Boy, the things The Badlings is teaching me. I don't know what it is about this book. Maybe it will be my watershed moment and I will look upon the chasm cleaved in my life, on one end of it written "before The Badlings," on another "after The Badlings," and I will see the middle of it a thousand fiery dragons spurting up pillars of fire to remind me of what it was like. And I'll tell you what's it's like. It's gruesome. I'm learning one very valuable lesson writing this book.
Most of the story is handed to you in the first draft.
I think I'm paraphrasing Terry Pratchett as he said something along these words and I have read it somewhere and can't find it now. No matter. It's true. As shitty and cumbersome and as absolutely detestable your first draft might be, the foundation of the story is there. Your job is to lay it all down, like a groundwork for the future philandering with your story, because no matter what you will add or subtract, the core will stay the same. It doesn't have to be complex, it can be very simple. In fact, the simpler it is, the better. But here is the catch. If you miss this core, or if you gouge pieces of it out later (I did both), you will suffer in the clutches of ruthless editing as a consequence until you bleed out of your nose.
The same holes you will have in the core of your story at the very beginning will show up like festering sores in all consecutive drafts no matter what you do. I have heard horror stories from writers about how they had to abandon a manuscript because no matter how many times they rewrote it, it was flawed. It was an ugly child born maimed and it could not be cured.
I want to hazard a guess as to the origin of this problem. I may be lightyears off and completely wrong, as I have neither the facts to back this up, nor decades of experience, only a hunch. And my hunch is this.
Where you are lazy in your first draft, teethy ulcers develop, and they bite you in the ass later.
I have noticed the same holes in The Badlings I have been patching up in every draft, and the hellish atrocities simply won't go away. I have patched up one today, and I'm at last satisfied with the result, but it mentally exhausted me. Physically too. This week has been awful. I feel like I'm running a marathon and not editing a book. The funny part of this is, I have only myself to blame.
I distinctly remember how I glossed over certain parts in the first draft thinking, "I will fill them in later." I thought I was being very smart. I thought back to writing all my previous books and how much they adhered to the accordion rule (drafts contracting and expanding), and I thought, "Why write a long first draft and then cut it down? (Which is what I usually did.) Why not the other way around? Write bare bones and then decorate them with meat?" So I did. And boy, I was wrong. That is why I took my sweet time to write the first draft of TUBE. I have milked every scene, described every situation to the best of my ability, and left nothing out, because once the spine of the story is there, the story is set, but without a spine it's doomed.
On top of the holes The Badlings suffered another setback, the copyright one, when I had to gut 2/3 of it and leave only 10 books the four main characters visit as opposed to 30 I have started with. This kind of butchering the narrative left loose ends and loops that I'm cleaning up now. Just today I found two huge continuity blunders and was baffled as to how I haven't seen them before. It's because I have patched the story so many times that parts of it crept where they didn't belong. My darling editor Sarah Liu will be happy, because this final version makes a lot more sense.
After having gone through this experience I see the need of all those delirious nonsensical scenes and chapters in the first drafts that drive us writers nuts. We always wonder why we wrote such drivel in the first place and later end up editing them out or rewriting them. What we don't notice, or, rather, what I haven't noticed before, is that those crazy scenes act as bridges and hold the important pieces together. Later they morph into something else, but the connection stays. The emotional connection. That's why they have to make no sense, it's their job. They make us feel a ton of shit we can't comprehend. They form an emotional fabric of the story, and if it's not spun out of your heart from the very first draft, injecting it later will be akin to resurrecting a corpse with injections of blood. Sure, it might rise, but it will likely be a functioning Frankenstein, if you're lucky, or a disintegrating zombie with flesh falling off its bones if you're not. Try making that into a living breathing story. Good luck.
No more skipping stuff for me in the future. The pain is just not worth it. The Badlings is finally turning out in this draft they way I want it to be, but it cost me dearly. I can't wait to be done with it and to hear your thoughts on the final published book, but I'm being very careful and very cautious and am taking my time editing this draft, so thank you patiently waiting for it to be done. I'm over the 50% hump, so another couple weeks and it will be ready. Maybe 3 weeks, just to be safe.