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My spouse has been reading the third draft of book two of my planned Between Darkness and Light series. Apparently the changes that I made from draft two were good, but not enough. The beginning of the book is good, but only around chapter 11 did my spouse really get excited.

When I asked why, the answer was only then did the characters (and the readers) experience a sense of authentic discovery.

That phrase smacked me in the face and took my lunch money. It made perfect sense. I knew my opening chapters needed work. The plot bones were there, and the character inner journeys were there, but there was something missing from the second book compared to the first.

My spouse nailed it. What an excellent phrase. Maybe others have used it, or maybe there’s some untapped writerly potential there. Either way, it perfectly clarified for me what I need to do.

In my first book, the characters spend portions of the book essentially going on a treasure hunt. They have to go new places, figure things out…and yeah, that’s what characters often do anyway. In this case, the search, the discovery, connected them to the setting in a very real, fundamental way. As the characters discovered, so did the reader, and the discoveries influenced the characters at the deepest levels, whether that be self-worth, life path, or perception of self altogether.

Yes, this seems very basic. And I feel sort of silly that I missed it. But it doesn’t matter that I missed it. What matters is that I know now, and I can take advantage of it.

You see, the characters spend the entirety of the second book in a single city, unlike the wandering of the first book. The city was instrumental in the history of the continent and influenced (and sometimes straight-up dictated) culture. And yet my characters don’t engage much with that history, don’t try to root it out and discover it. My main character is a historian, for heaven’s sake. For her not to be curious about the city and neglect to explore it is just plain silly.

There’s so much more potential in the first bit of the book now. I’m very, very fortunate to have a thoughtful first reader. I can’t wait to dig in and do some rewrites and revisions, and hopefully what emerges will shine.