I’m continuing to fix the beginning of this book. I’ve now cut about 30,000 words and seven chapters (in some cases, I merged two chapters after cutting a lot from each). Not only did I have the problem I mentioned before of adding unnecessary conflict to things that weren’t important to the plot, but I’ve found that I’ve been writing scenes that don’t make a lot of sense when I really look at them.
There was one nearly 4,000-word scene that I liked but that I had to admit wasn’t that important to the story. It was just two of the characters hanging out and drinking tea and becoming friends. As much as I liked it, I didn’t need 4,000 words of that, especially not at that point in the story. We can see their friendship develop later on. There was just one thing in that scene that was critical to the plot, something those characters reveal to each other, and I decided to add it to the next scene.
Then looking at that scene, I realized that these characters wouldn’t actually reveal that information to each other so soon. They have to build a bit more trust. And then it occurred to me that them not sharing that information will mean that they’re working at cross-purposes for a while, doing things that they each think will help the other, but because they haven’t opened up to each other yet, they don’t know that they’re actually getting in each other’s way. That gives me some conflict, plus there’s opportunity for some fun moments, which then will naturally lead to them opening up to each other, since the choice will be to let the other person continue making things worse while thinking they’re helping or to stay quiet and keep their secrets, and it will finally get bad enough that telling outweighs keeping the secret.
It’s funny how things that seem so obvious in retrospect aren’t so obvious in the first draft.
I’m currently wrestling with another scene, where it’s a group of people having a conversation, and I’m trying to figure out what the critical events in the scene really are. I want to keep the scene, but I need to be honest with myself about whether I really need it, if I’m just repeating old information (it’s new to the characters, but the reader already knows), and if there’s some better way to make this point. I seem to be writing a lot of “the characters sit by a fire, drinking wine/tea and talking about things” scenes — I guess I’m taking the “cozy fantasy” thing to heart. It’s a big part of the vibe of the book, but I need to be sparing about that kind of scene and only use it when I really have to.
And as I wrote this, I figured out that there are two scenes I could combine in a way that would be even more interesting, so I have just one “sitting by the fire, drinking wine and chatting” scene, and there’s some action that happens during it. It would be lovely if I could figure this stuff out before the first draft. I even outlined this book pretty heavily, but I still don’t seem to see it until I’ve gone over it a few times.