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Drafting: Attempting a New First Chapter of TSP

Recently, I began working more seriously with my novels. At present, I am revising and preparing The Solune Prince for indie publication. This is taking me a bit more work than I expected, and the reason is that the first draft of Book 1 of The Solune Prince had some issues. Don’t get me wrong, that draft had some cool ideas and some interesting scenes, but it also had pacing issues, strange occurrences, and characters appearing almost out of nowhere.

It was, as it were, the proverbial intentionally bad first draft, written from the top of my head. There was almost no planning, besides an old story idea as well as characters that have been floating around in my mind for a while. I believe a few chapters of that first draft are still available on this site for free. (Many chapters, though, have been set to private as I prepare the book for eventual publication.) Anyway, the first draft had its ups and downs. It was also written by a much younger me; four years ago. Since then, not only have I improved in my writing skill, but I’ve also graduated from university with my degree in English. I was a much different writer four years ago, and now it’s time for an update.

I’m hedging on a full rewrite of Book 1. Currently, the narrative is at Book 2, and some of those later chapters are much closer to my target standard of writing, so I don’t want to completely overhaul those. But Book 1 needs a lot of care, and a lot of work. Most of it will be rewritten, but I’m going to keep a lot of the plotlines and characters rather similar, and just add in some tension, conflict, character depth, believability, and plain oompf.

A lot of that will be helped by the sort of “organic outlining” I’m doing. (I won’t get into my process here, it’s not really ironed out or finalized, but it is really aiding story development and creativity. No doubt in a later post.) By “organic,” I mean in part that I’m still not imposing any grand structure, no hero’s journey, no three acts. Maybe the resulting story will fall into some of that by accident, that doesn’t bother me. Instead, I’m just pushing through a plan, and taking extra notes on the side.

At the beginning of this rewriting, redrafting process, I made an attempt at writing a brand new first chapter. Starting the story over again for the first time in four years. I searched in my mind for ideal places to start the adventure. Since the original first draft opened with the protagonist, Chloe Rhye, in a state of passive contemplation (AKA, very little tension or action!), I new I needed to start somewhere a little more active and interesting.

I have since edited that first version quite a bit, changing a character and a scenario. But the first seven or eight paragraphs are largely unchanged. I’m not certain about this opening. I think it starts strong, but then gets a little slow. First chapters are very important, so no doubt I will have to return to this. When I’m closer to the end of, my revision and come to better understand the story as a whole (and do some research into successful opening ideas and examples), I can return and rework what needs changing, polish the prose, and sharpen the tension.

But just as a treat, I’m sharing with you this early attempt. If you have any thoughts or comments by the end of it, please feel free to share them.

The Solune Prince

Volume 1, Chapter 1

The writing in the document was suspiciously similar to the archaic script that Chloe Rhye had learned to write in as a child. Deciphering it was the easy part. What bothered her far more was the similarity between the content of this ancient text and the obscure laws she had studied during her recent time at the university. What she had studied were her own laws, from her kingdom, her homeland. But this scroll had been discovered far far away. It was one of the few artefacts she had of the ancient civilization she’d been studying for the past year.

Rhye copied the words over furiously as she translated. She didn’t bother stopping to refill her fountain pen, instead switching back to the dip pen so that she could continue without interruption.

Speaking aloud as she translated, she said, “A letter, inscribed in stone or hide will be sent to your community in case of emergency, ideally by a royal guard.” Rhye had read these words before, but had always gotten stuck at this point. Here were the two phrases she had not been able to translate for weeks. Today, she had a new idea.

Dipping her pen in dark permanent ink, Chloe Rhye began to transcribe the bizarre words that littered the phrases phonetically from the ancient alphabet. “Noachenoch of Sol and Aurilon, son of Rhye, of –.” There were lacunae, physical holes, in the end of the document, but it didn’t matter to her right now. 

It was clear that these had been proper names, not just words. And one of them, left untranslated, was…. Chloe Rhye’s hand trembled. She rested the pen in its holder before it could spill ink on her work. 

She thought, Rhye? Her mind was spinning, trying to comprehend.

Chloe jumped as the metal door latch behind her clanged, and then stopped, dropping back in place. Whoever it was at the door thought better than to walk in.

Then a knock rang out through the heavy wood.

“Speak,” She said, almost failing to hide her excited, anxious nerves.

“Your sister is looking for you,” a muffled but familiar voice said through the door.

“I told you before not to give messages through the door.” Rhye turned to look behind her as she called out. She added, “Enter.” 

It was not the girl’s fault, Chloe knew, but she still disdained being interrupted. She stood and put the rest of her hair up. 

This room was her personal study inside the castle. A layer of wood lined the stone walls, helping to retain heat. However, it was difficult to see what sort of wood had been used since there were shelves stocked with codices, manuscripts, prints, and a few scrolls covering nearly every wall. Chloe’s desk stood in front of the window, and it was the only part of the room that wasn’t lined with books, apart from a wide area around the deeply set and carefully shielded fireplace. Chloe’s gaze stopped at the leaf of paper on the table in front of her. The ink was still drying, sharp with the odour of waterproofing and archival chemicals. 

The ceiling lamp, an oil chandelier, was massive. Even though it was only autumn, she had kindled a quiet fire. 

Finally, the latch clicked open, and a light-brown haired woman of medium height stepped in.  She was Chloe’s maid, an adolescent girl who had been around long enough to understand the basics of her duties, and develop some competencies. She gave a careful and slight bow, then repeated her message. “Your sister Janna is looking for you!”

Chloe Rhye nodded. “It is good to know, thank you Fenna,” she said. “Do you know why?”

“There is news. Travellers approaching from the west.”

“West? They are Djeben people?” Rhye peered at the woman through intense brown eyes.

“Umm…I think not…” The girl was flustered now. Fenna had never been particularly good at transmitting messages. “I remember your sister saying that we’re not sure who they are at the moment.” She caught her stride now. Events, it seemed, she could remember far better than words.  “She is currently awaiting another messenger’s return. That is why she didn’t…she didn’t show up herself.”

“Ah, yes. You can sit if you wish,” Rhye motioned to the thickly padded reading chair between the door and the fireplace. “And where am I to meet her? Outside the castle somewhere? The messenger’s landing?”

“The foyer, she told me.” The girl was not apparently not interested in sitting. Or at least nervous. “Janna said she would be a 24th of daylight.” 

“I see.” Chloe frowned. It was always extremely busy in the foyer, which functioned as a public entrance hall. She wasn’t particularly interested in waiting around so many people. But if Janna wasn’t going to return for a 24th, then she had a bit of time.

The ink had long set by now, so Chloe assembled everything and put it in a pile near the back of the desk, next to the rest of her important clutter. She smiled. She would have to change into something more suitable if she wanted to be comfortable in such a public part of the castle.

“I will get ready then.” Rhye said, and then moved towards the door.

Fenn bowed again, stepped out of the way, and followed her mistress out.

Chloe felt bad; she should have said, we will get ready. But she didn’t say anything.

Since the renovations many of the bedrooms, especially for the younger members, had been moved to a third floor. But Chloe’s study exited onto the second, so they would have to go up a floor. She stepped out and turned right, walking down a corridor lined with stone bricks. There were doorways running only along the right side of the wall. The hallway turned left, and they followed it to a staircase and headed up.

Chloe’s mind was elsewhere, and she barely saw anything as they moved. She was going through the motions more by instinct and memory. Before they had hired Fenna, when she had a lady in waiting instead of a maid, a young woman with status. Chloe used to let her lead, so that she could focus on thought. But the aristocrats were a mixed bunch, especially in the capital. Some were as lazy as their status allowed, which was why Chloe had taken a maid this time. 

As they strolled along, her mind lingered on the document. It was one of a set of old Sollunsa scrolls that she had dug out of the archives in the basement. A copy of course; she wasn’t going to handle the brittle originals. Not for this long; she needed to work with them.

“But is it not strange that the laws are so similar…”

“Huh?” Fenna called ahead. They had reached the third floor, but their pace had slowed considerably. Fenna usually didn’t comment on this though, not with Rhye.

“The…laws.”

Fenna was clever enough at least to have picked up on this research by now. She said, “Didn’t say that the Sollunsa are somehow related to us? Then the laws would be similar, right?”

Rhye stopped in the middle of the hall. Fenna looked up at her. Even though Fenna was a little above average in height for a woman, it seemed that Chloe still towered over her.

“Come, let us be quick,” Chloe said, and they strode down the hall, Fenna nearly breaking into a jog to keep up.

Chloe let the maid in, and shut her room’s door behind them. She sighed in relief, and let down her hair again, including the bundle of bangs she usually tied to the side when she worked or read. Her hair was a rather yellow blonde which shone a little more pale in sunlight. Most of it reached down past her waist. Long hair was appropriate for nobility, but even then, Chloe Rhye’s was a little excessive. She let people believe status was the reason she let it grow, but the truth was that she was just too nervous to get it cut. There was an inevitable disappointment that had always followed a haircut, usually for months. So rather than face the difficult emotions, she hadn’t touched it in years. Apart from the trims she gave herself. She had also come to like her long hair quite a bit, and certainly had the time to deal with its upkeep.

For a noblewoman, Fenna had always thought this room was rather small, though not as small as Chloe’s old room downstairs. Here, she had a large bed in the far left corner, a desk across from it on the right, a bookshelf near the door, and far too many oil lamps. Fenna had counted five, but wondered if there were any others hidden in places she wasn’t aware of. The major difference between this renovated space and her old room, Fenna recalled Chloe telling her, was the large walk-in closet.

Chloe walked left past her bed and entered her closet, and threw off the forecloth she wore over her pants, fretting for something suitable. And fret she did, looking through the clothes that were hanging, as well as through the handful of dressers and wardrobes inside.

Fenna looked across the room and out the window. She did not so much read the time using the sun, as much as she simply remembered the concept. Remembered that Janna might already be waiting on the ground floor.

She decided to speak. Entering the closet “Should we hurry? It seemed that Janna has an especially important message for us—for you, I mean.”

Chloe frowned. “Sometimes I wonder if this closet was an improvement, or if it just confuses me. I will go with the standard low-formal uniform I suppose.”

Fenna, as usual, tried to help her mistress dress, but found herself largely unneeded. When Chloe finally exited the closet, she was in a dark purple dress, accented in white and regal-blue, and ordained on the cuffs and collar with light-blue pinwheel clips. The dress was long, but flat. Easy to move in.

“Let us go,” Chloe said. “And you are correct. Of course the laws are similar, ours are based on that old Sollussa legislation.”

“Oh!” Fenna bowed for some reason. “Thank you, your highness.”

Chloe frowned with some consternation. “Right, ah, do not bow too low.”

“Of course not!”

They headed downstairs. Despite its simplicity, Chloe still did not much like wearing dresses. At least this one was layered such that if she needed to run, she could, and quite decently. That was the uniform more than the formal aspect of the design.

Janna was not yet there, and Chloe uncomfortably leaned on the far wall of the foyer. It was packed with people, but they still managed to give her a berth as she passed through, and enough space as she and Fenna waited on the far side.

This castle was old, and built around a century after the founding of the kingdom itself. The capital city had long been safe enough that a palace would be more fitting—she had heard the Djeb had one in the west—but the King was incredibly slow to change in most areas. The bizarre design of the castle did baffle Rhye whenever she actually tried to figure it out though. This was the main entrance hall of the castle, but it had for the longest time been used as a sort of public meeting place. But it was small, an entry that led three places, all of which were usually off limits. When one entered from the front of the castle, which during the day had both of its doors wide open, straight ahead was the throne room. To the right, the staircase the two women had come down from. And to the left, where Chloe and Fenna were waiting, was a door to the armoury.

The armoury, Chloe thought. Why is the armoury right here, where a citizen might easily access it if the door was ever accidentally left open or perhaps broken? But she knew the answer to that too. Obviously you would want easy access to weapons near a vulnerable place like the entrance if there was ever an attack. And yet, she thought, this too is rather archaic thinking.

“Ah, you’re lucky. I rarely have opportunities to wear a dress.” The voice which cut through the crowd was deeper than Chloe’s. A mid-tone but strong femanine voice. It was Janna Rhye’s, and she knew how to project it forward with authority. “Big news. We know who they are.”

Janna joined Chloe Rhye and Fenna.

“We do?” said Chloe.

Janna nodded. “Maybe not here though.” She reached into her jacket and felt around the belt on her waist, pulling out a ring with a few large keys—half the length of her hand—and a few much smaller ones. She unlocked the armoury, let the other two file in, and locked the door behind them.

Janna was Chloe’s older sister, despite being the shortest in the family. Although, her attitude somehow resisted her smaller stature. Of all their siblings, Chloe and Janna were the youngest, and relatively close in age. 

Janna had similarly blonde hair and facial features, but was otherwise much different. Her hair was less yellow, her cheekbones a little higher. Her face rested on a harder expression. Janna’s eyes were green, not brown like Chloe’s, and they were usually calm and intense, rather than Chloe’s distant look, or open curiosity. Janna’s hair was also short; only long enough to brush past her shoulders. And she was dressed for official business. She wore her grey and light blue, almost white, uniform jacket. The jacket had squared shoulders. On her head rested a Solune Agent’s peaked service cap. Below, lighter grey heavy cotton pants, and forecloth.

Chloe spent her time in libraries, and her mind, but Janna was usually out in the world, often on some official business for the Kingdom. Janna was an Agent of the King, a role of considerable status and responsibility. It also occasionally gave Janna the opportunity to express her aggression. But Chloe was neither jealous, nor particularly interested.

The forecloth was customary (*what is it) in their kingdom for both men and women; it was considered culturally indecent to show the part of the body where the legs joined the trunk. Though now, it was also becoming a mark that one might be a foreigner, rather than a person necessarily lacking sensitivity. Though, unlike Chloe, she did not often follow the custom of wearing her hair up in public, even though it was just about long enough. She at the very least often wore this militaristic-looking peaked hat. Or a wide-brimmed sun hat. Occasionally, neither.

Janna sat down on one of the armoury benches, trying not to lean on the armour behind her. Chloe and Fenna sat as well. A lot of what was stored in here were things easy to put on quickly. Boiled leather armour, and coats with plates of armour sewn on in layers, lining the walls going three aisles back.

“The Agent, our second messenger, returned with news. His mission was more thorough than simply spotting them,” Janna said, “we now have more detailed intelligence.”

Chloe just watched, waiting.

Janna continued. “Their party is suspiciously small. We have confirmed it is only four people.”

“Four…?” Chloe wasn’t sure why this was important.

“They are coming from another nation. It seems from beyond even the Djeb.” Janna shook her head. Chloe had participated in a handful of battles before, but only once as a fighter. Somehow, she had managed to maintain an apparently complete tactical naivete. But Janna was used to this, so she continued. “Usually you would take such a trip with a company of pikemen, or at least some guards. They have three mounts and a few pack animals. Alone, a person can lay low, but with that amount, well…. Obviously, we saw them approaching far off.”

Chloe considered this. It had been a long time since she had even left the capital, and she didn’t know much about long distance travel to begin with. But she had noticed that, since the kingdom opened and began letting people in, travellers always came in groups. Especially those on the Djeb side of the kingdom to the west, since they had to cross a desert. 

Chloe considered this, and then answered. “They’re coming from the west, so we would expect a caravan of some sort, right?”

Janna was glad her sister was catching on. “Right. And what do we have instead?”

“Just four people and some animals.”

“Which implies…?”

Chloe had to think about this too. She gave the only logical answer that her mind had to offer. “They might simply be foolish…” She knew this was no doubt incorrect, but she offered it anyway. International travel, size of groups. Unlike her sister, Chloe didn’t have the sort of experience necessary to provide quick answers about things like this. 

“Well, until the second messenger came, that was on the table, however unlikely,” Janna said. “But these travellers know what they’re doing. The second messenger confirmed that they aren’t from the Djeb. They passed through that city state on their way here, and apparently in good condition. If that’s the case then at least one, if not more, of them is either very experienced in travel, or unusually strong or brave.”

Chloe’s eyes narrowed with uncertainty. “Are there any known civilizations beyond the Djeb? I thought beyond their land was just wilderness and the ocean.”

“That’s a good question. Here’s what the messenger had to tell us. He’s bringing his written report to the King himself, but I’ll relay what he reported to the Agents verbally.”

“This is interesting Janna, but why are you telling me? I was in the middle of a breakthrough in translation. I just found out that the Sollunsa have a protocol for emergencies. It seems like a law that didn’t get carried over to our Solune law when the kingdom was founded.”

“Well,” Janna said, “That’s exactly it. You’re studying this civilization that existed a thousand or so years ago, one from which we descend.”

“Yes, you can see it in the name. The Sollunsa was a large tribe that was on the run. Some sort of war. But they were split on where to retreat to. A majority stayed behind and settled near the homeland. A minority, who were our ancestors, went out into the unknown to search for a safer world to settle. And we decided to reflect this split by only taking part of the name. Sollunsa became Sol. Later, when the tribe was established as a kingdom, the suffix lune was added.”

Janna nodded. “And here we are, centuries later, the Solune.” She had learned something of this during her youth, but it was hazy. She hadn’t paid much attention back then, and had started regretting it as she got older. She now felt she had a duty to know the kingdom’s history, in her position. Her sister certainly knew their history. Janna smiled, “And what happened to the Sollunsa that stayed behind?”

“Huh?” Chloe leaned back on the armoury bench, bumping her shoulders on a hardened leather jacket. “Oops.” She decided to lean on it anyway. It wasn’t that uncomfortable. “The Sollunsa after the split. I am not sure that I studied that…” Her eyes glazed over as she thought. 

Janna watched with knowing amusement. Fenna simply felt proud that she was more or less following along. A group of Sollunsa split off from the rest, and she and the rest of the Solune were descended from them. Easy enough.

Chloe finished letting her mind search for the information, and had come to a conclusion. “Well, ah, we had no contact after leaving them. The trip to the new land was rather dangerous according to the records. It would not have been easy to return and see how they were doing. Although…something like that may have happened and I just have not found any record of it.”

“Well, with that in mind, let’s get down to what the second messenger learned.” Janna Rhye stood up and took her hat off. She paced down the aisle as she relayed the information. “We decided not to approach the group directly so that they don’t know to what degree they’re being watched. We want to see how they initiate first contact with us. With that in mind the messenger avoided them entirely, and moved across the western desert with a caravan. He reached the Plainkind village where the travellers had stayed last night and managed to get a lot of information. He found a couple of people who had made direct contact.”

“And?” Chloe shifted again. The bench was uncomfortable, it wasn’t intended for long conversations.

“Well, it’s true. They aren’t Djeb. Apparently they call themselves—” Janna paused and smiled. “—Lussa.”

Chloe Rhye’s mind froze for a moment, and then it spun into overdrive, making assumptions in six different lines of thought based on one assumption. She bolted off the uncomfortable bench and grabbed Janna’s strong but slight shoulders. “Sollusna? The Sollunsa are here? Coming here to us? Straight out of the documents?”

Janna, in her much taller sister’s grip, grinned, waiting for Chloe to realise what she had skipped over.

Finally, some of the spinning lines of thought in Chloe’s mind slowed, and failed to latch properly onto what she had heard. “Hang on…you said…Lussa?” Chloe frowned. “And…they came from the east, but the Solune migrated from the north.” Chloe let go of her sister, a little deflated.

“All true, but it is curious, isn’t it? I knew you were researching the Sollunsa, and when I heard the name of the travellers, it all sounded so suspicious to me.” Janna put her cap back on and straightened it. “But that’s the short of what we got. If we want proper answers, we’ll have to wait until they arrive and we can talk to them ourselves.”

“How long is that?” Chloe asked, some of the excitement renewing.

“They’ll reach the gate before nightfall and likely rest in the city nearest to it. We should get that report by midnight. For most common travellers, that’s a five day trip, but at their pace, they will likely be at the castle’s doorstep in three.”

“In three days…” Chloe again, sank into thought.

Janna nodded. “In three days, we will see if the Lussa have any relation to your lost civilization, the Sollunsa.”

You can see there are some interesting ideas here, but in my opinion, has some issues. The conversation at the end, among other things, sort of bogs things down in my opinion. There must be a better way to convey that information.

Here’s a link to the first manuscript version of The Solune Prince (again), just in case you have an interest in the story or Chloe as a character. The first few chapters should still be available. If you’re really interested (and they’re still private), you can reach out to me either using the form on this site or by messaging me on twitter (@DnyelT) and I can see about getting you access to some of these older chapters.

Thanks for reading,
Daniel Triumph.

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