Well, hopefully 'evolution' is the right word to describe this.
I dug through old manuscripts of Will and copied out the first paragraph as it existed at different points in time. The first paragraph is obviously very important, and it's kind of interesting to see how it changed as the novel progressed...
This is basically the first draft. If you've read Will, you can see that the original story of how Leigh and April die was different, and was also entirely summarized in the first paragraph. Pre-readers thought it was a lot of baggage for Will to carry, and that it was a bit far-fetched, so the milk truck accident was used instead. Readability-wise, though, I don't think it's too bad.
Will spent ten years making a family that was taken away from him in less than two days. Monday night his six year old daughter became ill with fever. Tuesday afternoon she died at the hospital of dehydration, doctors and nurses flitting around her with looks of infuriating non-comprehension on their faces. At some point Tuesday night, while he finally lay in an exhaustion-fueled sleep, his wife took all of the sleeping pills she'd been prescribed that day and he woke in her cold arms.
Here we are about a month later. At this point I had decided to hold back the details of why Will was leaving. I think the sentences are a little too long and try to cover too much, making the whole thing a little hard to read.
Will would need to move quickly if he was going to get out of the house before anyone woke up or came by. He tip toed to the garage and started loading camping gear into the back of his car, working as quietly as he could and expecting someone to appear at any moment to ask him what he was up to. If that happened he was afraid he'd be too embarrassed to stick to his plan or even admit what it had been.
Here things get a little worse. Sentences are still hard to read, and another bad one is added in an attempt to add more insight into what Will was thinking. So now it's even harder to get through, and I don't think "amongst" is a word.
Will needed to move quickly if he was going to get out of the house before anyone discovered him. The thought of going through with it sparked some excitement amongst all of the misery and he didn't want that to end. He tip toed to the garage and started loading camping gear into the back of his car, working as quietly as he could and expecting someone to appear at any moment to ask him what he was up to. If that happened he was afraid he would be too embarrassed to stick to his plan, or even admit what it had been.
Here we are about a year away from publication. It's not bad. Sentences flow pretty well, I think, and the amount of information conveyed is more digestible than in earlier drafts. It stayed like this for a very long time while I finished the rest of the book.
Will knew he needed to move quickly if he was going to get out of there before anyone discovered him. Feeling foolish, but, for the first time in weeks, also the tiniest bit excited, he tiptoed to the garage and started pulling camping gear down from the wire shelving that ran along the back wall. Once he had an armload, he turned around and paused, looking back and forth at the two vehicles.
And the final draft. I actually surprised myself by changing quite a bit about this paragraph in the last month before publication. It conveys pretty much the same information as the previous draft, but attempts to spice it up a little bit.
When the idea of leaving—of just getting the hell out of there—finally came to him, it felt like the best idea he’d ever had. Savoring the tiny speck of excitement he felt, Will Brown tiptoed to the garage and started pulling camping gear down from the wire shelving that ran along the back wall. When his arms were full, he turned and regarded the two parking spots. One of them was empty, and the other held his sedan.
Back to January, 2012
Whoa! What's this? This was the paragraph as it existed right before an entire fantasy subplot was scrapped. It was briefly awarded first-chapter status, and then cut out completely. If you've read Will, note that the paw prints that the fairy is inspecting belong to the mountain lion that goes on to kill Lars Jackson.
The guardian sat in the perfect darkness, perched on a log almost too rotten to support her slight weight, and stared at the paw print. It was fresh, the mud that held it not yet dried at the track's edges, and it was massive. No marks had been made by the retracted claws but she could imagine the length of the sharp spines hidden within each deceptively soft round toe.
And, Finally, the Evolution of a Title
Coming up with the title for the book was very difficult. I mean, REALLY HARD. I know that "Will" seems super obvious and simple--like maybe we didn't put much thought into the title at all--but it actually took us forever to even consider it as an option.
Here's a high-level summary of how it went down.
- Billy from the Hills
(original working title, from the name of a Greg Brown song)
- The Dancing Hermit
(you know, because he's a dancing hermit)
- The Hermit's Dance
(aha! a double-meaning! genius! although, no matter how many times you see it or say it, it still sounds kind of dorky...)
I'm really glad we landed on Will. Thank you, Jody, for enduring countless evenings of title discussions before finally suggesting it--I half-suspect you knew it all along, so appreciate your patience while we thoughtfully contemplated so many bad ideas.