The first scene of The Abyss Surrounds Us is not the first scene I wrote in that world.
Which isn’t my usual style. I’m a stalwart planner at heart, refusing to go into a story until I know exactly how it moves and where I’m going with it. This often means that the stories I tell emerge exactly as I laid them out, with very little padding. Other authors have deleted scenes, but for The Abyss Surrounds Us, my final draft looks like a bulked up version of my first.
With one exception. Because on January 1, 2014, Leigh Bardugo was challenging authors to Begin As You Mean To Go On, I had an inkling of a story I wanted to tell, and I decided to throw myself off the deep end while doing something I’d sworn off for my health.
That’s right, friends. I wrote a prologue.
Now there is nothing inherently wrong with prologues. A good prologue can do wonders for setting the tone of a manuscript — I mean, speaking of the lady, Leigh Bardugo’s books have incredible prologues. But I knew that I was liable to use a prologue as a cheat, and so I’d made it a rule that I had to be able to tell the story without them.
But, I reasoned on that fateful January day, this isn’t really the story. It was a warm up, and I went into it knowing that I wouldn’t use a single word of it in the “actual draft.” I hadn’t even planned what the actual draft would be — I just had a notion of the world, the major elements, and a protagonist. So, blindly feeling my way forward, I wrote the first scene of the Abyss duology.
The scene in question takes place twelve years before the first book. In it, a five year old Cas Leung watches a serpentoid Reckoner named Uli take down a pirate ship attempting to attack a neighboring Reckoner stable with her father at her side. It has all of those good old prologue things — action with no context, the POV character not actually doing anything important, and a hefty dump of worldbuilding. But it was the first dip of my toes into the ocean of this world, and it gave me so many little things — from the usage of LED signals to control the beasts to the first fledgling notes of Cas’s voice.
Here’s the funny little trick that prologue taught me: writing is always useful, even if it doesn’t get used. Nowadays, each of my projects has an entire document devoted to writing out scenes that dig into characters’ perspectives, flesh out the world, or just play out fun situations. When I’m writing free of the expectation of an audience, there’s so much I can get done and so much fun I can have. I basically turn into a kid smashing my favorite toys together, and that energy filters into the projects themselves in turn.
None of the original The Abyss Surrounds Us prologue survives in the final text, but it lives on in all sorts of ways. One final example: in The Edge of the Abyss, Cas encounters a pirate ship with a familiar Reckoner skull strapped to it. Even though Uli’s big moment never made it into the text, the poor beast’s bones are still in the story.