As you all may or may not know, I wrote a book several years ago that I’m rewriting, called OF THE ARBOUR. While I still liked the plot and the characters, the writing was juvenile and sloppy, and desperately needed honing. Hence, rewrite!
The rewrite very closely follows the same plot as the original, with added characters and new subplots, and a much darker, more tense and miserable tone. I’m on the penultimate
or penultimate penultimate, depending on how much I write chapter of the rewrite, and as I reread it and check back at the original for important plot points and bits I still like, I can’t help but be amazed at the difference a few years has had on my writing style and skill.
The original and the rewrite both start the exact same way: Sage, the main character, and Cain, an anti-hero, are sparring for the grandmaster of the Arbour as a final exam for their second-last year at the school. In both scenes, Cain is winning via superior skill and strength, and Sage is forced to defend instead of attack and ultimately loses the fight.
But the difference astounds even me.
OF THE ARBOUR ORIGINAL
Glittering sparks flew as metal screeched against metal, flashing in the dark and echoing painfully in the shadowy cavern. The swords flew apart and their wielders leaped back at each other, swinging and slamming their heavy steel weapons together, causing the blades to scream once more. Their feet shuffled against the rocky floor, hopping off small boulders and the sliding walls of the cavern, their wild, seemingly aimless swings always hitting their mark with natural ease.
Both fighters were male and both tall. They jumped away from each other, lips lifted in silent snarls. The taller of the two had long black curls that brushed shoulders covered in thin cotton, a uniform that moved and breathed freely. He emitted a low roar as he pushed his feet off a flat rock nearby and propelled himself at his foe with a wild slash. His opponent was a slightly shorter blonde with painfully messy hair. His dark blue eyes flashed as the brunette’s blade barely missed the top of his head, and in a split second he rocketed forward, his long sword clasped tightly in his hand as he jabbed forward at his enemy’s feet. The brunette just leaped in time, twisting his body in the air so he landed facing the blonde, who was back on his feet, his blade held defensively. His teeth were bared in a dark sneer, his breathing coming heavily as the black-haired one growled, tossing his sword from his right hand to his left and yanking it in a slash across the blonde’s chest. He barely stepped back in time, swishing his own sword up to slap his enemy’s away, causing the hard metal to screech together.
The young blonde calmed his panting, his pale peach skin flushed with the excitement and adrenaline of the battle. He hated that he was panting and heaving, and that his face was red as the new sun, whereas his foe’s flesh—a dark, olive hue that matched his tangled black hair—never seemed to change from that same shade.
The dark-haired man hesitated. His mouth opened somewhat as he gasped for air, and his gaunt cheeks filled with breath, giving them a rounded shape for a split second, then he exhaled sharply, trying to conserve his energy. His narrowed brown eyes sparkled with the pump of the battle, egging his fellow warrior on, taunting him.
His foe caught the taunt with open arms and grunted as he hefted his sword, thrusting the sharp, slanted tip at his dark rival, his cobalt eyes bright in the dank, dim grotto. The brunette man dodged in time, and the apex of the blade tore the front of his simple white robes, somehow managing to miss the flesh. The skin was left intact.
The blonde launched backward, forcing a few metres between himself and his antagonist. He flexed his fingers on the circular hilt of his sword, lifting his free hand to brush dirt from his long, straight nose. He examined a tear in his own plain white robes that he hadn’t even noticed he sustained—a small bit of crimson was soaking the simple material of his attire, turning a deep vermillion as it spread into the fibres of the clothes. Furious that he had been injured and the brunette man hadn’t, his sky eyes flicked back to his enemy, who was standing calmly fifteen metres away, his brown eyes small and evil in the darkness. The blonde snarled and leaped forward, bringing his sword down in a malicious arc, slamming the blade onto his foe’s. Their faces were centimetres apart, both pushing against each other as hard as they could, muscles straining beneath the flimsy cotton of their robes.
OF THE ARBOUR REWRITE
He was exhausted.
His muscles trembled when he moved, shuffling back and scraping his feet on sharp rock. Lifting his arms was a challenge, but he had no choice—he had to keep going. When it came, and steel crashed against steel, he felt the vibration in his very bones. They seemed to grind together in his hands where he gripped the smooth leather hilt; but he felt no pain in his flesh, where the skin had grown thick and tough with practice. He knew his soles bled—he had seen the smears of brownish red on the stone floor—but he felt nothing. Aside from hot streaks of salt where the sweat slid down his temples and his chest, his flesh was numb; the pain he felt was etched into his bones, coursed through his muscles with each movement.
But he had to continue. What small part of his mind that wasn’t overwhelmed by his exhaustion knew that he had no choice but to keep going.
The crash came again and again. His breath was loud in his ears, and sweat stung his eyes; he blinked it away and pushed back, giving himself even a fraction of a second to catch his breath.
Cain’s cheeks were flushed mottled scarlet, and his curls were plastered to his skull with sweat. Sage could have smiled, if he had more energy. It came as something of a small relief to know that Cain was just as worn out as he.
The reprieve was brief. Eyes narrowed, sword hilt clenched in both hands, Cain let out a guttural roar and pushed forward off the rocky floor. Sage only had a moment to react, and then their swords were once more locked together. One more step back; another swing and block; and the screech of metallic song that made his ears ring.
As he danced around Cain’s attacks, blocking almost mindlessly, he wondered how long they had been at this. Sunshine streamed in dusty beams through the open mouth of the cave. Sage’s sword met Cain’s once more, and when he shoved it away he hopped backwards several steps, both in an effort to dodge Cain’s relentless blows and to better see the sun.
An hour at least since they began the fight. An hour of the most brutal training of his life.
By the gods, how he wanted it to end.
But there was no end. There would be no end until blood stained one of their blades, and Sage had sense enough to know that it couldn’t be his.
Cain’s attacks were relentless. It was all Sage could do to keep his sword up in time to block them. He had no room for attack of his own, but if he couldn’t get past the speed of Cain’s attacks, he had no hope of drawing first blood. Each time he stepped forward, dragging his feet on the gravel and sand, Cain pushed back. They had endured all the same training—they were well matched as sparring partners—but Cain had just enough of a height advantage over Sage to keep any hope of attack at bay.
Master Kelvan had always said that the best offense was a good defence, but this was getting ridiculous. There was no way to win if you were constantly defending, unless you were lucky to accidentally tire out your opponent enough for him to make a vital mistake.
Sage knew Cain would never make any sort of mistake. Cain was tireless; as a child he and his friends assumed that Cain simply evolved past the need for sleep.
“Sage, Cain, you may stop.”
Check that difference. Even rereading such a small portion of the original makes me cringe.
Practice makes permanent. A wise man once told me that. Read and write and practice, and you’ll get better. It’s the only way to improve.
What I was proud of before I’m embarrassed by now, but that is the way of the artist. Without having been proud of it once, I couldn’t have learned and improved.