I found an old flash drive in our safe. On it was an old draft of The Journey Missions: Crystal and Flint. I don’t think it’s the first draft, but it’s dated 2013 so it’s certainly one of the earliest. I skimmed through the document and it’s amazing how the story has transformed. It’s still recognizable as the same story even though so much has changed from this early draft. This early draft is only 52,000 words compared to the 79,300 words of the final draft.
I thought it would be fun to take a look at how different the two drafts are. This is from early on in the story when Crystal is reunited with her best friend, Grady, after not seeing him for over a year.
From within the troops she heard someone trying unsuccessfully to cover up their laughter. She stood where she was until she spotted the solider in the second row who had been laughing. She went over to him and stood inches away from his face. He was older then she was, with thick blonde hair that fell over his green eyes. He stared over the top of her head, biting the inside of his cheeks in a desperate attempt to regain his composure.
“Something funny Lieutenant?” she asked. Her voice was cold and her face expressionless.
Without stepping away from the soldier’s face Crystal spoke to the rest of the team, “We are going to start our training with a little run. The path in front of you is approximately five miles. I need to have a word with the Lieutenant Grady.” Crystal and Grady remained still until the rest of the team had left. As soon as Grady felt the rest of the team was far enough away he wrapped his arms around Crystal and lifted her off the ground in an overenthusiastic hug. Justin looked back over his shoulder just before he entered the woods. The exchange he witnessed between Crystal and Grady broke his heart.
“Why didn’t you tell me you had a position on Journey?” Crystal said once Grady had released her.
“I’ve been doing some undercover work, didn’t find out they offered me the post until yesterday.” Crystal and Grady had known each other a long time. They had both served under Reed the year Crystal left the academy. Even after leaving that ship they had occasionally worked together on special combat missions for the General. Over the years the two had established an extremely close relationship, Grady often playing the older brother role when it came to Crystal.
“Reed never mentioned that he was even considering you for a position,” Crystal said.
“Well he knew how heartbroken you’d be if I said no. You’d have probably quit the service and locked yourself up in a room somewhere.”
“You sure do think highly of yourself.”
“And you don’t? I’m Crystal Wolf, I built Journey, and I’m important and intimidating,” Grady said mockingly.
“I have to have some semblance of authority don’t I? Besides it was working until you started laughing,” Crystal responded defensively.
“No it wasn’t. I was saving you from embarrassing yourself on the first day.”
“Careful Jim, I outrank you now.”
“Only because you built the higher ups a big fancy new boat to play with,” Grady said.
“And did you do anything to warrant a promotion in the past four years. . . I didn’t think so.” Crystal took off running toward the woods, leaving Grady slightly stunned and forced to catch up.
That’s kind of painful to read, and if you made it through I’m sorry. There is a lot of telling happening in this passage and very little chemistry between Crystal and Grady. The little head jump to Justin in the middle there makes me cringe.
Here’s that same passage after countless edits and rewrites.
She walked over and stood in front of the solider that had interrupted her. He was biting the inside of his cheek in a desperate attempt to regain his composure. The wind had blown his sandy blonde hair into his bright green eyes, but he made no attempt to brush it away. “Is there something wrong Lieutenant?”
“No Ma’am,” he said. His voice sounded force and halting. Crystal knew he was still trying to suppress a laugh. Despite this he never broke his stance. He stared over her shoulder, his eyes locked on the horizon.
“We are going to start today with a run.” Crystal was addressing the whole team, even though she hadn’t moved. “The path in front of you is approximately three miles. You have 22 minutes to complete it and return here. I need to have a word with Lieutenant Grady.” Neither Grady nor Crystal moved as the rest of the team took off. After thirty long seconds Grady’s face broke out into a huge grin. The laughter he had been suppressing bubbled to the surface as he scooped Crystal up in huge hug and spun her around.
“Jim, put me down,” Crystal said with a laugh. Grady was her closest friend and she was thrilled to see him. After graduation Crystal, was stationed on the Expedition under Captain Reed. She had volunteered for the combat team, and Grady had taken her under his wing. They became friends that year on the carrier. However, that friendship was nothing compared to the unbreakable bond they formed during the years they worked counter terrorism together. “What are you doing here? I thought you were working a special ops mission.” Aside from a few coded messages to let her know that he was still alive, Crystal hadn’t seen Grady in over a year.
“Yeah I was. I actually just got back yesterday. That’s when I found out Reed had offered me a position on your boat. How could I pass it up?”
“Funny, Reed never mentioned he was considering you. I thought he was only considering the best officers in LAWON for a position on Journey.”
“I’m sure he knew how heartbroken you’d be if I turned it down. You probably would have quit the service, locked yourself in a room somewhere, and just cried and cried and cried.”
“You sure do think highly of yourself,” Crystal said.
“And you don’t. I’m Crystal Wolf. I’m so smart and intimidating,” Grady said in an unusually high pitched voice.
“First of all, I don’t sound like that.” Grady started to protest but Crystal shot him a look. “Second, I was doing fine until you started laughing.”
“No you weren’t. I was trying to keep you from embarrassing yourself. We couldn’t have the team lose complete respect for you the first day out,” Grady said.
“I’d watch it if I were you. Remember I out rank you now.”
“Only because you built the higher ups a fancy new ship to parade around.”
“And what have you done to warrant a promotion in the last two years?” Grady stood in shocked silence. “That’s what I thought.” Crystal took off running toward the woods. After a few hundred yards, she turned around. “Oh and Jim,” she called to him while running backwards, “you only have nineteen minutes left to complete the run.” Crystal turned back around, and took off at full speed towards the woods. After a few seconds, she heard Grady’s breath behind her as he tried to catch her. Crystal couldn’t help but smile. After everything that had happened with Desi that morning, it was good to know she would have at least one unwavering ally by her side.
Pretty much the exact same thing happens in this draft, but it feels so much more organic. You can tell there is a strong bond between Crystal and Grady without coming right out and saying it. At least, I think it’s better, do you agree?
I know there are tons of quotes out there about crappy first drafts and you can’t fix a blank page, but that’s not always helpful when you’re slugging through the first draft and know that the writing sucks. It’s something I’m constantly struggling with as I write the first draft of Cleansing Rain. When I’m writing the first draft of a story, I’m still trying to figure out what the story is. I usually only have a vague idea of what’s going to happen or how we are going to get there. The first draft is figuring all that out. Once I know what’s going to happen and have gotten to know the characters, I can go back and focus on the actual writing.
It’s easier said than done.