Freebie Mondays: the Phases of Dreamers Do Lie

Freebie Mondays: the Phases of Dreamers Do Lie

I decided to do something interesting (and a tiny bit dangerous). I opened an old draft of one of my novels and used Word’s comparison feature to examine how much it changed. For those that aren’t familiar with this particular feature, it essentially highlights in red every change made between the different versions of the document.

The results were astounding. I knew this book changed a lot while I was writing it, but I didn’t realize just how drastic some of those changes were.

(Here’s a peek at the opening pages of Dreamers Do Lie before and after.)

Editing is a part of the writing process universally hated by most writers I interact with. Personally, I love how my work comes out the other end, but I hate the process of combing through my work looking for ways to make it shine.

I think one of the reasons I hate editing so much is that it takes hours of nail-biting and fiddly work. But when I’m finished, the page doesn’t look much different than it started. Because all the changes I made blend seamlessly with what was there before. (Which is part of the point.) If it weren’t for tracking the time spent and the number of words difference, it would be hard to tell I did anything at all.

Using this highlighted comparison allows me to see just how much the book changed along the path. And because this had such a profound effect on my own view of my work, I decided to share a few excerpts illustrating the change.

Draft One

I’ve mentioned before that Dreamers Do Lie was one of my earliest books. The first time I wrote it, I had pretty much no idea what I was doing. I didn’t have a plan. I just had a file full of setting notes I wanted to explore.

Eventually, I came back to this book and re-wrote it from scratch. But in order to fully illustrate how far this manuscript came, I want to share a little bit of how it originally looked. (Please be gentle… It’s pretty bad!)

This scene was originally somewhere in the area of 2,300 words. It used a lot of exposition to say very little. The scene mostly serves as transition between one part of the journey and another. There’s no dialogue and a lot of internal thought.

When I came back to the scene, I split it into two pieces and tried to find ways to let the characters illustrate the problems they faced instead of just summarizing.

But here are the words I originally wrote for this portion of the manuscript. (This is also completely unedited, so I apologize for any mistakes.)

The River Phlegethon (round 1)

The Port at Phlegethon was not huddled as close against the river as the one at Styx had been. There were far fewer campfires, most of the fires that dotted the outskirts of the camps were small cooking fires. The heat from the river was extremely intense, even from the distance that the Port camp had been established. The chill of the evenings and the howling of the winds were not enough to ease the intense heat from the flaming river. The clan’s central campfire became smaller until Eselt dispensed with it all together. The river gave off enough ambient light that they could see almost as well as in the dim light of day. There was no need for warmth; they had it in abundance. Arimand almost welcomed the bitter chill of the wind, it was the only respite offered to them from the terrible heat of the seething fire river.

He was just as glad that he had permission to take out hunting parties and the men who accompanied him had never been happier to ride away from their camp. Not a single one of them wanted to return in the evenings but each of them did, with triumphant smiles, despite the almost overwhelming heat. Once again Arimand proved his hunting skills and since he and his men were doing a good job of bolstering the much-needed stores, Eselt had him continue in his efforts for most of the time they needed to wait in the Port camp.

It seemed this place was much different from the Port along the River Styx. Though there was a great deal of trade going on, there was no formal market. Most of the work by those who had settled there permanently revolved around building ships that could manage to travel down the flaming river. It was no easy task, and those that managed to secure ships were in most high standing indeed, or they spent all their time working on the ships to pay off the debt earning it had piled up. Arimand wondered why people bothered with ships on the river of fire at all. They were much harder to build, impossibly difficult to maintain forever, and the sweltering heat alone was enough to drive one away from even the banks of the river, let alone the surface of it. It seemed much more efficient for ships to carry supplies down the Styx, where the ships would not slowly burn to pieces. It seemed, however, that the people who had chosen to settle here were stubborn and persistent enough to maintain some kind of worthwhile trade up and down the flaming river. He had to wonder if it was just for the small victory of having succeeded, or if the ships were actually efficient enough to supply water to this region of Ethilirotha.

There seemed to be a great deal of work being put into designs that would help to build a ship that would last longer against the flames of the river. It was a fact that the wood burned away slowly, but it was a constant hassle to have to rebuild ships after long voyages, or in the middle of them. It was very fortunate that Wardel and Kimuli had spent much of the traveling weeks trying to think up solutions to that very problem. Kimuli began sharing his sketches with the men who actually built the fire faring vessels and, much to the surprise and gratitude of Eselt and Arimand, this was enough to earn them able bodied shipbuilders and large amounts of wood. Kimuli might have to part with his precious sketches when they departed, but he would hardly need them where they were going.

When the hunting began to dwindle, and Eselt suspected they had about as good a stock of supplies as they were going to get, Arimand threw his own labor into building the ship they had commissioned. He was joined by Wardel and Kimuli, both of whom had put enough time and effort into the ship plans that they were determined it be done absolutely right the first time. Thanks to the efforts of the two men, the ship builders had been excited enough about the new designs that they had started building right away. Kimuli could often be found cursing at one of the workers who hadn’t placed the wooden planks exactly where he wanted them to be. Wardel often followed in his footsteps, distracting the other man so that his temper would not start fights that would bring construction to a halt. Arimand was satisfied with such enthusiasm; he wanted them on their way as soon as possible. It was already clear that it would take a great deal of time to traverse the massive lands of Hell and they had a long way to go.

He spent his days breaking his back in the overwhelming heat of the river of fire, constructing a ship that would hopefully carry them past the third circle of Hell and into the fourth. Living under the blazing heat never got any easier. His body never seemed to get used to being in such constant heat the way he would have thought it should. Even those who had been there for long periods of time seemed to suffer under the burden of the constant heat. There were times he felt the fire was consuming him, burning his flesh into ash where he stood. A quick glance at where the river’s flames danced toward the sky was enough to convince him that he had not actually been consumed by real flame, but it did not ease the feeling of being cooked alive.

His evenings were spent rolling around in a too hot tent, trying to think of some solution for the problem of a boat that was small enough to be taken under the wall but large enough to still be of use on the other side. In the end it was Kimuli who found that answer too. He decided that instead of the bare bones of a smaller ship and a large stockpile of wood to continuously rebuild it, they should construct a smaller ship in a shell of wood that could be taken under the flaming water. With luck they would be able to take the shell under the wall and by the time the wood had all burned away, they would be back to the surface and their new ship would be revealed for use. A craft so small would have little room for a massive stockpile of wood, but they had no way of knowing how much good bringing would with them would do, and their stores were not full enough that they could trade for an endless supply. Eventually the ship would burn away completely and they would be forced to land; it was simply a fact they would have to come to terms with. It was the best they could do, and they had now run completely out of time. Eselt was ready to leave as soon as the ship was constructed, and Arimand was just as eager to see that day.

Draft Two

That was pretty cringy.

The re-write of this scene rings in at 1,300 words – half the length of the original – and covers about twice as much territory as the first clip. This time, I’ve composed an actual scene with interactions between the characters. The previous exposition has largely become dialogue.
– – –

The port known as Dech wasn’t much different from Blalt, except that it sat further away from the river. The group of dilapidated structures huddled together, forming small walls and rings. The citizens didn’t require fires for light or cooking, the river provided heat and light in abundance. Even from a distance, the ambient heat rising from the river Phlegethon was intense. Flames danced four feet into the air above the boiling water, a dazzling spectacle of red, orange and yellow. Dech seemed more active at night and early morning, before the heat of the day set in. Arimand could only imagine the effects of heat-madness if a man tried to work at mid-afternoon by the riverside.

Hope flared in their hearts the moment the river came into view. Someone had already solved the problem of traveling the river. Large vessels moved from shore to shore, carrying goods and people. With each crossing, the river consumed more of the wood comprising the vessels. But if such sizable craft existed, someone must know a solution to their problem.

As Eselt oversaw the raising of camp, Arimand helped Dwenba assess the materials they’d gathered in transit. They were going to need a lot more wood if they wanted to build a ship of any size, especially since the river would devour their first attempt by the time they reached the city.

For the first time, he welcomed the howling winds that heralded nightfall. His daily duties had yet to carry him into Dech or close to the edge of the river. Passing over and around the flaming spouts constantly exuded by the river water would make the rest of their trip unpleasant. How anyone could contemplate swimming through the churning inferno, he couldn’t guess.

The clan had no time for transitions, with Eselt’s ambitions driving their every action. The clan leader spent most of those initial days dismantling his clan, searching for positions his people could assume, as well as a place the children would be safe and well-cared for. Dwenba spent that time at the market, bargaining for the supplies they would need for the next leg of their journey.

That left Arimand to tend to the matters of the camp. He assigned Sulard and Kimuli hunting duty. Along with several others dedicated to their cause, they would scour the area for as many small creatures as they could capture. They’d taken tents and probably wouldn’t return for several days.

Wardel and Thail had volunteered to solve their travel problems. Both had seemed taken by the large vessels in flaming river. He glimpsed a hint of craftsman’s zeal in both their eyes when he sent them toward Dech to quench their curiosity.

Both men were back by midday, excited, breathless. Arimand had taken to letting the clan rest during the high heat, as lethargic as anyone else with the heat of the river beating against their backs. So long as all the tasks Eselt had dictated were done by the time he returned, there’d be no reason to cause a fuss.

Arimand commandeered an empty tent and waved both hands to cut through the pair’s excited babbling. “I take it you found something.”

“Ship builders!” Thail exclaimed before Wardel had a chance.

“I’d love a chance to dissect one of those ships on the river,” Wardel agreed, shaking his head, an awed smile on his face. “Anywhere else, they’d be works of art.”

“But how do they sail?” Arimand asked, trying to keep the conversation focused.

“They need to be constantly rebuilt to combat the erosion of the river,” Wardel replied. “I suspected that might be the case the moment I saw them. Look here…” Casting about for a moment, Wardel found a discarded spear he could use to trace a design in the hard-packed dirt of the floor.

When he finished, Arimand tilted his head from side to side, staring for several minutes at the blob his companion had drawn. “I give up,” he admitted at last. “What am I supposed to be looking at.”

“This is an outline of a ship,” Wardel traced the outer series of lines. “This is how the locals account for the damage caused by the river.” He traced the inner set of lines.

“They build a second ship inside the first,” Thail clarified, though Arimand could see now what Wardel’s diagram represented.

“There’s a small air pocket in between,” Wardel waved his spear over the diagram. “That delays the inevitable devouring of the secondary hull. Once that catches fire, the sailors constantly rebuild the walls and floor until the ship is too small to sail.”

“They save most of their wood for it,” Thail agreed. “Since they don’t need it for cooking.”
Arimand contemplated the drawing in the dust for several seconds. “So if we build a ship big enough, it could carry us to the center of Hell. In theory.” The wall still stood in their way.

“The problem is time,” Wardel replied, setting the spear aside. “No one knows how long it will take us to reach the wall. We know that distances in Hell are vast, we just spent ages trekking across a quarter of its outer ring.”

“You’re worried we won’t have enough wood?” Arimand had just finished cataloging their stockpile. He knew it would be lacking, but he hadn’t realized just how much they would need.

“We’ll almost certainly never be able to gather enough,” Thail agreed, glancing from one man to the other. “But the locals have an abundance, since they only use it for travel.”

Arimand snorted. “We’ll see what Dwenba can do for us then. So the ship will get us to the wall, how do we get underneath it?”

“I had a thought,” Wardel started, tapping his foot against his drawing. “What if we built a third layer of ship? We’ll almost certainly need it anyway, considering how far we want to go. Instead of lining the entire secondary layer, we’ll make the ship small. When we reach the wall, we’ll squirrel ourselves inside and wait for the fire to break through the base of the second hull.”

“Ah, the ship’s destruction drops us down and we bob to the surface on the other side,” Arimand mused. “Brilliant!”

“And it would give us some ship left to use on the other side,” Wardel agreed. “Though how far it would get us, we can only guess.”

“That’s a problem we’ll have to solve when we come to it,” Arimand replied. “We can’t let what-ifs stop us now.”

“I beg your pardon,” Thail interrupted with his head bowed. “But we’re forgetting the demons, aren’t we?”

Arimand’s face grew grim. His young companion had spoken of formidable demon forces inhabiting the ramparts of the wall. It was one of the reasons he’d chosen to swim underneath. “Let’s hope the broken ship can serve as a decoy and that we’ll reach the other side long before the demons realize what we’ve done.” It was a thin thread of hope, but neither man was willing to snap it at the moment.

“I’ve already spoken with several local ship builders,” Wardel announced. “If we haggle just right, we might be able to get a good deal on supplies and labor, especially if we offer to supply much of it ourselves. Should we wait for Eselt to return?”

Arimand considered for only a moment before he shook his head. “He wants to be out of here as quickly as possible. I’ll get you a spare hide scrap and charcoal from the stores. Between the two of you, I’m sure you can have a working design by the time the day’s done.”

Wardel and Thail glanced at each other, eagerness shining in their eyes. It seemed their newcomer had found a fast friend.

It took four attempts before all three men agreed on the ship’s design. By then, the citizens of Dech had returned to their market stalls, the river’s warmth keeping the wind’s chill at bay. Wardel and Thail rushed to business, each carrying a small scrap bearing the design. Arimand didn’t doubt Eselt would be well pleased upon his return.

The Final Draft

If I go through all the iterations of this scene, we could be here all day. So I’ll skip now to the final version, the one that went live when I published the book.

You can’t tell from a glance, but much of the scene has been re-written yet again. I decided to change several of the setting details to better align with the challenges I wanted my characters to face. I also wanted to give one of the characters, Wardel, a bit more agency and purpose. So I made him more central to the scene with the changes.

Most of the details are the same this time around, though I’ve shifted the position and presentation method. I also focused a bit more on description here to really paint a picture of the scene.

The final draft rings in at 1,200 words – ever so slightly slimmer than its first re-write.

The End Result

Night never fell in this part of Hell. The burning Phlegethon cut a swath through the craggy wasteland, illuminating the shore for miles on either side. Flames danced up to four feet above the boiling water, a dazzling spectacle of red, orange and yellow. The river’s heat swallowed its shoreline, intense and penetrating as opposed to the usual ambient daytime swelter.

Dech wasn’t much different from Blalt, a series of dilapidated markets, set far enough from the river they wouldn’t burn. Since the river provided the necessary light and heat, the port citizens used all their wood for construction. What hadn’t been used on rickety market stalls or hut frames had been devoted to boats, which crossed the river with the same regularity as cargo crossed the Styx.

Unlike Blalt, the citizens of Dech took rest at midday, performing the bulk of their work during the night, when icy winds counteracted the river’s blaze. Obviously familiar with the river’s effects, Eselt warned his men against heat-madness the day before they set camp next to port.

While those who opted to undertake Kaylie’s journey received a much needed rest, the clan leader spent those initial days seeking positions for those who wished to leave. The children would be the hardest to place, as many clans refused to accept them, and others had little regard for their care. Dwenba spent her time at market, determined to restock the stores before her departure.

With Sulard and Kimuli on hunting duty, the day-to-day management of the camp fell to Wardel. Arimand didn’t think he’d ever heard the man speak so much. He looked something like a specter, with long white hair and snow-white cheeks. Even if he hadn’t borne faded clan tattoos, it would have been obvious he hailed from Vesald. His calm demeanor had a soothing effect. It was almost a relief to get a break from Eselt.

On the third morning, Wardel asked if Arimand would take his place for a couple hours, expressing a desire to peruse the dockyards and observe the river traffic. “I spent my life in the wild mountains,” he explained, “farther north than even most Vesladi dare to venture. I took advantage of every spring thaw to fish while the waters flowed freely. The nearest village was miles away, so it fell to me to build and maintain my own boats.”

No wonder he was such a solitary creature! “I’m not sure if Eselt will approve of your choice to leave me in charge, but I’m sure he won’t want to wait any longer than necessary to leave. You sound uniquely suited to solving our travel problems.”

A ghost of mirth graced Wardel’s face. “I’m keen to see how the locals have managed the challenge. That should be a good place to start. I plan to take Thail with me, if you don’t mind.”

Arimand quirked an eyebrow. What did Wardel want with that nervous wretch? “You’re the one in charge. If you think he’ll be useful, take him along.” It wasn’t as if he was particularly useful around camp; he was too shy to give orders and too nervous to handle most tasks alone. Arimand still didn’t know what Eselt wanted with him.

Wardel only nodded and excused himself, calling softly to Thail as he passed out of the camp’s inner circle. Arimand organized the rest of the camp’s duties for the day. It wasn’t much different from running an army camp, and Eselt’s men exhibited a similar level of discipline.

Barely an hour passed before Wardel and his companion returned. Arimand double-checked the position of the sun to be sure. “Forget something?” he called as the pair approached.

Wardel shook his head, a slow, heavy movement which told Arimand all he needed to know. “Lingering by the docks would be a waste of time. The local boats, and I hesitate to call them that, are useless to us.”

Arimand looked for Thail to see if the newcomer shared this opinion. His eyes peeked over the tall northerner’s shoulder. When Arimand found him, he ducked and peered around Wardel’s left arm as if hoping Arimand had lost track of him. Was it his imagination, or did Thail give him the stink-eye every time he glanced away? He gave up and turned his focus back to Wardel.

“What makes you say that?”

“For one thing, they’re cobbled together. For another, the local sailors don’t seem to care about making them last. They take enough wood to keep the boat afloat while it’s got men and cargo aboard, then abandon it to the flames. They can’t last more than two crossings.”

“We won’t get very far if we have to keep coming ashore to rebuild,” Arimand agreed. “Especially when we reach the city.” He doubted anything grew there. They were lucky to have gathered as much wood as they had during the crossing of the badlands.

“It wouldn’t be an efficient use of our resources anyway. What we need is a ship with a structure we can reinforce as we go.”

“We’d have to stockpile enough wood to last the whole journey.” Arimand frowned. “The problem with that is not knowing how long it will take to reach the wall.”

“And we can only guess the rate at which the flames will devour our structure,” Wardel said. “Though the locals might be able to help us with that.”

“We’ll never gather enough,” Thail muttered, still hiding most of his face behind the bigger man. “Strange luck we have as much as we do.”

“Perhaps, but one should never question luck in Hell.” There was a soothing quality to Wardel’s voice which seemed to calm his companion momentarily. “Wood seems less valuable here than anywhere else. With Dwenba’s help, we can turn some of our excesses into wood stock for the journey.”

“Then all we need is a viable design,” Arimand said. “If it comes to it, we could always construct the ship ourselves.”

Again, a smile ghosted across Wardel’s lips. “I may be able to help with that. I’ve been contemplating a dual hull with an air pocket between the two.” He held up both hands with a small gap between them. “Almost like one ship built inside another. That way, it will take twice as long for the fire to eat through our vessel.”

“Sounds promising. A stockpile of wood to renew the second hull should at least get us to the wall. The only question remains how to pass beneath it without catching on fire ourselves.”

Wardel scratched his close-shaven beard thoughtfully. “The answer to both problems might be the same. Give me some time; I think I can work it out. I might even be able to manage a distraction to cover our retreat.”

Arimand grinned. “You’d qualify as a saint if you could manage that. We haven’t discussed how we’re going to manage the demons on the wall. Slipping beneath their notice would be an unbelievable stroke of luck.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” Wardel patted the air in front of him with both hands. “I think I can design us a ship and a plan.”

“Good enough for me,” Arimand declared. “We’ll take the rest as it comes.”

“Come on, Thail.” Wardel lightly grasped the nervous man’s wrist. “We’ve got a lot to do.”

Thail shuffled in Wardel’s wake, but not before he cast a few more narrow-eyed glances in Arimand’s direction.

– – –
Interested in learning more about Arimand, Kaylie and the gang? You can read Dreamers Do Lie over here. (Or sample the first three chapters if you’re still not convinced.)

Want to see more early draft changes? Let me know in the comments!

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