I wrote the first draft of Into the Caldera in three months. I had just returned from a vacation to Yellowstone where the idea sprouted and blossomed in my mind. By the time I returned to writing after vacation, I had the entire story formed in my head. It was just a matter of putting the words on the pages. It turns out that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell, which put me on a meandering path of re-writes and re-imaginings of the story for much of the past 18 months.
That first draft was a punch-to-the-gut revenge fantasy. Although I still like that version of the story, I realized after a few people read the initial version that it wouldn’t work. It was rough-edged and too in-your-face, not to mention that the promiscuous sex and drugs were likely too much for many readers. Nevertheless, I loved the heroine of the story who took matters in her own hands to strike back against those who had wronged her even if she targeted the wrong people. She was deeply flawed but in control. I liked that.
Originally, the story was told from two points of view – the heroine and one of the guys she wanted to punish. This worked well because their perspectives were vastly different and intertwining the two left the reader wondering what was really true until the squishy truth was revealed at the climax. The twist, one of mistaken identity, was supposed to leave readers stunned, but instead, it left a bad taste in their mouths, so it was back to the drawing board for me.
The second writing of the story introduced more context to the plot and softened the edges around characters. I redrew the heroine, who was too unlikable in the first draft, as a more sympathetic character, but doing so extinguished her kick-ass nature, something akin to taking the weapons away from Uma Thurman’s character in Kill Bill. All during this re-write, I realized something was missing. I fell out of love with the story and felt like I had compromised it too much. I almost killed the whole novel. Almost.
The second draft earned some faint praise. It seemed pedestrian to me, predictable. The element of surprise that had been buried in the climax had been dug up and cast aside. It didn’t have the punch that excited me as I wrote the first draft. I took a break and re-examined why I wanted to write this book.
During this introspection I returned to my characters and sought to understand who they were and what their motivations were. I felt like I knew my heroine and her primary antagonist pretty well. After all, I had told the story from their perspectives – twice. In the background, there was a third character, the best friend of the antagonist. He had lurked there the whole time, but the reader did not get to hear from him. He primarily served as an accomplice who was quiet and reserved – a wallflower. I had written some extensive background on the antagonist and his relationship with this secondary character. As I re-read it, I realized that this secondary character had an interesting perspective. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I could re-write the entire novel from his perspective and have a very intriguing story.
After all the hand-wringing over whether to continue or not, I had finally found a path that excited me again. It keeps the element of shock that appealed to me in the first draft, but the climax is more nuanced and the sharp edges of the original concept have been sanded smooth to ease the reader into the dark nature of the story. The original theme of jealousy seeps from the seams of the story versus the in-your-face blast of the first draft. I’m happy with where the story is headed. The life-long friendship of the two guys in the story gives me plenty of material to fill in the substance of the plot and really amps up the tension at the climax. I can’t wait to finish this third version. I hope that it’s true that the third time is the charm.