This chapter changed quite a bit through the course of the rewrites. The main reason for this is Meander. Once he showed up, everything had to be different. Add to that the fact that Ozzy had appeared to Buttersby and warned her about the Cavern of Babel, and you end up with a much different course of events. More mysterious, since Buttersby knows that there’s something specific out there that she’s been warned about. As an example, here’s the first draft of the section that eventually evolved into this chapter:
The three of them told Buttersby to follow, and she did, even if it looked like they weren’t going anywhere in particular. (Which is how she got lost in the first place.) As they walked, Middle—whose name was Sherpa—explained things.
“The wild is no place for an amateur,” she said. “There are too many ways to die, and too few signs of danger. Look around you. What do you see that seems like it could hurt you?”
Buttersby did as told. She didn’t see anything with pointy teeth, and no large pits to fall into. “It’s cold,” she said at last.
Sherpa nodded. “Cold can kill you as easily as anything. It is good you realize that. What else?”
Buttersby looked harder. She had liked the feeling she got when Sherpa complimented her, and she wanted to impress the Vicuna. But wanting something and getting it are two different things, as I’m sure you’re aware of. “That’s all I can see,” she said at last.
Porter—the mean one—snorted. “Big surprise.”
Napsack, the third, shushed him. “Don’t be so hard on her. She’s had a long day.” That was all very well of her to say, but the longer Buttersby knew her, the more she was convinced that Napsack was a few sheep short of a flock.
Sherpa ignored both of them. FIND SOME DANGERS AND DISCUSS THEM.
Buttersby was feeling quite weak-kneed at this point. Half of what Sherpa had said, she had thought of trying. PUT THIS IN EARLIER. “I see,” was all she could manage to say in response.
“You had better. Here we are.”
They had come to a shallow cave in one of the rolling hills. It yawned open wide enough that Buttersby didn’t have to stoop to enter the room, and the interior of the cave was much cozier than the ones she had imagined herself finding. It looked . . . lived in. But it was small.
“This is all of you, then?” she asked.
“All of us?” Napsack said.
“I—I thought there must be more of you. A herd.”
Porter laughed. “Herd? Whoever heard of a herd?” It was a mean laugh, made meaner by his silly pun.
“It is just the three of us,” Sherpa said. “We had more in our XXXXX before, but times have been difficult for us lately.”
This brought to mind all the dangers Sherpa had listed earlier. No doubt they had the most to do with why things had been hard for the Vicunas. She realized that Sherpa had likely been speaking from experience.
Sherpa continued. “So—now that we are here and you can make yourself comfortable, I would like to hear how it came to be that an alpaca from so far away came to be lost in the wilderness of Peru.”
Buttersby swallowed. No matter what Sherpa had said about being more comfortable, Buttersby found herself decidedly uncomfortable as the three pairs of eyes settled on her. “From far away? What makes you think that?”
Porter sniffed. “Only the fact that you’re so clueless.”
“It’s the language,” Napsack said. “This is such an odd one, and we’ve never spoken it before.”
“Never spoken English? Then how did you learn it?” Buttersby asked. She backed up against the wall. New things were coming at her so quickly, she needed some stability, regardless of the form it took.
“Simple,” Napsack continued. “We just visi—”
“None of your business.” Porter glared at Napsack, and the other Vicuna dropped her head. Porter turned his stare back to Buttersby. “Vicuna matters are best left to Vicunas. That’s all you need to know. All that matters is that we can speak with you. Be thankful for it.”
Sherpa smiled. “It’s been a long day. I’m sure you need some rest. Tomorrow will take care of itself, so for now we’ll leave you here. Sleep—we’ll make sure you come to no harm.”
Buttersby didn’t think it was possible she would be able to get to sleep. She was too confused and curious. Napsack had clearly been about to speak of a place or a person they visited to learn English. She wanted to know where or who that was. But she could tell from the expression on all three Vicuna’s faces that they weren’t going to tell her anything that night. So she nodded. “Thank you very much,” she said.
“We’ll see you in the morning.” Sherpa gestured to the others, and they turned to leave. “Sleep well,” she said as they exited the cave. Buttersby tried to answer, but she ended up yawning instead. Maybe getting to sleep would be easier than she had first thought.
END OF EXCERPT
You’ll note some things I did while I was writing–every now and then I’d come to a point that I needed some research I hadn’t done. Instead of putting everything down and going to do that research, I’d put a note in ALL CAPS that would remind me to come back and fill the section in later. I find that when I’m writing, a lot of the time it’s better to keep my momentum and write what I want to instead of forcing myself to write everything in order, from beginning to end.
You’ll also note that some of the mechanics of the Universal Tongue changed during the revisions. At first, it was just the capability to learn and speak other languages very quickly. It was only after I had taken time to think about it more and see the Tongue “in action” that it settled into its final form.
I think this just shows how things can change while you write. For me, it’s best to keep things fluid and let them go where they need to. Usually I come up with better ideas in the course of writing, and so it takes some time to tweak everything and get it set up right. The first draft is in some ways a discovery process, and then the second draft entails getting all those “discovered” pieces to fit together.