This will unavoidably have some act-three spoilers from The Witch Watch. I don’t know how much sense it will make if you haven’t read the book.
The lost portion of the book began somewhere near the end of the encounter with Brooks, as the conversation turned against Alice. It covered their escape to the basement, their discovery of what Brooks had down there, and ended just as Gilbert bashed through the secret door behind the grandfather clock. That’s not a very long section, and the original lost version was even shorter. (The most painful loss was all the random typographical edits I’d done elsewhere in the book. When I got bored or stuck, I’d go back and proof old sections to try and get myself into it.) I was in a severe creative slump at that point. I was tired of the material. I was worried it was all stupid and boring. I was sick of working on it. Losing any progress under those conditions was extremely painful.
But! The re-written version is far, far better. The basement section was expanded, and I added the bit about the coal-fired engine and the machinery. I put Leopold in the basement beside Sophie. I had Alice lead them instead of Gilbert.
Now, this was a small re-write. Not even a whole chapter. But the newer version is so much better:
- It let Alice use her powers for something besides roasting people, which was always important to me. I’m reminded of the Red Letter Media review, where he points out that despite how hard the story works to tell us how wise and powerful Yoda is, his powers seem to be limited to throwing rocks. I didn’t want Alice to come off as some kind of firebug.
- It has Leopold in the basement with Sophie. I was second guessing myself at this point. Would the bad guys be dumb enough to put all their eggs in one, basket? Wouldn’t they keep the royals at different locations? Would they keep them here, on Brooks own estate? Ultimately, this way was far more compact and comprehensible, and I don’t think it makes the antagonists look bad. There does seem to be a tradeoff between making the evil plan interesting and easy to follow vs. being sufficiently detailed and intelligent. Too much one way, and the bad guys are dumb. Too much the other way, and the story is boring. Both extremes are failure states.
- The coal dust in the basement gave me a reasonable excuse for why the house could burn so abruptly that it could go from “no smoke” to “inferno” before the royals could be rescued, even though Stanway was right in front with a bunch of soldiers. I don’t think I needed it, but it’s nice that it was there. The fire was free to burn as fast or as slow as the plot needed, and I didn’t have to research house fires and agonize over plausibility.
- The expanded basement gives a better sense that this plot is an ongoing affair and leaves us with the impression that the bad guys have a plan, and they’re working towards it, and that the plan is bigger and more complex than the bits that we see.
- The single coat in the basement established that Brooks was an active actor, busy doing bad-guy things, as opposed to sitting around his manor, waiting for the heroes to show up to thwart him.
- I showed Alice leading the group, instead of Gilbert. Looking back, the original version feels wrong to me, because I don’t see Alice just following along behind Gilbert without a good reason. The two have very different leadership styles. Gilbert has age and experience, but Alice has wisdom. They trade leadership throughout the story, with Gilbert becoming much less dominant once things are settled in America.
Having Alice lead in the basement creates a nice contrast with the next section where Gilbert runs off. We see their differing approaches to leadership in a semi-humorous way.
That’s a lot of great exposition and revelation, all done while we’re busy with a simple chase sequence. The old version was simpler, flatter, and less useful to the plot.
What’s interesting to me is that I was obliged to re-write this section because of an accident. Does that mean I could get similar improvements if I re-write other sections of the book? How much better could I have made it? While I like the re-write, how much does it really contribute to the enjoyment of the book?
It’s impossible to say, of course, but it’s the sort of thing that eats away at me as I work.
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