The story of my latest novel, The Sword and the Sorcerer, has been starting over.
It began life as a handwritten power fantasy when I was 14 entitled Calibot’s Revenge. Once I got it “finished,” I started over by typing it into an Apple IIc in the St. Norbert College computer lab. (Back then, I was taking greater advantage of SNC’s initial foray into personal computing that 99% of its students.)
I never finished that awful draft, but, in 1991, I began writing a second one (more of a second edition) during my first semester of graduate school. The plot was completely different and some of the characters had changed. I had started over again.
I never finished that draft either. In the 2000’s I tinkered around with a third version of the story, writing a couple chapters but never finishing again.
Last year, I finally sat down with Calibot for another try. The original story and the 1991 rewrite were both terribly dated. It needed something fresh. So I started from scratch again, and, as the story evolved, I also realized it needed a new title.
So you’d think I’d finally be done with starting over on Calibot’s Revenge, er, I mean The Sword and the Sorcerer. But, no. Three drafts into the current iteration of the novel, and I’m still starting over. I’m still going back to the beginning.
One of the most fundamental changes of the 1991 version that I kept is Calibot being a poet in the court of Duke Boordin of Dalasport. To establish this, the novel opens with him reading an excerpt from his latest masterpiece. When I wrote the first draft, I didn’t have the poem done (or even begun), so I just put placeholder text in for it, so I could keep writing.
When it came time to edit and then write the second draft, I had to compose that poem. So I spent two weeks writing stanzas of an epic until I had something that fit what the story needed and inserted it into Chapter 1.
But after I got the second draft back from my editor and started reading through it, I realized something: the first two chapters of the novel are boring. They are given over largely to establishing Calibot’s character as the Poet Laureate of Dalasport and his relationship with his lover Devon. The information and the character development are critical to the novel. But until Chapter 2 cliffhangs with the revelation that Calibot’s father has been murdered, nothing happens.
That might have been okay for a fantasy novel 30 or 50 years ago. Certainly, some of the classics that spun me into a writer began quietly. But it just doesn’t work for today’s reader, and, given that most of my sales will come from eBooks, the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon isn’t going to hook many people with a slow, actionless opening featuring an epic poem.
There was only one conclusion. I had to start over again. I could keep the story intact, but it needed a much more exciting beginning.
So I decided that, since the murder of Calibot’s father is the causal event that puts the novel’s plot in motion, it made sense to start with his death. Told from the perspective of his killer, the book now opens with what is obviously a political assassination. It drops hints and raises questions, and pushes the reader further into the novel. Hopefully, it makes potential buyers want to know more.
You can download the prologue to The Sword and the Sorcerer below, so you can get a taste of the style of the novel and see what I did to make the opening more exciting. If you like, leave me a comment and tell me what you think.
Of course, I can’t guarantee this is what the final, published version of the chapter will look like. The book is still in editing.
And the story of The Sword and the Sorcerer is starting over.