Evolution of a Novel

In the seven years it took for A Father’s Son to come to life, I saved every single draft. Thank you SugarSync for saving me and my novel through four viruses and five computers over that time.

I completed a first draft of the original story (a short story called Father & Son that was 20 pages long) in 2006 and moved on from there. By 2010 it had morphed into a third-person omniscient POV novel (opening with Justin and his mother and NOT Justin and his father), then a first-person narrative (which sucked and bottomed out at 420 pages) and from there a slow progression to the final draft of the novel that was published on July 29, 2013, a 376-page work I’m actually (sniff, sniff) kinda/sorta proud of.

If nothing else, this is an interesting lesson on how time away from a draft, multiple revisions, a decent editor(s) and a commitment to see a project through to the end can change the scope of the story both drastically (characters, plot arc and style) and more subtly (syntax, punctuation and grammar).

The following excerpts represent the same opening paragraph of the novel in all its many and varied forms, though I did leave a few drafts out along the way because there were simply too many! With that, I wish you a pleasant journey down memory lane.

Draft 1 (2006): Father & Son

It’s a cold December morning. Early. Too early. The last day of the year. Icicles long enough to penetrate a man’s skull and go halfway down his body hang off the eaves trough. It’s hard to see exactly how long they are because the windows are fogged up. My head bobs up and down as I appear from my basement dwelling. My hair is wet but I don’t care. Dad says I need to dry it or else I’ll catch a cold. He says that eighty percent of the body’s heat is lost through the head and the feet, and so it’s important to keep them both dry and warm in winter. Dad tells me this at moments of so-called brilliance, which is to say after he’s half in the sack. He would never dare offer advice when he’s sober. But seeing as how Dad is only sober for fleeting minutes of every day, the advice usually comes anytime between the third or fourth drink of the day and the last.

Draft 2: A Father’s Son (May 2010)

Merlyn Bennett looked with quick, nervous glances between her son and the television. She felt antsy because she didn’t want to be around when Antonio returned home. Not only had they fought earlier in the day, but Antonio had actually yelled at Justin for the first time since they had moved in with him last June. Merlyn was devastated when he took his wrath out on her only child. Justin had retreated to his room like a wounded cub. Too proud to let either of the adults see his tears, he had closed his door and not come out of hiding until a few minutes ago.

Draft 3 (July 2010)

I just wanted to play Nintendo. Graham is my closest buddy at school when it comes to video games and he had just passed some crazy hard level on Rygar the night before that made me super jealous. It couldn’t’ve been more than five minutes I was on the thing when Tony stormed into the living room and unplugged it. At first he didn’t say a word, just took the cord out of the socket and dropped it beside the TV. “What was that for?” I asked, certain I’d done nothing to piss him off that day, which in itself wasn’t such a rarity.

Draft 4 (Autumn 2010)

I just wanted to play Nintendo. Little Mac had been bouncing around the ring in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! for maybe two minutes when Tony marched into the living room and unplugged the NES. “What do ya think you’re doin’?” he demanded, more a statement than a question. He huffed and puffed in his boxer shorts and tank top, or what Tony calls a wife beater, like Hulk Hogan does at the start of wrestling matches. The sight of his hairy legs and even hairier chest grossed me out. He crouched down and picked up the game console.

Draft 5 (Winter 2011)

I just wanted to play Nintendo. Little Mac had been bouncing around the ring in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! when Tony marched into the living room and unplugged the NES.

“What do ya think you’re doin’?” he demanded. He huffed and puffed in his boxer shorts and “wife beater,” all Hulk Hoganesque.

“Antonio, he’s only playing a game,” Mom said from the couch. A magazine was on her lap, a glass of wine resting on the side table.

Draft 6 (Spring 2011)

Dad once told me life is a test; a man only reveals his true character when pushed to the brink of collapse, fighting not to be sucked down a bottomless drain as he watches the glassy surface above him get farther and farther away.

I’ve always hated tests.

It was an early Saturday morning in September. Little Mac bounced around the ring in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! as he took a solid beating from Bald Bull. That’s when Tony marched into the living room and unplugged the Nintendo, the smell of stale beer drifting my way like sludge. “What do ya think you’re doin’?” He huffed and puffed in his boxer shorts and “wife beater,” all Hulk Hoganesque.

“Antonio, he’s only playing a game,” Mom said from the couch. A magazine was on her lap, a glass of wine resting on the side table.

Draft 7 (Summer 2011)

The ride from the police station to Dad’s place was short enough. It was hanging around Division 53 for so long that had nearly driven me mental. I had to wait at someone’s desk the whole time, doing pretty much the square root of nothing. When Mom had been turned around and handcuffed outside the car on our way home, it didn’t hit me; even when an officer swung by and picked me up, it still hadn’t dawned on me how royally messed up the situation was. It was only when Officer Brady told me she’d been put in a holding cell and would have to stay there until her arraignment next week that I saw myself fighting to reach a glassy surface above me, the gurgling sound of water filling my ears. When asked me if I had somewhere to stay until this was all sorted out, I knew there was no chance I’d go back to stay with Tony Mancini, Mom’s boyfriend. That left pretty much one option, moving in with Dad again, which didn’t make me feel so good because I’d been forced to leave his place last spring and move back in with Mom after he couldn’t afford to keep me anymore.

Draft 10 (Winter 2012)

Getting driven to Dad’s place in a cop car was bad enough. Hanging around Division 53 for hours on end was like having your braces tightened. In the dark. By a guy who isn’t even an orthodontist. I had to wait around someone’s desk the whole time at the police station, doing pretty much what Dad calls the square root of nothing. When Mom had been pulled over and handcuffed outside the car earlier, it felt like a dream. I mean, moms don’t get arrested in the middle of the day after going to the sporting goods store with their kid, right? It was only when a cop told me she’d arraigned in court next week that it began sinking in. Even though I had no idea what “arraigned” meant, the situation became pretty clear when he asked if I had someone else to stay with until then. There was no chance I’d go back to stay with Mom’s psycho boyfriend Tony, which left one option: moving in with Dad.

Draft 12 (Spring 2012)

Getting driven to Dad’s place in a cop car was bad enough. Hanging around 53 Division for hours on end was about as fun as having your braces tightened in the dark by a guy who isn’t even an orthodontist. I had to wait around someone’s desk the whole time at the police station, doing pretty much what Dad calls the square root of nothing. When Mom had been pulled over and handcuffed outside the car earlier, it felt like a dream. It was only when a cop told me she’d be arraigned in court next week that it began sinking in. Even though I had no idea what “arraigned” meant, I knew it was bad because he asked if I had somewhere to go in the meantime. There was no chance I’d move back with Mom’s psycho boyfriend Tony, which meant I’d have to stay with Dad.

Draft 18: The Final Draft (July 2013)

Hanging around 53 Division for hours on end sucked, but getting driven to Dad’s place in a crappy yellow police car really sucked the bag. While at the cop shop, I had to wait around someone’s desk the whole time, doing pretty much what Dad calls “the square root of nothing.” When Mom had been pulled over and handcuffed outside her Pontiac Grand Am, it felt like a dream. It was only when an officer told me she’d be arraigned in court next week that it began sinking in. Even though I had no idea what “arraigned” meant, I knew it was bad because he asked if I had somewhere to go in the meantime. There was no chance I’d move back with Mom’s psycho boyfriend, which meant I’d have to stay with Dad.

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2 responses to “Evolution of a Novel

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