Six impossible things

Revising long after, part 1

Last week, I suggested that people find books that have been reedited by their authors for a years-later reprint, and compare before-and-after versions. To show you what I mean, I’m going to post the first chapter of my first novel, Shadow Magic, which came out in 1982 and which I revised ten years later for an omnibus edition. It’s going to take me a few days to get it all up. The strikeouts are words, phrases, and sentences that appeared in the original version but that I deleted on revision; the bold text is new words/phrases that I added, and plain text is stuff that was in both versions. I’m combining and comparing two files here, and even though it’s a short chapter, it’ll take four posts to get it all up.  Italics are my comments on why I made some of the changes I did.

The caravan wound slowly through the woods along the riverbank and broke at last into the fields surrounding the city. Except for a few wooden shelters near the gates, the city itself was invisible behind massive walls. Not even the roof of a tower showed above the smooth grey stone.

Though they were now within sight of their goal, the dust-covered guards continued to ride restlessly up and down the long chain of wagons, watching field and forest narrowly for any sign of unusual activity. Travel here, at the western border of Alkyra, was relatively safe, but the Traders generally preferred not to take chances.

When the last of the wagons had entered the city, the guards relaxed at last. Their far-flung riding pattern contracted into small eddies of motion between the lumbering wagons. The iron-rimmed wagon-wheels were noisy, and conversation was minimal. The horses seemed to find the stone pavement, rough as it was, an improvement over the deeply rutted dirt road outside the city, and it was not long before the caravan had reached the wide courtyard of the inn.

As the last wagon in the caravan rumbled into the courtyard of the Blue Heron Inn, Maurin Atuval allowed himself to relax. Theoretically, the safety of the trade goods had been the responsibility of the cargo masters since the wagons passed through the city gates of Brenn, and the other caravan guards had long since abandoned any pretense of patrol. Unlike his fellow guards, however, Maurin was himself a Trader, and could expect to share in the caravan’s profits-and losses. So he had continued to watch the wagons even after his duties were officially over.

As it stands, there’s nothing terribly wrong with the original opening – it’s a “zoom-in,” starting with a long view, slowly focusing down until we get to characters. But for an action-adventure that moves fast enough to have a kidnapping by the third chapter, it’s too slow. Also, in the original, we don’t get to an actual character until the end of the fifth paragraph, and the whole thing is in a sloppy omniscient viewpoint. So the original five paragraphs went, replaced by two that are a lot more specific and that have a specific viewpoint, that of Journeyman Trader Maurin Atuval.

The hypnotic rumble of the wagons gave way to a cheerful bustle of securing goods and stabling horses. Everyone took part, from the most exalted of the Master Traders to the lowliest apprentices. As each finished his appointed task, he went in search of friends or pleasure, depending on his inclination, and soon the courtyard began to empty.

Among those remaining was a tall, black-haired man in the utilitarian leather of a caravan guard, his skin tanned by the sun and wind of the trails to a deep bronze under its coating of grime. The uniform suited him well, and he carried himself with an easy confidence that proclaimed him a veteran despite his relative youth. He was checking the ropes securing one of the wagons when another man hailed him. “Maurin!”

The hired guards lined up near Master Goldar to receive their pay, while the Traders began the cheerful ritual of unloading and securing their goods. Maurin was hauling a bundle of white fox pelts to the storage room when someone tapped him on the shoulder from behind.

The dark-haired man at the wagon rope looked up. “Greetings, Har. Har made a rude noise and looked at his friend with disfavor. Maurin turned his head to see who had accosted him. The two were of a height, but Har’s slight build, accentuated by It was a slender young man in the leather uniform of the caravan guards, made him appear smaller and younger than he was. An whose unruly shock of sandy brown hair made him look younger than Maurin knew him to be.  added to the effect, and made the straight black brows and slightly tilted grey-green eyes more startling.  “Har, what are you still doing here?” Maurin said. “I thought you would be away home by now.”

“I’ve been hunting all over for you,” Har said when Maurin made no response. “I invited you to visit when we got to Brenn; did you think I would forget? Haven’t you finished with that yet?”

The original description of Har is, again, not awful…but it stops the story dead in its tracks (and it hadn’t even really gotten going yet). I deleted most of it here, and stuck in references to the straight black eyebrows and green eyes later.

“I would have been, if I hadn’t had to stop and look for you,” Har said. “Here, give that to someone else. You’re done for the day.” He plucked the bundle of fox pelts from Maurin’s arms and set it on a nearby barrel.

“I’m just checking the knots,” Maurin replied. “Last stop we nearly lost three white fox pelts when the wind blew the canvas off, remember?”

“You forget, I’m a Trader. I’m not done until Master Goldar says I am.”

Har grinned unrepentantly. “This is Brenn, remember?” he mimicked. “That can’t happen in town, and anyway the light stuff has all been unpacked. So won’t you come on?”

“I didn’t forget.” Har looked smug. “I’ve already checked with him, and you’re officially released. Unless, of course, you’ve changed your mind about accepting my family’s hospitality while you’re in Brenn.”

“A journeyman can’t leave the caravan without the permission of one of the Master Traders. You know that,” Maurin answered.

Maurin looked at his friend in consternation. “I never said ... I mean, uh

“So let’s get it! They won’t deny it; there’s nothing more to do here.” As Maurin still hesitated, Har frowned. “I’m beginning to think you don’t want to come. I tell you, Maurin, you work too hard. Take the whole week and stay with us and relax for a change. Har raised his straight black eyebrows. “What’s the matter? Isn’t the Noble House of Brenn up to your standards?”

“I don’t want Master Goldar to think I’m trying to curry favor,” Maurin admitted. “And what will your family think? “You’re not thinking,” Maurin said, letting his breath out in exasperation. “Look, it’s all right for nobles and journeymen to brush cloaks on a caravan trip, but your family isn’t going to appreciate you bringing home a mere journeyman. Even the Master Traders don’t visit stay with lords in town unless they’re invited .”

Well, I invited you, didn’t I? That’s because they don’t get invited,” Har said. ““They’d come fast enough if they were. And you don’t have to worry about my family; Mother won’t mind, and if she doesn’t, no one else will, either.”

“I’ll mind,” Maurin muttered, too low for Har to hear.

The original conversation was awkward and full of maid-and-butler dialog (A.K.A. “As you know, Bob” – people telling each other stuff they already know, for no good reason except to let the reader in on it). The revised version contains the critical bits (the invitation, needing to get Goldar’s permission, Maurin’s reluctance) in other ways. The only remnant of maid-and-butler is the “You forget, I’m a Trader…” line, which is both in character and salvaged by the following line, “I didn’t forget…” And in general it reads a lot more smoothly.

More next time.

  1. This is really interesting and helpful. I like being able to compare the two versions, and your comments about why you did it make it clear why the revised version is better. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Thanks for posting this. It’s great to see how the revision actually works. 🙂 You’re right that nothing you cut out was bad, but the second version moves a lot faster. I guess that’s what they mean by `murder your darlings’? Being willing to cut prose that isn’t actually bad, it just doesn’t move fast enough?

    • Ellen – In some cases, I wouldn’t even say the revised version is “better” in a general sense – I’d say that it’s a better choice for this story.

      Chicoy – “Murder your darlings” is, in its original intent, more like “don’t include stuff that’s ONLY there because you like it, and not because the story needs it.” In this case, it wasn’t a matter of me loving the original version, particularly – at that point in my career, I just didn’t know any other way to do some of this stuff. That gets a little clearer a bit further along in the chapter, around Part 3, where I’m finally editing more conversation.

  3. So the strike outs are from “Shadow Magic” printed in 1982, are the bold lines from “Shadows Over Lyra” or from the new edition of “Shadow Magic”? Did you have to rewrite the three books in “Shadows Over Lyra” when you published it again?

    • Jessica – The bold lines are from the revised version of Shadow Magic, which was printed in Shadows Over Lyra. There is no other revised version; the original version was reprinted several times, with two different cover paintings, and if there’s a more recent edition, I don’t know about it. I did not have to rewrite anything for the omnibus edition; I chose to revise Shadow Magic and, to a significantly lesser extent, Daughter of Witches, for the omnibus because I was ten years worth of a better writer and felt it would be worth doing. I hope that answers your questions!

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