was concerned with getting information across. Information isn't story.

In the new version, my primary concern is to get across Jaela. To get you into her mind, to get you wanting to see where she goes as a person, where her journey is going to take her. I suspect much more of the backstory is going to be dropped as I go forward. It won't be a loss, the important stuff will show up more organically.

Let me know what you think. I'd love some feedback on how the new version grabs you, and what sort of changes you can see from the old version to the new.

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