Ramping Up the Tension: Vodnik Chapter Six

We’re up to the commentary for Chapter Six of Vodnik this week: the chapter where Tomas has a bbq and then almost turns into one himself. I’ve got two main things to say about this section. The first concerns the plot, and the second is on the food and the setting.

Plotwise, it took me a bit to find where this section was in the original draft. That’s because it used to occur a full quarter of the way into the book. Here’s a rundown, chapter by chapter, of the first draft up to this point (Warning–I’ll be touching on some spoilers here. And some things that seem like spoilers, but ended up getting changed through the revision process, so they aren’t actually spoilery):

  1. Tomas and his best friend Peter discuss Tomas’s upcoming move to Slovakia–and how less than enthused Tomas is about it.
  2. Tomas packs for the move and confronts his parents about how unhappy he is. They ask him if he remembers anything from his childhood there.
  3. They travel to Slovakia, and Tomas complains about the cars and the apartment. He glimpses the castle. That looks cool.
  4. Tomas has his first water vision, and then he goes to the joust.
  5. Katka takes Tomas on a tour of the city. He sees Death at the end of the chapter.
  6. Tomas and Katka go and confront Lubos about Tomas’s vision. Lubos doesn’t believe them.
  7. Tomas talks to his parents about how he’s not having a great time. Lubos offers him a job at the castle.
  8. Katka takes Tomas shopping and to the movies. He has his second water vision. Katka gets her first seizure.
  9. Katka and Tomas talk about the seizures and Tomas’s water visions
  10. Tomas and Katka have the barbecue–and we find out Katka is Lubos’s step daughter (there was a whole subplot in the original as Tomas and Katka had a developing relationship. Alpha readers found this too blechy–they didn’t like Tomas and his cousin being a thing, even if she was a step-cousin. Also, this conflicted with later Lesana plot lines.)
  11. Tomas meets Ohnica
So there you have it. The tour of the castle didn’t even show up until later. Reading that over, I think it’s pretty clear why I ended up changing things as much as I did. Too much sitting around and talking, and not enough actually doing anything. Plus, in the first draft there was too much doubt for too long–Tomas wasn’t sure he was having real visions or not until Ohnica. That was lame, and didn’t work as a source of tension.
For me in my early drafts, a large part of the effort goes into getting the plot and the voice down. Plot is something I’ve struggled with. I’ll write something out on paper, and then it doesn’t work in practice. Nothing’s worse than having your character refuse to do something you thought they’d have no problem doing. You can’t force it–that results in a lame book. So you have to change your character or your plot. By that point, I typically choose changing the plot. Find out a different way to get to B from A.
My second point was on the food. Mmmm . . . barbecue. Slovak grilling is a very different beast compared to American grilling. You’re not doing burgers and bland hot dogs, for one thing. Awesome sausages–and have you ever barbecued a slab of bacon? Think about that for a bit. It’s epically awesome. One of my best memories about my first trip to the country was grilling by the castle tower late into the evening one night. I was happy to be able to get that memory its spot in the book.

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