10 day countdown to The Next Together: A scene from start to finish

To celebrate the release of my first book, I’m posting a new “Behind the Scenes” exclusive about The Next Together daily until September 3rd. You can find them all here, including Chapter One from Matt’s Point of View, a Harry Potter crossover, and Advice I’d give my characters

Today I’m going to be sharing my writing process with you. I’m going to post different drafts of the same scene, from first draft to final book, to show how much can change – and what can stay the same.

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The very first draft, finished in 2012 when I was 19, and the final book!

This is quite a long post, because of the multiple extracts – and please forgive the terrible quality of the early drafts, which I’ve left completely unedited for authenticity.


Draft Zero: This is the very first scene, written when I was 18 in 2010. In the first draft Matt was 27 and Kate was 22, which was quickly changed as soon as I got an agent, when she suggested I rewrite a lot of Chapter One to make Matt a fellow student with Kate. Making them both younger made the book more appropriate for a Young Adult audience. I’m a little surprised in retrospect that this didn’t occur to me when I was writing this draft – I somehow thought this was fine for YA!?!

Today there was a new researcher in her lab, and she was watching him curiously. He was sitting on the lab bench (against the rules) attention focussed on an ancient paperback, curling and brown, cover bent backwards. Kate pulled out her incubated petri dishes, flipping down her lab glasses from where they were tangled in her red curls. She quickly counted out the spots on the agar, made a note in her electronic lab book and tried not to smirk when the new guy jumped at the sound of the morning fire alarm test. He turned the movement into a stretch to cover up his fright; swinging his legs, and hitting the cupboard doors below the bench with a thud.

Kate eyed his Doc Martens with longing, pen dangling forgotten in her hand, and bacteria untouched on her bench top. Her gran was still holding out on parting with her old ones and Kate wanted to know where he’d got his. The researcher abruptly flicked closed his book, eyes scanning the room. She realised she was openly staring, and too late he looked her way.
To cover up being caught, she flicked her eyes to the book and back, raising an eyebrow. To her surprise, a slight blush rose to his cheekbones, and he shrugged his shoulders self consciously, clearing his throat and looking away. She turned back to her work, absentmindedly setting up a pipette on autopilot, thinking.

Behind her, she heard him calling everyone’s attention to him, and she turned on her heels, leaning back against the bench and shoving her hands in her lab coat pockets. Everyone else took a few moments to finish their work, and she eyed the way his hair curled over the back of his collar, fingering a locket she’d stuffed in her pocket a few weeks ago, when she was working in a fume cupboard and it had been annoying her, and then later forgotten about. The lecturer raised his voice so he could be heard along the length of the lab.

“Alright guys! I’m Dr Galloway, and I’ve just transferred from the Section 4 labs to help with a research project Professor Michaels is working on.” He said, mentioning Kate’s tutor. He had a Scottish accent, Kate noticed without surprise, and then wondered why she had expected that. Section 4 was in the south of the country. He must have transferred from Section 6, in what used to be Scotland, before starting at Section 4, but Kate had no way of knowing that before he spoke.

“I’ll be teaching a few lectures and I’ve been assigned to supervise the labs a several times a week too, so I’ll probably see most of you around, especially if you help with the undergraduates. I’ll be coming round to see what you are all working on today. I’m guessing you know more than me about how the lab here operates, but if I can be of any help at all, let me know. I’m researching improvements in insect-plant fertilisation, so I might even be able to give a few of you some tips.”

He finished speaking with a smile, making a ‘carry on’ motion with his hands.
Most people turned back to their work, talking across the benches, to each other. Kate stayed where she was, watching Dr Galloway.

He had light brown hair, which hung over his eyes in a retro fringe that seemed to be based from something from the late noughties. He had cheekbones that Kate would kill for, and he wore uncommon square black glasses, which made him look like a character in one of those teen movies they used to make before the war.

He hadn’t put his labcoat on yet, instead he was using it as a kind of satchel, holding an assortment of stationary, notebooks and what looked like his lunch, or the beginnings of a very interesting experiment. He was wearing a tweed waistcoat, of all things, made even more bizarre by the fact it was mixed with ripped jeans (it was hard to tell if they had been ripped when he bought them, or not); and a ratty t-shirt for some kind of band, from what she could make out. For a lecturer, he seemed oddly against following rules, and actually kind of cool.

As he finally wrestled his way into the sparkling new lab coat, dumping its contents on a desk and rescuing an apple from where it bounced across the floor, she fished the locket out of her pocket and fixed it round her neck, so she didn’t forget it again. He turned around, and blushed again when he noticed her watching. He looked away, pretending to glance around the lab, but Kate carried on watching. There was something….familiar about him.

Finally, he gave in and walked over to her, clearing his throat. Kate didn’t let him speak, instead, saying, “You know, I knew exactly what your voice would sound like before you spoke. Why would that be, do you think?”

He looked even more confused at this than he had at her socially inacceptable staring, and gaped at her momentarily. She stared at him with an amused expression until he recovered.

“Sorry, what was your name?” he asked, looking her up and down. His eyes lingered on her labcoat collar, which was decorated with badges and beads, but he didn’t mention it.

“Kate. Hi, nice to meet you, welcome to Section 3, etc, etc. I know you from somewhere. Have we met before?”

“We haven’t met before. I would have remembered.” He blushed bright red, and then stammered, “I mean, I haven’t been here before.”

“Hmmm.” She eyed him speculatively. He made no attempt to continue conversation, instead staring at her with a slightly nonplussed expression, so eventually she said, “So, you’re working with my tutor, then. You’ve probably heard about me.”

A look of understanding dawned on his face. “Oh, you’re Kate. James warned me to keep away from you.”

Kate grinned, immeasurably pleased at this. “Did he really? Glad to hear I’m not letting the old lad down.”

“What did you do exactly? He said if I valued my sanity, and more importantly my thesis, I should stay away from you.”

“I think in order to maintain my air of mystery we shall leave it at that for now,” Kate winked at him, turning around and grabbing rubber gloves from a box on her bench. “I’m sure you have some important supervising to do.”

The doctor stood behind her, and she could feel the skin on the back of her neck prickling as he watched her press test tubes into a centrifuge. As he was turning to leave, she turned her head and called out, “Oh, and Matt? You have your lab coat on inside out.”

He looked startled and looked down, blushing a familiar red. He walked off quickly, ignoring her, and stripped off the offending article to turn it the right way around as he left her side. Kate carried on with her work and tried not to laugh too loudly when he nearly spilt over the liquid nitrogen canister. She hadn’t succeeded judging by the glare he shot across the lab at her, the effect of which was slightly spoilt by the huge goggles covering most of his face.


Draft One: This is the draft that got me an agent! Not much has changed – I’ve given it a tidy up, and made Kate a bit more sassy. As this is the chapter I submitted to agents, I wanted to make sure it captured as much of her personality as possible. 

When Kate noticed the new face in the lab she naturally found herself watching him curiously. It was the boredom, perhaps, or maybe just the fact that he was sitting on the lab bench (against the rules) attention focussed on an ancient paperback, curling and brown, the cover bent backwards.

Kate eyed it, trying to read the name on the spine, and absently made a note in her lab book. The man was whistling softly and there was no one around him despite the fact that he was perched right next to the ice machine, a common gathering ground for gossiping. Kate couldn’t blame her colleagues for avoiding the cheerful stranger. It was often a sign of impending doom-or possibly explosions- to be that excited in a lab on a Monday morning.

Kate tried not to smirk as the morning fire alarm test rang out and the man jumped. He turned the movement into a stretch to cover up his fright; swinging his legs and hitting the cupboard doors below the bench with a thud. He looked up, eyes scanning the room to see if anyone had noticed. Kate was caught staring and to cover up her embarrassment she winked at him. To her surprise a slight blush rose to his cheekbones and he looked down, closing his book.

She gaped at him for a moment before remembering her manners and turned back to her bench. She absentmindedly set up a pipette on autopilot, mind still caught on the new researcher.

He had blushed! She wasn’t sure what to do with that, actually. Was it a good thing, a guy blushing when you looked at him? He might as well have a nametag saying ‘Hi, I’m a shy, socially awkward scientist, please don’t look me directly in the eye or I might faint’.

Kate was just imagining him introducing himself as ‘A socially awkward scientist’, his Scottish lilt skipping quickly over the words, when he cleared his throat behind her and called everyone’s attention to him. She turned quickly, astonished. That was a bit odd. He sounded exactly as she had imagined him: the exact same soft Scottish accent. She frowned, leant back against the bench, stared at him. Why had she assumed he was Scottish in the first place?

The man looked confidently around the lab as he waited for everyone to finish working. She eyed the ease with which he stood facing a room full of people, her gaze lingering on the way his hair curled over the back of his collar. She stuck her hand in her pocket, fingers catching on a locket she’d stuffed in there a few weeks ago when it had annoyed her while working in a fume cupboard.

“Hello everyone! I’m Dr Galloway, and I’ve just transferred from the Section Four labs to help with a research project Professor Michaels is working on,” he said, mentioning Kate’s tutor. Section Four was in the south of the country. He must have transferred from a Scottish bunker- probably Section Six, if they could afford to send him so far south. She returned her attention to his speech, trying not to feel like too much of a stalker.

“I’ll be teaching a few lectures and I’ve been assigned to supervise the labs several times a week too, so I’ll probably see most of you around, especially if you help with the undergraduates. I’ll be coming round to see what you are all working on today. I’m guessing you know more than me about how the lab here operates, but if I can be of any help at all, let me know. I’m researching improvements in insect-plant fertilisation, so I might even be able to give a few of you some tips.”

A few of the other researchers welcomed him, but it was too early in the morning for much of a response. After an awkward pause he made a little ‘carry on’ motion with his hands, and most people turned back to their work. Kate stayed where she was, watching Dr Galloway carefully.

He had made some interesting fashion choices, and it was slightly impressive how mismatched his outfit was. It was like an alien had watched a few teen films from the sixties, eighties and noughties and cobbled together a disguise from a mix of them all. He was wearing a tweed waistcoat, of all things- she wondered vaguely why anyone would save that as one of their most valued possessions in a mass evacuation- made even more bizarre by the fact it was paired with ripped jeans (it was hard to tell if they had been ripped originally, or not); and a ratty t-shirt for some kind of band. His light brown hair hung over his eyes in a retro fringe that seemed to be based from something from the late noughties and he had cheekbones that Kate would kill for.

He was in the process of trying to wrestle his way into his labcoat. He had apparently been using it as a kind of satchel, and he dumped onto a desk an assortment of stationary, notebooks and what looked like his lunch- in a biology lab, did he have no sense of survival instinct at all?- from its layers.

As he finally wrestled his way into the sparkling new coat and rescued an apple from where it bounced across the floor, she fished the locket out of her pocket and fixed it round her neck so she didn’t forget it again. He turned around, and once again blushed a vivid pink when he noticed her watching. Kate pulled off her goggles, fighting them for a moment from their determined grip in her red tangles of hair.

She knew she should get back to her work and probably give him a week or so to settle in before she began to torment him further by actually talking to him, or doing something equally terrifying like nodding to him in the corridor. It was obvious he was completely overwhelmed by her raw sexuality- or that was what she was telling herself, anyway, and no one could prove otherwise. But she couldn’t look away. There was something….familiar about him.

Finally, after a few painful minutes where Kate stared unwaveringly at him and he quite obviously tried to decide whether he was going to run away or go and talk to a girl, he gave in and walked over to her. He met her gaze, clearing his throat, obviously unsure how to confront her about staring.

She took pity on him and said, “You know, I knew exactly what your voice would sound like before you spoke. Weird, don’t you think?”

Kate winced internally. Good opener. Or, you know, the opposite of that. What was she trying to do, let him know just how crazy she was while there was still enough distance between them for him to get a good head start in a chase? Why had she even said that?

He gaped at her momentarily, naturally at a loss of what to say to that slightly terrifying conversation starter. Kate bit her lip, tried not to panic, and forced her face into an amused expression. It was too late to take it back now. She’d just have to pretend that what she’d said was completely normal.

“Sorry, what was your name?” he asked, looking her up and down. His eyes lingered on her labcoat collar, which was decorated with badges and beads, but he didn’t mention it. She felt that he was hardly justified to talk; there was still half a ham sandwich in his pocket.

“Kate,” she said brightly, trying to convey a more normal aura. She had to keep it simple; keep him in her general vicinity. There would be plenty of time to question him later. “Hi, nice to meet you, welcome to Section Three, etc, etc. I know you from somewhere. Have we met before?”

Or she could just act like his own personal stalker. That worked too.

“We haven’t met before. I would have remembered.” He blushed bright red, and then stammered, “I mean, I haven’t been here before.”

“Hmmm.” She eyed him speculatively. He didn’t seem like he was lying. Where did she know him from?

He made no attempt to continue talking, just fixed her with a slightly nonplussed expression. Kate was afraid to continue that line of conversation in case he actually died from the blood rushing to his face, so she eventually said, “You’re working with my tutor, then. You’ve probably heard about me.”

A look of understanding dawned on his face. “Oh, you’re Kate. James warned me to keep away from you.”

Kate grinned gleefully, immeasurably pleased at this. It always delighted her to hear she was mentioned among the university professors. “Did he really? Glad to hear I’m not letting the old lad down.”

“What did you do exactly? He said if I valued my sanity, and more importantly my thesis, I should stay away from you.”

“I think in order to maintain my air of mystery we shall leave it at that for now,” Kate winked at him, turning around and grabbing rubber gloves from a box on her bench. That was enough for today. She needed to think a little about what he was apparently doing to her mental processes before she embarrassed herself even more. “I’m sure you have some important supervising to do.”

He shuffled a little, cleared his throat. She could feel the skin on the back of her neck prickling as he watched her press test tubes into a centrifuge.

“I suppose I do. It was….interesting meeting you, Kate.”

“You too, Dr Galloway. Please don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions about Section Three. I’d be happy to help.” He nodded, turning to leave. “Oh, and Matt? You have your lab coat on inside out.”

He looked startled, frowned down at the coat like it had personally betrayed him, and quickly walked off. She watched him strip off the offending article, smirking to herself. He was interesting, to say the least, and not only because she knew she had met him before.


Draft two: As well as changing the ages of Kate and Matt, I also changed the setting for this draft. The original storyline also included a Dystopian setting, which my agent advised me to remove. She thought that publishers wouldn’t be buying any more Dystopian novels by the time we submitted it in 2013, because the trend would be ending. I changed the setting to a normal university instead of an underground bunker (although I do miss that world! In the first draft there were lots of explorations into abandoned city ruins which were very fun.)

This is the draft my agent submitted to publishers, that two editors made an offer on! This scene actually didn’t change much in the final book, so I’m just going to put anything which was deleted in Line Edits in italics. 

Kate poured ethanol into her test tube, absently measuring out what she would need for her afternoon’s experiment. She wasn’t really in the mood for labs today, but it was only the second experiment of the year and she couldn’t miss it. It didn’t help that she was the only person without a lab partner, so she had to do double the work of the other students. Despite there being over two hundred biology first year undergraduates there was an odd number of students, and she’d been the one to draw the short straw.

Not that she minded the extra work particularly. She’d just enjoy having someone to gossip with whilst waiting for reactions to finish, which judging by the crowd gathered by the ice machine was all the other students did.

She was trying to remember the date to write in her labbook, when a voice from behind her said her name.

“Kate Finchley?” a harried looking supervisor asked.

“Yep,” she said, dropping her pen and turning to face her. She stuck her hand in her pocket, fingers catching on a locket she’d stuffed in there last week when it had annoyed her whilst working in a fume cupboard. The postgrad gestured to a boy standing behind her, looking nervous.

“Here’s your new lab partner; just transferred from Chemistry. You can get him settled, can’t you?”

The supervisor disappeared in a cloud of stress and steamed up goggles to deal with a fresher who had just managed to drop a beaker of something foul on the floor and then stand in it.
Kate stared at the boy.

“Hi,” she said dubiously.

She fished out the locket, putting it back on. The boy stared back at her. He was wearing a tweed waistcoat, of all things, made even more bizarre by the fact it was paired with ripped jeans (it was hard to tell if they had been ripped originally, or not); and a ratty t-shirt for some kind of band. His light brown hair hung over his eyes in a retro fringe that seemed to be based from something from the late noughties. She was delighted to note that despite his doubtful fashion choices he was exactly her type.

She gestured to the lab. “Welcome to my lair. Make yourself at home.”

He nodded hello and dropped his labcoat onto the bench like he’d just been waiting for her permission. He’d apparently been using it as a kind of satchel, and he dumped out an assortment of stationary, notebooks and what looked like his lunch (in a biology lab, did he have no sense of survival instinct at all?) from its layers. As he finally wrestled his way into the sparkling new coat and rescued an apple from where it had bounced across the floor, she found her gaze lingering on the way his hair curled over the back of his collar.

He turned around, and actually blushed when he noticed her watching, a vivid pink staining cheekbones that she was frankly jealous of. Bone structure like that was wasted on a chemist.

Kate pulled off her goggles to distract from the fact that she’d been caught watching him, fighting for a moment to pull them from their determined grip in her tangled red hair.

He had blushed? She wasn’t sure what to do with that, actually. Was it a good thing, a guy blushing when you looked at him? He might as well have a nametag saying ‘Hi, I’m a shy, socially awkward scientist, please don’t look me directly in the eye or I might faint’.

Kate was just imagining him introducing himself as ‘A socially awkward scientist’, his Scottish lilt skipping quickly over the words, when he cleared his throat and spoke.

“So, I didn’t actually get a copy of the labbook. What experiment are we doing today?”

That was a bit odd. He sounded exactly as she had imagined him: the same soft Scottish accent. She frowned, leant back against the bench, stared at him. Why had she assumed he was Scottish in the first place?

He was watching her expectantly, and she caught herself. Instead of answering his perfectly sensible question, she found herself saying, “You know, I knew exactly what your voice would sound like before you spoke. Weird, don’t you think?”

Kate winced internally. Good opener. Or, you know, the opposite of that. What was she trying to do, let him know just how crazy she was while there was still enough distance between them for him to get a good head start in a chase? Why had she even said that? Why had she even thought that?

He gaped at her momentarily, naturally at a loss for what to say to that slightly terrifying conversation starter. Kate bit her lip, tried not to panic, and forced her face into an amused expression. It was too late to take it back now. She’d just have to pretend that what she’d said was completely normal.

“Sorry, what was your name?” he asked, looking her up and down. His eyes lingered on her labcoat collar, which was decorated with badges and beads, but he didn’t mention it. She felt that he was hardly justified to talk; there was still half a ham sandwich in his pocket.

“Kate,” she said brightly, trying to convey a more normal aura. She had to keep it simple; keep him in her general vicinity. There would be plenty of time to question him later. “Hi, nice to meet you, welcome to Biology, etc, etc. I know you from somewhere. Have we met before?”
Or she could just act like his own personal stalker. That worked too.

“We haven’t met before. I would have remembered.” He blushed and then stammered, “I mean, I haven’t even been to this country before. I moved here for university.” Scotland had been independent from England since WWIII, almost twenty years ago. Since then most Scottish students studied there, to save on the hefty international tuition fees they’d have to pay to study in England. It had been one of the largest disadvantages in what was mainly considered a positive change, both for the economy and the culture.

“Hmmm.” She eyed him speculatively. He didn’t seem like he was lying. Where did she know him from?

She knew she should get back to work and probably give him a week or so to settle in before she began to torment him further by actually chatting to him, or doing something equally terrifying like nodding to him in the corridor. It was obvious he was completely overwhelmed by her raw sexuality- or that was what she was telling herself, anyway, and no one could prove otherwise. But she couldn’t look away. There was something….familiar about him.

He made no attempt to continue talking, just looked, slightly nonplussed. Kate was afraid to continue that line of conversation in case he actually died from the blood rushing to his face, so she eventually said, “Why are you transferring over to Biology, anyway?”

He shrugged, aiming for nonchalant but ending up closer to uncertain. “There weren’t as many explosions as I was hoping for in Chemistry.” It sounded like a prepared response; he’d probably been asked that question a lot recently.

“Well there aren’t nearly half as many giant octopuses as you’d want in Biology either, sorry.”
He grinned. “Shame. How’s the Physics department here?”

“Six out of ten. There aren’t enough brunettes,” she replied vaguely. There’d been a disappointing mixers event in fresher’s week.

“What?” He said, startled.

“Oh. I mean, I hear their NMR research rivals Cambridge’s.”

“I’ll look into that, then. If the octopi don’t work out.”

“I’m sure they will. No sea monsters today, though. We’re testing fertiliser effects on the development rates of bacteria cultures.”

He sighed a little in relief. “Sounds a lot easier than Chemistry labs. I had to bring an acid to boil. On my first day.” He winced, looking slightly haunted.

“Ouch. Well, I’ll look after you today.” She grinned at him, handing him a pair of latex gloves.


As you can see, the story changed a lot – as did the quality of my writing! It’s interesting that once I’d found the right set-up, by changing the setting and character’s positions, the dialogue and scene hardly changed at all from submission to the final book. I’d obviously hit upon the right version!

If you want to know more about Kate and Matt, you can read the first chapter of The Next Together here, and buy the book in the following places:

Amazon UK | Waterstones | Amazon US | The Book Depository (free international shipping)| Wordery | Foyles | Kobo | iBooks |  Goodreads

A rebloggable version of this post can be found here. 

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15 thoughts on “10 day countdown to The Next Together: A scene from start to finish

  1. Beatrice 24/08/2015 / 1:26 pm

    OMG!!! I can’t get enough of Matt and Kate!!!
    I also find it amazing to read draft revisions and all. This is very interesting, I would love to read the whole thing!!!

    Like

    • Lauren James 24/08/2015 / 4:05 pm

      Thank you Beatrice, I’m so glad you like them as much as I do! And it was very interesting and strange going back and rereading all of the different versions – it felt like I was entering an alternate universe!

      Like

  2. Jeff 24/08/2015 / 9:42 pm

    Awesome!!!! Rare to see process out in open like this. Curious about your finding an agent: was book ‘complete’ when you submitted 1st chptr?
    Thanks

    Like

    • Lauren James 25/08/2015 / 5:58 pm

      Thanks Jeff! And yes, the book was complete when I started submitting, at 120,000 words.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Christa 16/10/2015 / 10:51 pm

    Great to see the process! And well done on only having four drafts! 🙂

    Like

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