Maggie Stiefvater asked some of her fellow authors to give readers a glimpse of our writing processes by analyzing the evolving first chapter of one of our books. I am up for it! The first draft of SHADOW was a skeleton draft. I had the plot in my head (which I ended up changing) and had Shadow’s voice, and wanted to get it all down on “paper” before I forgot it. So I wrote a quick draft, shutting off my internal editor and just writing. I ended up with about 16000 words in two weeks, which didn’t shine with awesomeness, but at least the words were out of my forgetful brain and on the page.
This was the first stab at a manuscript I called THE QUEEN’S SHADOW, written in August 2004.
My kids (then 13 & 15yo) read the manuscript and gave me some feedback. A couple of weeks later, I started the revision. Below are two more unsuccessful attempts at the first paragraph:
August 31 2004:
I was lonely in the castle, but never alone. Seldom was I spoken to, and if I was, only sharp words flew my way. The queen, her gentle ladies, the brave knights, the cooks, the stable boys all pushed and kicked me. I was just a girl. Not even a servant, actually. The lowest of the low.
September 11 2004:
I slept on a straw pallet beside the queen’s bed, although I was all of thirteen years. Long and lanky. My big feet stuck out beneath the bottom of my scratchy wool blankets. Each morning, the queen’s gentle ladies with their dainty white feet stepped on me to get to Her Majesty slumbering away in soft linens. Accidentally, of course.
I was the queen’s shadow. Lowly born. Less than a servant.
At this point in the writing process, I set aside the manuscript and worked on other projects, particularly WINNIE’S WAR. In June 2005, I reread THE QUEEN’S SHADOW and revised, but the manuscript was still very spare, growing only from 16000 words to 21000:
I continued to revise and expand the manuscript, dropping it occasionally to work on WINNIE’S WAR. I was jumping back and forth between the two stories, which were very different – 1918 historical fiction & a medieval-type fantasy – but I enjoyed diving into the two worlds, playing in one and then the other.
Eventually, I wrote a full manuscript of TQS and signed with an agent in August 2006. She sold TQS to Scholastic in January 2007. A year later, we began the editorial process. Below is how the first paragraph looked after the first editorial revision:
I stood at the queen’s tall arched window. A blast of cold wind reddened my face, but I kept looking. I wanted to be out there, not just in the green grass of the queen’s gardens, but out farther, beyond gray and stone, out into a land I had never set foot upon. We were up so high in our untouchable castle on the hill that dark green treetops looked like branches strewn about the ground.
Behind me, the ladies-in-waiting dressed the young queen in rustling blue silk and brushed her long blond hair. I glanced back at their tight circle, wondering what it felt like to be a part of their shared secrets and whispered words. But a witch was shunned, not that I was one.
But they eyed me suspiciously even now as they giggled and gossiped.
And then very slightly changed with the second editorial revision:
Feb 25, 2009
I stood at the queen’s tall arched window. A blast of cold wind chilled my face, but I kept looking. I wanted to be out there, not just in the green grass of the queen’s gardens, but out farther, beyond gray and stone, out into a land I had never set foot upon. We were up so high in our untouchable castle on the hill that dark green treetops looked like branches strewn about the ground.
Behind me, the ladies-in-waiting dressed the young queen in rustling blue silk and brushed her long blond hair. I glanced back at their tight circle, wondering what it felt like to be a part of their shared secrets and whispered words.
But they looked at me with suspicion even now as they giggled and gossiped. Traitor, traitor, traitor, they said, eyes on me. Or perhaps, witch, witch, witch.
Below is the first chapter from the published copy. The final word count was about 70,000 words.
(1) My editor asked for a word change because "reddened" takes reader out of Shadow's POV.
(2) From the beginning, reveals what Shadow most wants
(3) Shows reader how isolated Shadow is
(4) Adds characterization of the queen
(5) Better explanation of what Shadow was to the queen, what role she played
(6) Introduces Sir Kenway (the love interest) earlier than in original draft
(7-8) Shows relationship between Sir Kenway, Shadow, and the queen, and provides more characterization of Sir Kenway: Much of this interaction added during the editorial process
(9) More characterization of Shadow, a little revealing of her feelings
(10) Heightens the attraction between Shadow and Sir Kenway
(11) This delta time increased to twenty days because my editor asked me to add more scenes, develop stronger relationships, before queen's birthday.
I wish I had time to analyze more deeply. My notes are packed away deep in storage, so this was done from memory. It was a fun exercise, though.