Perhaps the first thing I should address is why I chose to have information about alpacas at the beginning of each chapter. This is type of material is sometimes referred to as a Chapter Bump. Originally, I didn’t have any of these in. In fact, during the first draft, I used a narrative style that tended to lecture. I would go off on short tangents about alpacas–what they did and didn’t do, their biology, eating habits . . . So my writing group noticed that for the most part of the story, I had this fun adventure about an alpacanapping, but every chapter or so it was rudely interrupted with the print-equivalent of a stern-faced biology teacher. It just didn’t fit.
Thus, one of the first things I did when rewriting the book was attempt to take those pieces out entirely, instead choosing to have the information come up naturally in the text. However, I discovered a problem: it just didn’t feel right to have Buttersby or Meander or some other character spout out those informational tidbits, either. I didn’t feel like I could cut them completely. Many people have no idea what alpacas are, and one of the reasons I had been hired to write this book was to correct that. It was intended to instruct. Thankfully, that’s what writing groups are for.
One of my writing group members, Brandon Sanderson, regularly includes chapter bumps in his novels. I had been watching him do it for years, but I had never thought of actually doing it myself. However, by turning all those informational tidbits into chapter bumps, I was able to leave the instructional material in without having to worry about where to put it in the narration. Problem solved. (Of course this brought up a problem later on, when I was running out of interesting tidbits about alpacas to include. I wanted to make sure the tidbits related to the chapter they preceded in at least some manner, and I had to get rather inventive from time to time to come up with appropriate ones.)
With that said, on to the actual chapter. None of this appeared in the first draft. Not a single sentence. In Draft One, I had Buttersby being transplanted to a different farm, one with no other alpacas. That draft essentially started with Chapter Two, with the horse afraid of being spit on. However, many of my pre-readers noted that it felt unnatural to have Buttersby moved to a new farm, just to be alpacanapped as soon as she got there. The plot structure was too repetitive. Actually, here might be a good spot to include a snippet of an approach I use from time to time to get myself out of sticky situations in plots. I like to write my way through it. I’ll open up a blank page on my computer and then just start writing what’s essentially a one-sided conversation about the problem I’m having. I almost always find that by doing that, I’m soon writing again, whereas if all I do is stare at the part I’m stuck on, then I can sit for hours without making any progress. Here’s some of what I wrote when I was trying to decide what to do about the beginning:
“Okay–I need to figure out how in the world I want to really start Buttersby in this next draft. I think what’s holding me up is the fact that I know I need to have Buttersby just get stolen once, but I’m not sure how to go about doing it. I want to have more than one type of animal on the ranch. I want it to be “multicultural,” if you will. But how would alpacas and normal animals live together? I think what I’ll do is have the humans on the farm decide to branch out into other types of animals. So instead of having Buttersby go to the animals, I’ll have the animals come to Buttersby. That should work. But then how can I have Buttersby be forced to talk to the animals? She’s chosen as the representative of the alpacas to the other animals–because she’s the leader.
Another question. Why in the world would humans let Buttersby stay in the new barn? Maybe to clean out stall by stall of the old barn.”
You can see that I pretty much stuck with that solution, although I ditched the “representative” idea in favor of the “cleaning out the old barn” concept.
I was glad I got to add this chapter in. I liked being able to show how Buttersby was treated in her home-society–I think it makes a nice contrast with what happens to her later on. Also, it let me introduce how alpacas view humans and other animals, something I hadn’t been able to get to until later on in the first draft.
As a side note, and while I’m thinking of it, I realize that some people have noted the main weakness of the book is its loose plot structure. A lot of what happens to Buttersby seems random at times. The biggest question of all of course being why she was alpacanapped. The main reason for this apparent hole in the plot (and the reason for most of the others, as well) is that the book is the first in a planned series. I do know why Buttersby ended up where she did–including why humans would do such a thing–and that will come out in the course of the series, should Diamond Triple C Ranch ever make back its initial investment. (They’re not making these to get rich; they’re making them to get more people to know about alpacas.) So if you’d like to know the answers to these questions, just encourage everyone you know to buy the book.
At any rate, that’s about all I have to say about this chapter for now. Thanks for reading!