So, I started going through the fourth printed draft of THE WARLORD'S BRIDE. As you can see by the picture, it still needs some tweaking.
I thought it might be interesting to illustrate something else, the evolution of the opening of the book, as in the first few paragraphs. I've still got plenty of work to do, so my comments and explanations must be brief.
From the first draft:
"The soldiers cast wary glances at each other before they turned their attention back to Madoc ap Griffydd and the bloody sheep’s carcass at his booted feet. Beside their overlord sat his dog, its black body quivering with suppressed excitement, although he wouldn’t move from that spot until his master gave the order.
Neither would the men.
“Fox?” Madoc asked at the old shepherd standing on the other side of the sheep lying on its side, its throat torn out.
“Likely,” Emlyn answered, his gaze on the animal, too, as he cradled the small, warm body of a lamb in his thin arms. The small animal bleated plaintively, as if it, too, wanted to know what had happened to its mother.
His expression grim, Madoc raised his eyes and one dark brow to look at Emlyn. “Likely?”"
THE WARLORD'S BRIDE has yer basic "stranger rides into town" set-up. You can either start with the stranger, or the person already in the "town." Madoc, the hero, is not the stranger, and it's always my first inclination to start with the hero.
However, this means you drop the reader "in medias res" of not just the character's lives, but the whole setting (time and place). If you begin with the stranger, the reader is introduced to the setting just like that character.
Also, it can be better to start with the character you want the reader to most empathize with, and in a romance, that's generally the heroine. So I changed it to starting with the stranger, Lady Roslynn de Werre. (A variation of the original opening now comes much later in the story.)
""At last,” Lord Bernard de Valiese muttered as he peered through the drizzle at what was apparently a pile of rock atop a hill in the near distance. “Llanpowell. Thank God!”
Lord Bernard might be relieved to have arrived at their final destination, and the young lady riding beside him didn’t doubt he was happy to think he could soon return to court. She didn’t share those sentiments -- but then, Lord Bernard had not been brought to this castle in Welsh Marches to be married to the lord of Llanpowell by order of the king.
Perhaps Lord Bernard sensed Lady Roslynn de Werre’s unease, or perhaps he was merely talking to himself, when he added, “And at last we shall be dry.”"
The problem with this opening is that it gives too much away about the heroine's situation, and it gives the best line of dialogue to a secondary character, "And at last we shall be dry."
"“God be praised,” Lord Bernard de Valiese muttered as he peered through the drizzle. “Llanpowell at last. I thought we’d never get here.”
The young lady riding beside him likewise looked out from under her sodden hood at what was now most definitely a castle in the distance. Although she couldn’t share her companion’s relief, she would be happy to get out of the rain.
But Lord Bernard would surely have preferred to remain at the capricious king’s court, the better to protect his own interests. She, being a woman and thus forever a quarry to John and other lustful courtiers, had been all too eager to leave, even if the purpose of this journey was not one to inspire hope and happiness."
Better, because it doesn't give away the reason for the heroine's journey right up front, and reveals that she doesn't want to be there. There's also some information about the political forces that influence the story. The third line of dialogue, however, is way too modern.
Lord Bernard was mentioned in the previous book in this series, KNAVE'S HONOR. However, he was a friend of Lady Roslynn, and by this point I realized that I didn't want the man who escorts her to Llanpowell to be her friend, so...enter Lord Alfred.
"“God be praised, Llanpowell at last. I thought we’d never arrive,” Lord Alfred de Garleboine muttered as he drew his gray destrier to a halt and peered through the water dripping from his raised visor onto his grizzled beard. His mount refooted, the huge hooves churning the mud and pebbles of the forest road. More moisture dripped from the pine trees beside the road and roused their heavy scent, while the verge was a mess of mud and running water. The drizzle rendered the sky a leaden gray and the rest of landscape awash in mucky brown and dull green, the few exposed rocks looking like hunched little men trying to keep dry.
From under the sodden hood of her cloak lined with fox fur, the young lady riding beside him followed his gaze to what was now most definitely a castle and not just another stony outcropping in the south of Wales. Like the rocks, it seemed to have been exposed by time and the weather, not built by men."
I'm trying to get more description of the landscape in this version. Getting closer, but not there yet. Note that I've taken out everything that tells or reveals the conflicts to come.
This is what I started to read last night:
"“God be praised, Llanpowell at last,” Lord Alfred de Garleboine muttered as he peered through the water dripping from his raised visor onto his grizzled beard and drew his gray destrier to a halt.
From under the sodden hood of her cloak lined with fox fur, the young lady riding beside him followed his gaze to what was now most definitely a castle and not just another stony outcropping in the south of Wales. Like the rocks, it seemed to be a natural feature of the landscape, exposed by time and the weather, not an edifice built by men.
Lord Alfred’s mount refooted, the huge hooves churning the mud and pebbles of the rutted Welsh road. More moisture dripped from the pine trees around them, while the drizzle rendered the sky a leaden gray and the rest of landscape all mucky brown and dull green."
Close, but I didn't like having the first and third paragraphs apart. Also, I liked that bit about the castle seeming to be part of the land, but not here, so I moved it to Page 3. This is also the time when I fine tune the details.
This morning, the opening of THE WARLORD'S BRIDE looks like this:
"Lord Alfred de Garleboine drew his dappled palfrey to a halt and peered through the water dripping from his raised visor. More moisture fell from the pine trees beside the road and roused their heavy scent, while the verge was a mess of mud and running water. The drizzle rendered the sky a leaden gray and the rest of landscape was all mucky brown and dull green, the few exposed rocks like hunched little men trying to keep dry.
“God be praised, Llanpowell at last,” the middle-aged nobleman muttered as his mount refooted, its hooves churning the mud and pebbles of the rough Welsh road.
From under the sodden hood of her mantle lined with fox fur and fastened with a silver brooch, the young lady riding beside him followed his gaze to what was most definitely a castle and not just another stony outcropping in the south of Wales."
Note I changed Lord Alfred's horse, and the description of Lady Roslynn's cloak to be more accurate and detailed.
Basically, what I'm trying to do with what I hope will be the final editing and polishing is add more specific detail, tighten other story elements, fix typos, get rid of repetitions, and add emotional clarity to make sure my characters actions are clearly motivated.
As the picture illustrates, I'm reading through a hard copy and making changes, but even then, I'll still be tweaking when I input them. Heck, I tweak a manuscript every chance I get. I just can't help myself. I always find something that could be a little better, a little clearer, a different word, another small detail. But there comes a time to let go. And my very last chance to make changes.
And then I never read the book again.