The Second Stage of Novel Building

It’s been a rough slog, but last week, after over two months of work, I celebrated reaching the end of the second draft of the final two books of The Osteria Chronicles.

In this newsletter exclusive, I thought I’d share with you what a second draft entails and even show you a before (Draft 1) and after (Draft 2) chapter from the upcoming novels.

Making a Mountain Out of a 70,000-Word Molehill

At its most basic level, my second draft involves taking my first draft and making it into a novel. And that’s no easy feat. As mentioned before, my first drafts are horrible things and if anyone ever got their hands on one, that person would probably hide all my pens, smash my computer, and tell me to stick to reading books, not writing them.

My first drafts are thin and I write them fast in an effort to simply get the essentials of the story out of my head. I expect nothing of them except to have a beginning, middle, and end. If you want to think of an outline as being like architectural plans, the first draft is like the framework created from those plans. You can kind of see the shape of the future building, but it’s still a rough mess with tools and supplies left all over the construction site.

The first drafts for these two current books started out at a total of about 70,000 words. Keep that number in mind as we move along.

snoopy typing, snoopy writing, snoopy thinking

Constructing the Walls of the Second Draft

Let’s get one thing straight, it’s hard to face the blank page of a first draft, but it’s downright painful to take those pages and make them into something resembling a novel.

The second draft is what I consider the “real” work of writing. After reading over the first draft, I make careful notes of plot or character inconsistencies, what needs to be added to the existing chapters (or deleted!), and what’s missing entirely.

And believe me, there was a LOT of things missing entirely from these first drafts!

Back to our building analogy, in the second draft, I take the framework and begin putting up walls, making doorways, doing the wiring, taking apart some of the framework that might have gotten put in askew, installing windows and even some interior work. 

If you walk by the construction site now, you’re able to see without any strain how the building will look when it’s done, but the building still needs a paint job, it needs wiring and plumbing, and a double check that those walls all fit together properly.

In other words, there’s still more drafts to go.

Reading All Day Long Is Not As Fun As It Sounds

Ugh. Can I just say ugh? I spent about six days last week reading almost all day.

What!? Why aren’t you giving me sympathetic pats on the back and saying, “There, there, it’ll be okay. You’ll get through this.” ???

Maybe I should explain to those of you out there who would love to while away a day with a book….this is not reading for fun. This is work!

Before I can continue with Draft Three of these two books, I need to read through the draft of the ones I’ve just completed.

Remember how I said Draft One came in at about 70,000 words? Well, Draft Two beefed up to 160,470 words.

And I had to read every single one of them.

Ugh.

This came out to be 332 printed pages (regular printer paper) of margin to margin text (and never fear, this is paper that has been or will be reused).

The manuscript currently measures half a Beastie high.

This isn’t reading for fun. This is picking apart every turn of phrase, every gaping plot hole (and here I thought I’d plugged them all), every missed dialogue tag, every out of sequence scene, all while keeping meticulous notes on everything so I know what needs to be done when (if!) I ever survive the read through and get to Draft Three.

In other words, it was slow going. I’d hoped to get the read through done in four days, but as Douglas Adams said, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

Luckily, I have help. Finn has a red pen in one paw for corrections and a pencil in the other for note taking – who knew he was ambidextrous, right?!

The notes include what’s happening in each chapter, the work that needs to be done, and my own star-rating system. Five stars means the chapter is done, there’s nothing left to fix except maybe some typos. One star means there’s plenty of work ahead. Zero stars means a chapter doesn’t exist yet.

The star ratings have become a handy way for me to see how far I’ve come and how far I have to go, and I get far stricter about who makes it to the four- and five-star levels as I move forward with each draft.

So, you saw the word count numbers, well, here’s how the star ratings compare

Draft 1

  • 0* – 59 (ugh)
  • 1* – 13
  • 2* – 29
  • 3* – 38
  • 4* – 12
  • 5* – 0 

Draft 2

  • 0* – 3 (maybe)
  • 1* – 1 (yay!)
  • 2* – 11
  • 3* – 58
  • 4* – 41
  • 5* – 2 (Holy Zeus Burgers!)

As you can see, only a couple chapters have cleared the five-star hurdle, but there’s been significant improvement!!

Tackling the Work Ahead

For this read through, I really needed to make sure the various storylines (a war amongst the Osterians, Odysseus & Penelope’s tale, a war between the gods and titans, the story of Bellerophon, and the story of Orpheus in Hades’s realm) of the two novels were complete and consistent (some weren’t). To sort this out, I read each storyline separately. 

Now there’s the work of putting everything back together in a logical sequence (using my high-tech chalkboard method in the photo below). I’ve also got the task of fixing a few points of inconsistency within a couple storylines and through the novels as a whole.

Color-coded novel planning with plenty of vaguely pointing arrows!

Once I get things in order, I have a choice between working on the books “by stars”, as I call it (meaning I work on all 2* chapters at once, then the 3* chapters, etc.) or I can work them in order.

Since I want to make sure the new chapter sequence works, I’ll probably opt to work them in order. I’m hoping to get through this draft in about six weeks and then I’ll give my brain a break from the land of Osteria for a few weeks before jumping into the next read-through in September.

Showing My Work

So, are you curious to see my construction efforts? Here’s not only a sneak peek at a chapter from the upcoming books, but a before and after look at that chapter. Just please remember this is only a second draft, there may be typos, grammatical issues, a lack of panache to the “after” chapter. Like I said, that kind of window dressing gets resolved in Draft Three. Enjoy!!

This chapter is an early one from Book Five from Helen’s point of view. The chapter started out with only 2 stars, but charged into the four-star level in the second draft.

By the way, if you haven’t voted in my what-should-I-work-on-next poll it’s just below (if you need to refresh yourself on the options, check out THIS BLOG POST).

BEFORE

I ache from riding. If I ever see horse again if I never see a horse again it will be too soon. The first day was exhilarating and I ignored the sore muscles as Paris and I took our pleasure under the stars. But the second and third days? I maybe permanently damage never able to walk with straight legs again.

Demos’s palace could have been a satyr’s shack. I didn’t care as long as it had a bed bath and no horses to mount in the morning. But the palace was a sprawling thing made of dusty red stone and crenellations on the roof.

As we walked up to the gate a bogeyman dressed in the breastplate of Ariana questioned us. Paris, who seemed to know no more about the Aryan presence than me, told him who we were and demanded to see his father.

Instead, after a long wait, the guard brought down a man who was as strikingly handsome as Paris but with an athletic build and short hair. Hector. If only he hadn’t been married when my father drew up the list of suitors I’d have tossed his brother aside in a heartbeat. Even scowling at us, he looked delicious.

“It’s him, let them through,” Hector said. No where are the horses

The guard stepped aside just enough to let us squeeze through, leading the horses with us there.

“What’s going on here?” Paris asked. “Why are there Aryans?” He whispered as he cast furtive glances at more massive men.

“Because father let them in rather than fight. And now your stupidity has brought the rest of Osteria down upon us. The house of Demos is going to fall because of you.”

As we march through what I thought was a palace I quickly realize the sprawling area was an entire city behind a tall wall. We left the horses at a stable and continued toward a large building. No what is it look like and remember it has to look out over the fighting area no wait just the wall needs to look over. This was the palace but I saw a little as we were hurried up a stairway and into a room. A wrinkled old man sat at a desk. I recognized prim and a sudden sense of shame hit me. From my fathers reports this man was meek but also the only person on the Osteria counsel who wanted to be on the council to help, not for gain. Now he was facing war on two fronts.

“Sit,” he said. “You must be tired.”

I sat with the winds that brought a smirk to Hector’s face. As if I deserved any discomfort.

“Father, this is Helen of Vancuse.”

“So I gathered. Boy, tell me, what have you done? I know I’ve indulged you, giving you anything you wanted, but you can’t think this is something I approve of. Kidnapping the wife of someone.”

“I wasn’t kidnapped. I went freely. I’m as much to blame his parents.” Paris squeeze my hand. Even that hurt.

“Never mind the oh nevertheless, Menelaus has raised his forces. Osteria is about to fight us.”

“They won’t win,” says Paris. Hector scoffs.

“We have the Aryans here. We have to fight with the Areans or –” a look of pain crosses his face. “We have agreed to fight with the Areans not against them. we would have to fight our friends, I can’t do that with full force.”

“We have the gods on our side though.” Paris says brightly.

“How?” Priam him asks.

“They promised me Helen. She was all I wanted and they let me have her.” I took some offense of being spoken of as a token and the gods game of life. “They will be on our side.”

I wanted to believe Paris but I know I knew the story of his been promised me. It was not the gods. It was a single goddess who had promised him. Still, I didn’t want to bring this up if it gave Priam hope.

“Then we will hope to God still favor you,” said Praim.

Should there be more.

One L earlier Hector says this

“You need to take her back,” Hector says. “I will not. The gods promised me her.” No that can be worked and somewhere in there

AFTER

I ache from riding. If I never see a horse again it will be too soon. The exhilaration of escaping my marriage right under Menelaus’s nose left me immune to my sore muscles that first evening as Paris and I took our pleasure under the stars. But by the third evening, the thrill could not overpower the absolute agony in my butt and legs. Truly, I think my lower extremities might be permanently damaged. I may never walk with straight legs again.

By the time the walls surrounding Troy appeared on the horizon, Paris had related every detail of his home within them, but I didn’t care. Demos’s palace could have been a satyr’s shack as long as it had a clean bed, a soaking tub, and no horses to mount in the morning. Now, as we trot up to the supposedly unreachable walls of Troy, I can get no sense of what lies beyond them. From Paris’s descriptions, I know the palace is positioned at the front of the walled city, with the front wall serving as part of the palace itself. Within the walls is a thriving city complete with residences, a market, stables, workshops, and more. Having grown up in Vancuse City where we have no walls to confine us, I couldn’t fathom how cramped it must feel inside. But now, as I see for myself how far the walls extend, how much land they surround, I’m struck with just how vast the city inside must be. 

As we near the walls, we come to a semi-circle of large stones spaced so that two or three people walking side by side can pass between them, but a wide cart could not. The stones extend perhaps fifty paces from the main gate and peering up, I see vigiles stationed above the main gate, their eyes and arrows trained on us. Paris stops his horse right at the stone barrier.

“We dismount here, then walk the horses up to the gate.”

I nod, my skin uncomfortably prickling under the stare of the guards on top the wall. My eyes dart to other sections. The wall must be as wide as any walkway in Vancuse City, because people are strolling along, oblivious to my discomfort.

“There’s the palace,” Paris says and points to the right of the main gate. Standing one story taller than the walls is a building made of the same dusty red stone as the walls. There’s crenellations on the roof and it appears the wall provides a sort of patio or viewing platform from the second story. My stomach jolts when I notice someone storm away from the wall’s edge and into the palace, and I jump back when someone shouts at us to halt.

My head jerks to attention. Before us, standing behind the barred gate, looms a man so big I swear he takes up nearly the entire portico. His head is shaved to a dark stubble and he’s dressed in a plain breastplate, but wearing the olive green tunics favored by Areans. Areans. What are Areans doing in Demos? I squeeze Paris’s hand, tugging him back. My mind racing with the thought that we should get back on our horses and get away from here.

“Who are you?” Paris asks the guard who now has his meaty hand resting on the hilt of his sword.

“I’d ask you the same thing,” the man says with a harsh grin.

“I’m Paris, Prince of Demos, and I demand you let me into my city.”

The guard’s dark eyes scrutinize Paris, then fix on me. He licks his cracked lips. “Maybe a little toll might get you in quicker.”

Paris starts to protest when someone commands the guard to stand aside. In the darkness of the gateway, I can’t make him out at first, but as he steps forward into the light of the portico, my heart catches. He’s as strikingly handsome as Paris, but unlike Paris’s lithe frame and floppy locks, this man has an athletic build and closely trimmed hair. I don’t need any introductions. This is Hector. If only he hadn’t been married when my father drew up the list of suitors I’d have tossed his brother aside in a heartbeat. Even scowling at us, he looks delicious.

“Let them through,” Hector says. 

After some disgruntled mumbling, the Arean steps aside just enough to let us and our horses squeeze through. The moment we pass from under the chilly gateway, the city of Troy spreads before us. We’re at a square at whose edges stand Areans at regular intervals, but I’m surprised at how open the city feels even with the walls. Hector calls a girl over and tells her to take our horses to the palace stables, then passes her a handful of drachars that she quickly tucks into a fold in the blue apron she wears over her cream-colored tunic.

“What’s going on here?” Paris asks. “Why are there Areans?” He whispers as he casts furtive glances at the bulky men staring at the Demosians going about their daily lives.

“Because father let them in rather than fight. And now your stupidity is about to bring the rest of Osteria down upon us when we need their help. The polis of Demos is going to fall because of you.”

Hector pays no mind to my limping walk as he marches us toward the towering palace. Before I can even take time to admire the carved facade, we pass by a pair of guards standing at the entrance, then we’re hurried up a stairway and into a room. 

“Father is just in here. He’s been through a lot so don’t add to his worries.”

“I should really clean up before meeting him,” I protest.

“No one cares about how you look,” Hector says, his words coming out like a curse as he ushers us in to a room that has one wall lined with books and another wall that is nearly all window and has a view of hills in the distance. Centered in between sits a wrinkled old man at a desk. I recognize Priam in a heartbeat and a sudden sense of shame hits me. From my father’s reports this man is meek but he’s also the only person on the Osteria Council who tries to use the Council to help others, not for his own gain. Now he might be facing war on two fronts. And one of those is thanks to me.

“Sit,” he says. “You must be tired.”

I ease myself into a wooden chair with a wince and notice Hector biting back a grin.

“Father,” Paris says proudly, “this is Helen of Vancuse.”

“So I gathered. Boy, tell me, why have you done this? I know I’ve indulged you, giving you anything you wanted, but you can’t think this is something I approve of. Kidnapping the wife of anyone, low or high born is not right.”

“I wasn’t kidnapped. I went freely. I’m as much to blame as Paris.” My lover squeezes my hand, but I ease it from his grasp. “I don’t think I thought ahead to where it might lead.”

“There’s an understatement,” Hector mutters. Priam passes him a scolding look.

“Nevertheless, Menelaus has made the announcement that he will wage war on Demos for this affront to his honor. He has raised the forces your father’s treaty promised him. Whether it was your intention or not, Osteria is about to fight us.”

“We will win,” boosts Paris. “We’ll beat Menelaus’s forces and then we’ll push out the Areans.” Hector scoffs.

“You haven’t been here for how long and you think that’s how this will play out? The Areans will gladly fight against the other Osterians, they live for it, but we will not be rid of them. We have to do what the Areans ask us or else—” A look of pain crosses Hector’s face. “We have agreed to fight with the Areans not against them. And if we engage in battle agains the other poli, we would have to fight our friends. I can’t do that in good conscience. You need to take her back. Say it was just a joke and maybe we can focus our attention on outwitting the Areans. 

“I will not. Besides, we have the gods on our side,” Paris says brightly.

“How?” Priam asks.

“They promised me Helen.” Again he reaches for my hand and I let him take it, although the intimacy feels awkward in the face of Hector’s judgmental stare.

“Explain this. When did Demeter grant you Helen? She certainly hasn’t been responding to our requests for help.”

“Not Demeter. Aphrodite. At Jason and Medea’s wedding there was a game. A golden apple was to be given to the most beautiful of the goddesses present.”

“Which goddesses?” Hector asks skeptically.

“Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera.”

“Please tell me this ends with you giving it to Hera and Aphrodite granting you Helen for you wisdom.” 

“Of course not. Everyone knows Aphrodite is the most beautiful and she’s the one who promised me the best reward.”

I beginning to take offense of being spoken of as a token in the gods’ game of life and once again pulled my hand away from Paris’s.

“You idiot.” Hector hangs his head, shaking it in disbelief. “And did Athena give you any backing in this?”

“No, just Aphrodite. She even encouraged me to get Helen away from Menelaus when I thought all was lost.”

“Just Aphrodite,” Hector says, now staring at his brother. His face tenses and reddens, his jaw trembles as he shouts, “Just Aphrodite? You think the gods back you in this when only one has tricked you into this idiocy that now has all of Demos including my wife and child on a knife’s edge of destruction? No wonder Demeter wants nothing to do with us. And Hera, you went against Hera who is more than happy to punish those who get on her bad side.”

I can’t look at any of them. I had no idea about any of this. A sense of shame and embarrassment at my foolishness overwhelms the physical pain from four days of hard riding.

“Helen was all I’ve ever truly wanted. Aphrodite let me have her and Aphrodite will be on our side.”

“You just better hope she can sway some other gods to ally with her in this.”

“Then we will hope your goddess still favors you,” says Priam. I glance up from under my lashes to see a knowing look in his eyes.