Once Upon a Dream – Book One First Draft Complete

Once Upon a Dream – Book One First Draft Complete

Back in April I announced a new project. Once Upon a Dream is a series that has been kicking around in my head since 2011, so it’s been great to finally get the words on the page. I devoted a month to planning earlier in the year, in hopes the time between outlining and starting the first draft would shake out some of the story’s remaining kinks.

On July 22nd, I finally started writing the first chapter. It has been a little surreal. I often let my stories sit for awhile before I commit them to paper, but I’ve never allowed one to grow for so long.

Most writers agree that you spend the first portion of the novel writing process trying to find your characters, learning who they are and developing the voice that will eventually define them. But I’ve spent much of the last decade writing little snippets about the characters featured in this project. (You can find them scattered throughout the writing prompts section of this blog.)

For the first time, words flowed easily right from the get-go. I knew these characters. I understood their motivations. So I didn’t have to fight with the core concepts of the narrative. I could skip straight to highlighting the key components of each scene. In some ways, this made writing the first draft a breeze. But in other ways, it has added a new level of stress to the project.

I puke my first draft onto the page

Lots of people despair about the first draft, about how hard it is to get the words out of your head. I’ve actually always loved writing my first draft. They’re acts of raw creation. You pull a nebulous idea from your head, spin it through the ether and turn it into something tangible. The loops and crosses of the letters become the brushstrokes that fill the blank page canvas with images.

Knowing the characters and story I was working with so well straight out of the gate made catching momentum and keeping it easier than usual. But it also allowed my characters to go wild much faster than they usually do. I only got about a third of the way through the book before I worried it was meandering too far from the actual plot.

Sure, the details of the world I built were leaping off the page, painting vivid pictures and setting tons of fun and interesting scenes. But were they important events? Did they matter? Is there enough weight to any of the scenes I’ve written to carry readers through the main narrative? Fun scenes and interesting settings are great. But without compelling plot, there’s no reason for people care about any of it.

I know these characters are interesting; people have devoted time to reading about them without knowing their principal plot details. But if I can’t get them to do anything interesting, this project will turn into a major flop. And since I’ve already been working on it for more than a decade, I definitely don’t want that to happen.

Doubt stalked me at every corner

Another thing most writers agree about the first draft is that it fosters heaps of doubt. The best way to deal with that doubt is usually to forge onward. I’ve long since learned that I can’t get a true sense of the shape and scope of my story until I’ve gotten all the way through it once. And even if I know this story better than most of the other one’s I’ve written, that experience is proving true.

I spent a lot of time nail-biting about my doubts to other writers, to my beta readers and to my husband. Everyone listened and everyone reassured me that I could do this, even when I felt like I couldn’t. So I soldered onward.

I went back to my outline, skimmed over the details of my plans, and spotted a few pacing issues. I moved one of my major plot points forward, and that solved a lot of my problems. Not only did it make the plot move faster, it allowed events to fall into a more logical progression. And it eliminated a ton of fluff filler the characters would have had to spend waiting around for their next revelation.

Still, even with this breakthrough, the book was growing far larger than I anticipated. I hoped to fit the entire story into 70,000 or 80,000 words. I hit 60,000 before I reached what felt like the plot’s midpoint.

So, of course, I panicked, fearing I’d end up with a 120,000 word monster by the time I finished.

I refuse to let my demons halt my progress

In my head, Once Upon a Dream was originally a single book. (The same was true for each of the books in the Celestial Serenade – which eventually became a trilogy of trilogies.) Knowing that, it’s easy to pinpoint the source of my consternation.

First, the plot moves slowly because I’m only dealing with the first third of it. Much of this portion of the plot is set-up for events that come later. The characters receive a slow trickle of critical information while they try to solve a mystery and determine a course of action. Much of the actual ‘action’ comes later.

Second, I worried about the length because I want each installment of the series to be roughly the same size. Three 70,000 – 80,000 word novels are easy to wrangle. Three 120,000 word novels will be difficult for a myriad of reasons.

Once again, I know that I can’t solve most of these problems until I finish all three installments of the series and see what I have to work with. So once again, I decided to forge ahead, focusing on the plot and pacing as much as I could.

Luckily, what comprised the second half of the plot only took another 40,000 words. This probably means that I’m either missing a major plot beat, or my midpoint is falling too late. But it also means the book isn’t as bit a train wreck as I expected it to be.

You could say I spent a lot of time worrying over nothing. I probably did! I finished the first draft of the first installment of Once Upon a Dream (tentatively titled A Garden of Silver) on September 19th.

The future is looking bright

Overall, I’m happy with a lot of the individual scenes. Many of the key events turned out exactly the way I wanted them to. Some turned out better. Many of the details related to the book’s main subplot fell into position much easier than I expected, taking me places I hadn’t even planned. And in this regard, I’m rubbing my hands together evilly, because that aspect of the story is going to turn out better than my wildest dreams.

I do think there are a few scenes that might not make it to the final cut, even if I really liked them. They just don’t serve as much purpose as I hoped. And I have probably gone overboard on description, for the first time in my life, just because I spent so much time working out the intimate details of this setting. It’s going to hurt to kill those darlings, but I’ll see if I can repurpose any of them when I’ve got the plot in its proper shape.

Also, I’m a tad bit concerned that my detailed knowledge of the characters and their back stories has caused me to drop the reader into the middle of a couple of conflicts without context or orientation. I’m going to have to spend a lot of time making sure I haven’t done that, because I don’t want the emotional impact to bleed out of my tale.

That said, there’s nothing about this novel I’m not confident I can fix. Especially after I get through the next two installments and see where the strong foundation takes me.

By the time this post goes live, I should be well into the second installment of the series (tentatively titled Ivory Sands and Ebon Hollows). I’m excited to see where this story takes me. And, of course, I’m excited to get to share it with you all when it’s done!

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