Countdown to The Last Beginning: 5 days to go! – A SCENE FROM START TO FINISH

Last year I posted the different versions of a scene in TNT as it went through editing from first draft to final published book. It was quite scary to put my terrible early writing out there, but a lot of writers said it was really helpful, so I’m doing it again!

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The first drafts and finished copies of both books!


I’m going to be using a scene from Chapter One, when Clove’s parents tell her some important news. Warning: it does contain a spoiler for the end of TNT, so maybe hold off on reading ahead if you still haven’t read book 1. Let’s start with the final version, for ultimate impact:

Published text:

A message from Spart, their household Artificial Intelligence system, popped up on Clove’s watch screen and interrupted her thoughts.

“Your mother is about to enter your room. Hide any and all illicit substances now.”

Clove rolled her eyes at the message. Their AI lived in all their home computers and watches and picked up vocal instructions from anyone near by. Spart organized their lives, and tended to make a general nuisance of himself as he did so. Clove thought this was because her dad had programmed him with a few extra features, including a personality, which meant Spart tended to think he was human. 

“Come in,” she called to her mum.

“Can you come and sit with us for a moment, Clove?” her mum said after opening the door. Her voice sounded oddly nervous. “Your dad and I want to talk to you about something.”

Clove followed her mum downstairs to the living room and settled on the sofa. Her curiosity increased as she watched her parents communicate with each other silently. They were so in sync that they sometimes seemed able to talk to each other without speaking at all.

A notification popped up on Clove’s watch. Meg had replied to her goodbye with a snap of herself smiling dreamily into the camera. She’d written alec ❤ across it in red. Annoyed, Clove swiped left to delete the message. 

“Clove,” her dad said, after clearing his throat, “we’ve got something to tell you.” He let out an exhale. Clove saw her mum squeeze his hand. “It’s time to tell you the truth. We think you’re old enough now to understand it.”

All Clove could hear was the blood pounding in her ears.

“Now, Clove, we love you. You are a wonderful, beautiful daughter—” He paused.

She stared at him. “What? What is it?” Her words came out croaky. For an agonizing heartbeat, nobody spoke. 

Then her dad continued. “This is hard to say…” 

“What?” she said hoarsely. “Just tell me.”

Her dad sucked in a long breath. “When you were born, something happened to my brother … who was your natural father. Something happened to him and your natural mother.” 

Clove felt her face go stiff. She couldn’t think. She couldn’t process anything he was saying. Adopted. Adopted? She didn’t feel adopted. Wouldn’t she have guessed?

“We raised you because they couldn’t,” her dad went on. “Genetically, I’m actually your uncle.” 

“Why didn’t you tell me before?” Clove asked. She felt betrayed, displaced, horrified, and a hundred other emotions she didn’t know how to put into words. 

Her parents exchanged glances. “Your birth mother made us promise to wait until you were old enough to understand,” her mum said. “She was worried you might not be able to handle it. It’s sensitive. But now you’re sixteen, we thought—”

“What?” Clove said, in a choked-off half-laugh. “That now I can handle it?”
“It’s more than just you being adopted. It’s also … because of what happened to your natural parents … because of who they were.” Her mum stared down at her hands.

Her dad shifted in his seat.

Clove was itching to move, her knee jumping with the hyperactive twitchiness that always came when she was upset. She leant forward to stop it. “Why? Who are they? What happened to them? Is it because they didn’t want me? Is that what you’re saying?” Clove was finding it hard to process her thoughts. 

“Oh, Clove,” her mum said. “No, no. It wasn’t like that at all. They loved you very much.” 

“Clove,” her dad said, trying to speak calmly. “Darlin’, it’s … it’s hard to explain. They were—” 

“They were what ?” she demanded. “Tell me.”

Clove stared at her parents – her adoptive parents, not her real parents at all – and felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise. She didn’t understand. Nothing made any sense. 

“I’m getting this all wrong. Clove, I’m sorry,” her dad – Tom – said. “Let me explain properly.” He faltered. Her mum − Jen − took his hand again. “Maybe it’s best if I just come right out with it. What do you know about Matt Galloway and Kate Finchley?”

Okay. Seems pretty solid, right? I can’t really offer any feedback on my own work here, because if I saw anything I thought could be improved, I did it. This is my best work as of a month ago.

Let’s go back to the first draft, and see what my best work was like as of 2013. This first version was written before I’d even properly finished The Next Together. It’s based on an ending for Book One that got completely changed, so fair warning, it’s a bit confusing to read now.

Some lines did actually make it into the final draft, which I’ve bolded.


Draft Zero:

Her mother and father stopped her when she was in the middle of loading the dishwasher with the remnants of their guests’ meals. The interruption of chores was such a rarity that Clove paid more attention than their sheepish expressions would usually have prompted.

“What’s going on?”

“Can you come and sit with us for a moment, Clove? We have something to talk to you about.”

Clove followed them into the living room, settling down on the sofa with a curiosity only increased as she watched their silent conversation. A notification popped up on her wrist: pictures from her party were being uploaded by her friends. She flicked it away absently, frowning at her parents. Her mother sat on the edge of her seat, eyes darting between Clove and her husband anxiously.

Clove raised her eyebrows at her Dad, who cleared his throat.

“Clove, you’re sixteen now. It’s time to tell you the truth.” He let out an exhale and said tightly, “You’re adopted .”

Clove felt her face go stiff. She was itching to move, her knee jumping with the hyperactive twitchiness that always came when she was upset. She leant forward to stop it. She couldn’t think of anything to say. She didn’t feel adopted. Surely she would have guessed?

“Mum couldn’t conceive, so we looking into adoption,” her father- adopted father, she corrected with a worrying lack of emotion- continued. “A woman called Katherine Galloway chose us to be the parents of her child. She wanted a family of scientists, like herself.”

Clove tried to picture this unknown, pregnant scientist, choosing the parents of her baby. “Why…why did she give me up?”

Her mother broke in for the first time, saying in a quiet voice, “She was British.”

Clove blinked again, and for the first time felt a sense of dread. She was British? Clove had learnt a lot about Britain at school. The island was separate from Europe, and had been a once great Empire that had ruled the world. Over time they’d lost their power, and a century ago, at the start of the Google era, in desperation to regain their lost power they’d created the Virus, releasing it across the globe as a weapon during the last world war. For several years humans had struggled to recover from the crippling Virus, which had destroyed everything it touched. By the time a cure had been found Britain had cut off all contact with the rest of humanity, isolating themselves on their island. Apart from a few refugees no one from the country had been heard from since.

Clove had written an essay comparing the actions of Britain to North Korea only last month. It wasn’t a nice country, despite the quaint accent and idyllic image that was portrayed in all the old films. Apparently Clove’s mother was born there.

“No,” Clove said in a panic. “She wasn’t. I’m not British!”

“Oh, sweetie,” her mother said comfortingly, “Of course you aren’t British. You’re Australian. You were born here , and you were raised here.”

“But- my mum was British! What happened to her? Where is she? Why did she leave?” Suddenly the questions were flooding out of her.

“I can’t…why didn’t you tell me?” Before either of them could reply, a thought struck her, and she said, aghast, “What if she came back? Would you have to give me up?”

Her mother shook her head. “No, an adoption can’t just be taken back like that; you are our daughter through and through. We did try to discuss what would happen with her though, but she was convinced she wouldn’t be returning. It seems she was right.”

“Mum, what happened to her? Do you know where she went?”

“Clove…your mother was Katherine Finchley.”

So, this is wild. A lot of the set-up of the story is completely different in this version. I’d completely forgotten that for a while it was set in Australia. What was I thinking?!

Her parents also aren’t Tom and Jen in this version, and didn’t know Kate at all, which is interesting.

The way her parents tell her that she’s adopted is also very blunt and not really accurate. It reads like what it is, a scene written by a 21 year old, rather than actually like real parents. Clove doesn’t even pause to process the information – and refers to Katherine as ‘mum’ straight away! She seems more focused on the nationality change than the genetic parent change. Bonkers.

 


Draft One:

Here’s how that scene had developed by the time I finished writing the first draft at the end of 2014, two years later:

She was in the middle of loading the dishwasher in the aftermath of the party when her parents stopped her. The interruption of chores was such a rarity that Clove paid more attention than their sheepish expressions would usually have prompted.

“What’s going on?”

“Can you come and sit with us for a moment, Clove? We have something to talk to you about.”
Clove followed them into the living room, settling down on the sofa. Her curiosity only increased as she watched them look at each other in some kind of silent conversation.

A notification popped up on her wrist: pictures from her party were being uploaded by her friends. She flicked it away absently, frowning at her parents. Her mum sat on the edge of her seat, eyes darting between Clove and her husband anxiously.

Clove raised her eyebrows at her dad, who cleared his throat.

“Clove, you’re sixteen now. It’s time to tell you the truth.” He let out an exhale. “Now, Clove, Jen and I love you. You are a wonderful, beautiful daughter, and we couldn’t have chosen anyone better. But-” He paused.

Clove stared at him. “What? What is it?”

For an agonising moment nobody spoke, and all Clove could hear was the blood pounding in her ears. No. No. They couldn’t be about to say what she thought they were. They couldn’t.

The words came, just like she knew they would, but Clove couldn’t take them in.

“Clove, you’re adopted.”

“What?” she said hoarsely.

“You aren’t our genetic child . . . I’m actually your uncle.”

Clove felt her face go stiff. She was itching to move, her knee jumping with the hyperactive twitchiness that always came when she was upset. She leant forward to stop it. She couldn’t think of anything to say. She didn’t feel adopted. Wouldn’t she have guessed?

And – uncle? She’d never heard anyone mention a brother or sister. Why were there no pictures of them? Who were they?

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” she asked. She felt betrayed. Why had they pushed this on her, on her birthday? Why were they doing this?

Her parents exchanged a glance. “We didn’t think you’d be able to handle it sooner,” her mum said. “It’s sensitive.”

“What?” she said, in a choked off half-laugh. “Why wouldn’t I have been able to handle it? Who are they?”

They stared at her.

“Who are they?” she asked, urgent and terrified. Terrible thoughts were running through her mind. Were they- murderers? Something worse? “Who are they?”

“Clove,” her dad said, trying to speak calmly. “It’s- it’s hard. They were-”

“Who?” she demanded. Why weren’t they telling her? Why were they making this so difficult? “Tell me.”

“They were terrorists,” her mum burst out, and then raised a hand to her mouth in horror, darting a look at her father.

Clove let out a noise, a kind of brittle bark.

“Not like that, Clove,” her dad said, speaking quickly. “Just listen. It’s not like that at all.”

“How can it be not like that?” She stared at her parents – her adopted parents, not her real parents at all – and felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise. She didn’t understand. Nothing they were saying made any sense. 

“Listen. Your dad was my brother, Matthew. When we were at university in England, he, your mother and I were involved in a kind of- well, an international incident. We revealed a conspiracy in the government.” Her father – her uncle – explained, looking pained.

Clove stared at the floor. She couldn’t bear to look at him, to see how embarrassing this was for him, how much he wished he didn’t have to be here to tell her this.

“Matthew,” Clove repeated, feeling the name out. “Matthew Galloway?” The name was familiar, and suddenly it clicked. “-and, Katherine Finchley?”

Tom nodded, but she didn’t need his confirmation. Her parents were Matthew Galloway and Katherine Finchley. The terrorists. Those terrorists. There was a film about them. About her parents, and their attempt to take down the English government. She’d watched it in a history class once. She’d had to write a paper about them. They were her parents. And they hadn’t been terrorists at all. They had saved the world.

Okay, this is a lot closer to the real thing, now. But the time I’d finished the first draft, I’d clearly eased out some of the kinks. There’s no Australia (!), Tom is Clove’s dad, and the backstory actually matches up to the ending of TNT.

In terms of how they break the news, Tom actually tries to ease Clove into the topic, and his nerves are clearly visible. Jen referring to them as ‘terrorists’ was a misstep, I can see now. I was trying to go for a shock factor, as for part of TNT they were considered terrorists – but that’s all cleared up by the end of the book, so it’s irrelevant. And what mother would say that to their child?! It would never happen.

I’d also already got some solid details about Clove’s character and hyperactivity in there too, as well as the basic technology of the computer-watch. There’s no Meg or Spart, which are in this draft, but not for a while. One of the big things you learn to do in editing is really distill the key points to make scenes do two or three things at once. This is extra important in the first scene in a book, when it’s easy to lose a reader’s attention.

This is a ‘telling her she’s adopted’ scene, plain and simple. The final version has that, but it also sets up Meg and Clove’s friendship and the ominous threat of ‘Alec <3’, Spart and Clove’s teasing dynamics, Tom’s feelings about what happened to Matt and Kate, and Jen’s support for Tom. It makes the situation feel more real, and even if a casual reader doesn’t notice it, it foreshadows what’s to come. Fast, multi-faceted scenes are much better than lots of separate scenes all focusing on different plotlines one after the other. That can just create a disjointed reading experience.


Draft Two:

Okay. Let’s see how a scene like that ends up looking like the one in the final book. The answer to this? Editors. Excellent, excellent editors. From this point on it really is a joint effort. A new set of eyes (especially a very well trained one!) can really make a difference to a scene.

1

23456

This looks like an intimidating amount of changes, but it’s important to note that a lot of this is just moving sentences around so that it flows more smoothly. This is also a big moment for Clove, right at the start of the book, so there was a lot more focus on getting it exactly right, and therefore more changes, than there might be anywhere else in the book.

I didn’t necessary accept all these changes – this is just the suggestions my editor made to prompt me with. It’s always up to me as the author to decide whether I like the changes, prefer the old version, or have thought of something even better altogether.

Draft Three:

Here’s what I did with my editor’s suggestions. As you’ll see, even with all the changes she made, there was a lot more still to come. This is the version she suggested in the line edits above, with my new additions in bold and removals struck out. Some of the removals are of things she suggested, others are things I didn’t like from the last draft myself. This is now the final version of this scene, as published.

A message from Spart, their household Artificial Intelligence system, popped up on Clove’s watch screen and interrupted her thoughts.

“Your mother is about to enter your room. Hide any and all illicit substances now.”

Clove rolled her eyes at the message. Their AI lived in all their home computers and watches and picked up vocal instructions from anyone near by. Spart organized their lives, and tended to make a general nuisance of himself as he did so. Clove thought this was because her dad had programmed him with a few extra features, including a personality, which meant Spart tended to think he was human. 

“Come in,” she called to her mum.

Hi, darling, are you busy? Can you come and sit with us for a moment, Clove?” Her mum said after opening the door. Her voice sounded oddly nervous. “We have something to talk to you about.”

Clove followed her mum downstairs into the living room, settling down on the sofa. Her curiosity only increased as she watched them her parents communicate with each other silently. They were so in sync that they sometimes seemed able to talk to each other without speaking at all.

A notification popped up on Clove’s watch. Meg had replied to her goodbye with a snap of herself smiling dreamily into the camera. She’d written alec ❤ across it in red. Annoyed, Clove swiped left to delete the message. 

Her mum sat on the edge of her seat, eyes darting between Clove and her husband anxiously.

She raised her eyebrows at her dad, who cleared his throat.

“Clove…” Her dad paused said, after clearing his throat, “we’ve got something to tell you.” He let out an exhale. Clove saw her mum squeeze his hand. “It’s time to tell you the truth. We think you’re old enough now to understand it.”

“You’re sixteen now.  All Clove could hear was the blood pounding in her ears. There was something going on.

Her dad cleared his throat. “There’s something we need to tell you. First I want you to know how much your mum and I We love you. You are a wonderful, beautiful daughter. But-” He paused.

Clove She stared at him. “What? What is it?” Her words came out croaky. For an agonizing heartbeat, nobody spoke. 

Then her dad continued. “This is hard to say…” 

“What?” she said hoarsely. “Just tell me.”

“You’re not ours,” he said, “at least not … not genetically. I’m actually your uncle. I … I adopted you when you were just a baby.”

Her dad sucked in a long breath. “When you were born, something happened to my brother … who was your natural father. Something happened to him and your natural mother.” 

Clove felt her face go stiff. She couldn’t think. She couldn’t process anything he was saying.

Clove opened her mouth and then closed it again. Her knee jumped with the hyperactive twitchiness that always came when she was upset. She slapped her hand down to stop it. She couldn’t think of anything to say. Adopted. Adopted? How was this possible? She didn’t feel adopted. Wouldn’t she have guessed?

“We raised you because they couldn’t,” her dad went on. “Genetically, I’m actually your uncle.” 

 “Why didn’t you tell me before?” she asked. She felt betrayed, displaced, horrified, and a hundred other emotions she didn’t know how to put into words. 

Her parents exchanged glances. “We didn’t think you’d be able to handle it sooner,” her mum said. “It’s sensitive.”

Your birth mother made us promise to wait until you were old enough to understand,” her mum said. “She was worried you might not be able to handle it. It’s sensitive. But now you’re sixteen, we thought—”

“What?” “But it’s OK for you to just drop it into conversation now?”

“Why did they leave me? Didn’t they want me?” Clove let out a noise, a kind of brittle bark.

Clove was itching to move, her knee jumping with the hyperactive twitchiness that always came when she was upset. She leant forward to stop it. “Why? Who are they? What happened to them? Is it because they didn’t want me? Is that what you’re saying?” Clove was finding it hard to process her thoughts. 

 “Oh, Clove,” Jen said, “darling, no, no, it wasn’t like that at all. They loved you very much.”

 “Clove,” her dad said, trying to speak calmly. “It’s- it’s hard to explain. They were-”

“They were what? ” she demanded. “Tell me.”

Clove stared angrily at her parents – her adopted parents, not her real parents at all – and felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise. She didn’t understand. Nothing they were saying made any sense.

“I’m getting this all wrong. Clove, I’m sorry,” her dad – Tom – said. “Listen to me and I’ll try to Let me explain properly.” He faltered. Her mum – Jen – patted his hand again. “Maybe it’s best if I just come right out with it. What do you know about Matthew Galloway and Katherine Finchley?

As you can see, it gets very arbitrary at this point. Both versions work well – the changes are just down to personal preference and flow. No big changes occur, and are unlikely to occur from this point onwards unless there’s something majorly wrong with the tone of a scene.

You really could keep making these minor changes forever – there are still things which could be done better now, of course. But eventually you get to a point where the impact on the scene is so negligible that it’s not worth the effort – especially when I’d much rather be writing new books! So this version gets published.

And so we got there in the end. Three years later. Phew.


The Last Beginning will be published by Walker Books in the UK and Australia on 6th October 2016. It will be released in the US in Fall 2017 by Sky Pony Press.

Amazon UK | Book Depository | Waterstones | Foyles  | Hive 

You can add the book on Goodreads or subscribe to my mailing list for updates, or read the prologue on Wattpad.

More extras:

A rebloggable version of this post can be found here.

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6 thoughts on “Countdown to The Last Beginning: 5 days to go! – A SCENE FROM START TO FINISH

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