Writer’s Mistakes and the Surprises on Offer
In a moment, I’ll offer up the opening scene from Chapter 12 of the second volume of Sword & Fire, my completed but yet unpublished novel. The volume is entitled Legacy, and the chapter is seen from Jed Drook’s perspective. In it, you’ll see the mistake I made, and how it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
Okay, a quick (relatively) spoiler-free introduction to the context of the chapter. Jed has escaped from the prison his family cast him into, fleeing from the Mainland to the large island lying to the east. His hopes of living in anonymity under a false name on the island are dashed upon hearing of bad news compounded by more bad news.
After a sleepless night, he finds himself on the beach in a reflective dark mood awaiting the rising sun, a habit we’re told he nurtured before his imprisonment. What happens includes a mistake I made that I passed on to him as it offered a delightful twist.
The day broke in a sublime moment of heaven invading earth. As the sun mustered its large blazing head above the frontline of the horizon, it unleashed a formidable host arrayed in purple and red and orange against the night sky. Sudden, bright and brilliant. Taken by surprise, the waning blackness beat a hasty retreat before the onset of an unstoppable all-conquering dawn. Startled wispy ashen clouds joined the flight, following quick on the heels of the departing darkness as the irrepressible king of the day hours rose to rule from on high in a triumphant sunburst of radiant glory, a transition every bit as ruthless and powerful as one realm invading another. The spectacle always took Jed’s breath away. Is there aught more majestic, more splendid? He would have turned his thoughts into praise, but he was utterly exhausted. And grouchy. He had slept scarcely a wink, and had found this spot on the cool sand to watch the sun rise, as had been his habit for years before his imprisonment. Without those morning vigils, he could never secure the peace of mind needed to face another tumultuous day as the Scourge of Drook. Now, like then, he held hopes of assuaging his troubled mind.
There was a problem, however. Everything was back to front.
As Jed’s weary eyes had trawled the dark horizon awaiting the return of the sun king, the sovereign of daytime instead made its grand entrance from behind. It was an abruptly disturbing experience, an eerie parallel to his entire shift of world. He, of course, ought to have known better, and with a mind less fatigued, he would have laughed at his foolishness. Where once he’d sat on the beach of Noldrade watching as the sun rose from the East, he now sat on the beach of Gonefarenuff, facing West; ironically, in the very direction from whence his brother sailed to make war. Jed blew air through his teeth, grumpy as a drunk the morning after the night before. He was forced to watch the sun rise over the large port town with a twist in his neck, but now he turned his bleary eyes back to the ocean view. Shaking his head at his own stupidity, he barely noticed as the sun began to throw its golden spears over his shoulder, catching the breakers far out from shore in the teeth. And though the fuming white cavalry continued its charge, with the tide out, only the bravest managed to trickle feebly up the beach.
Do you see what happened?
I love early-morning vigils on the beach, and I took great pleasure in describing this scene. The bad news tearing at Jed concerns war, and so describing the onset of daylight as a battle against the retreating night was a lot of fun.
I finished the first draft in a very satisfied mood and reread it critiquely. I had described the sun rising gloriously in front of him, and I read it with a smile. However, when I read the part where he recalls his early-morning experiences sitting on the beach on the Mainland, I suddenly went cold.
In my world, Pangaia, the sun rises from the East; after all, Pangaia is primordial Earth. Sitting on the beach on the Mainland looking east, as he did before his incarceration, Jed would have enjoyed watching the sun rise in front of him. But … he would not sitting on the island looking west!
I couldn’t believe my mistake. I was so eager to write about him watching a sun rise that I had forgotten in which direction he was facing. I’d lost a sense of my world. I’d lost my bearings! My heart sank. I would need to scratch the opening to this chapter entirely.
Then I thought, “Hang on, what if Jed makes the same mistake? Maybe he’s in such a foul state of mind, maybe he so needs to find solace in this cherished habit of his that he gets his sense of bearings muddled.”
Excited by this novel idea, I tweaked the first draft. I passed on my mistake to Jed, and the result was, in my mind, just wonderful. Love it!
It not only adequately captured the state of his mind, but also symbolically reflected the upheaval of his world. Plus, I got to keep the battle between the rising sun and fleeing night sky as the opening tension to the chapter.
My smile couldn’t be wider. My silly mistake turned into a delightful surprise.
In Plotlines: Then There Were Nine!, I counselled writers: When in doubt, blame your protagonist. I’ve got a new nugget of wisdom to share 😉
Tips for Writers #23: When you make a mistake, pass it on to your protagonist.
Hope you enjoyed that, and hope you enjoyed reading the opening to the chapter itself.
If you did, and you haven’t started Sword & Fire yet, why not give it a go. The entire first volume is available online for free. And those who participate in the beta reading group will have the chance to read all three volumes for free.
What are you waiting for? Start with the prologue today.