I was working on Ascension, the sequel to Ravages of Honor: Conquest today and went looking for some references related to a plot point. Somehow I found the very first iteration of what was then the opening scene for RoH:C. I’m sharing it with you today because I want you to see what a difference a few years of writing makes. It took me almost three years to finish Conquest and then another year to publish it (slush piles will do that).
The 865-word hot mess below became the 2449-word second scene of Chapter Two. It went from being a thin, badly written, first draft to a well-written, fleshed-out piece with depth. Depth is really hard to explain but it comes down to how well you are able to pull the reader in and immerse him in your world. It is made up of thick, rich details that allow the reader to be more than a spectator watching a movie–it puts them solidly in the character’s head and heart. It is a hard-to-acquire skill. It is what makes a reader come back to a story again and again (so they can be the character) even after they know exactly what is going to happen next (the plot events).
If you go to the sample on Amazon, the final form of this scene begins with “The contours of empty, midnight-quiet passageways blurred past Darien. His bare feet struck the metal decking with a steady rhythm.” You can read the entire thing in the sample for comparison if you like.
Unlike the hot mess below–what I like to call a “first vomit draft”–the final product doesn’t open by dropping you cold into a dark room where you might as well be blind (because the details are absent). Unlike the hot mess below, it’s not full of fake details, devoid of characterization and opinions, and thin as the gruel in a Dickens orphanage.
It took three long years of listening to criticism that cut me to the bone, that made me lose my lunch, that made me curl up and cry, but it was all worth it. Which is why my best advice to anyone thinking about taking up the madness of writing is this:
– Norman Vincent Peale
“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”
“My lord, we have an intrusion in the Restricted Zone.” The calm, measured voice announced over the comm system, cutting through the tenuous hold of sleep.
“I’m on my way,” Darien acknowledged, masking the fatigue in his tone. He threw on a loose pair of pants and sprinted up to the Edlyn’s bridge.
His vision easily adjusted, a trait of his Donai heritage he found useful in the subdued light of the bridge. The main display was tracking a ship of alien design with unknown markings while side displays showed its relative position. He hadn’t seen this much activity since before their arrival just outside of the Restricted Zone, months ago. Every station on the bridge was buzzing with activity. Darien smiled. He’d expected the boredom of his particular duty would be the death of him.
The duty officer’s eyes never left the displays in front of her as she made her report. “An Imperial patrol craft was destroyed, my lord.”
“Destroyed? How?” Darien leaned over the smaller displays at the duty officer’s station.
“Collision. A ship materialized in the same space.”
Darien frowned. “How is that possible?”
She gestured helplessly towards a smaller display, looping through a recording of the intruder’s appearance, literally, out of nowhere. The intruder simply winked into existence, shredded the Imperial craft as if it was paper, and continued unabated on its trajectory. The low quality of the image suggested that it had been obtained from an unauthorized tap into the Imperium’s monitoring systems. Darien looked at another display to compare their position relative to the Imperial craft and the intruder.
“Has there been an Imperial response?” Darien asked.
“No, my lord. There are no Imperial ships in the vicinity.”
“Send a message to the nearest Imperial ship that we are sending rescue craft. Don’t wait for an acknowledgement, just make sure you send the message out first.”
She hesitated, as if about to point out that he was ordering one of their own craft into the Restricted Zone, then she turned to set things in motion. Someone handed Darien a shirt. He shrugged into it. His eyes never left the displays.
The intruder fascinated him. Its design and its markings were unfamiliar. He could identify no armaments, no arrays for generating manifolds to effect superluminal speed. Its control surfaces suggested a craft designed to traverse an atmosphere, not wormholes.
“Have they made any course corrections?”
“No, my lord.”
Darien brought up additional sensors and pushed the output to the main display. Activity stopped for an instant as all eyes focused on the main display. Based on the computer’s projections the intruder was on a collision course with a small planet in the Restricted Zone.
“Hail them! Warn them!” Darien ordered.
The communications officer scrambled to obey, but in spite of his repeated admonitions, the ship continued on its course.
“Can you tell if they’re receiving?” Darien asked the communications officer.
“No, my lord. They’re not responding,” he replied.
“WEPS! Low energy warning shot into their path. Let’s see if we can get their attention, get them to change course,” Darien ordered.
The weapons officer acknowledged the command and activity stalled as they all waited for a response. The warning shot exploded in the intruder’s path but the ship continued toward the planet.
“Can we get one more warning shot in?”
The weapons officer turned to his instruments, ran a calculation, and nodded.
“Do it,” Darien ordered. He heard the communications officer take the initiative by sending a message to the Imperium that they were sending warning shots into the Restricted Zone to prevent the intruder from landing, and Darien gave the communications officer a nod of gratitude.
The second warning shot was ignored.
“Not for a low-energy warning shot, my lord.”
The intruder remained on an uncontrolled descent into the atmosphere. Silence fell over the bridge as the displays counted down to the inevitable. There was no way for them to see what was happening on the planet itself as the Imperium’s quarantine prevented a tap into the satellites orbiting the innocuous little world.
Then the silence was broken by the steady rhythm of what could only be a distress beacon. The duty officer locked eyes with him. She shook her head in warning.
Darien hesitated. He looked at the main display again, then the static image of the intruder as it winked into existence. And he made his decision.
“Put a rescue ship on alert. Have Palleton’s team meet me in the launch bay. Make sure they’re prepared for where we’re going,” he ordered.
The duty officer glared at him. “My lord, a word?”
“Commander, I know what you’re going to say,” he said as he headed out. “Have them bring my uniform and gear to the launch bay.”
She acknowledged his command with another glare, but turned to the communications officer. “This is about to get ugly. Send out a priority communique to all ships in the Restricted Zone, letting them know that the Scion of House Dobromil is aboard the second rescue ship. Let me know as soon as any of them approach the planet.”