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LOST IN TIME 1: Shiva's introduction

Updated: May 11, 2021

In limbo

When I was younger, I had this very bad habit of starting stories but never finishing them. The bottom drawer of my desk was a graveyard full of quarter-complete novels, victims of my short attention span and a treadmill of new ideas. One of those abandoned drafts was LIMBUS.

My sister happened upon the dusty pages of the first couple of episodes a few years later and she demanded more. So I vowed to prove to myself that I could finish a story. And here we are.

Back then, my self-dubbed writing style was “the splurge”: a write fast, ask questions later approach. A surprising amount of the splurge still remains in the series, and I’m still following a nearly decade old outline of bullet points my younger self wrote.

However, I thought it would be interesting to reveal some of the changes that took place from that messy first draft to the final edit, and my thought process as to why I made them.


To find links to read the first episode, go here:

The mystery of the girl in the Gutters

Besides some re-shuffling, the introductions of Owen and Wolf largely survived the splurge. Shiva, however, was a lesson in “killing your darlings”, where I had to cut 2 chapters I was pretty fond of for the betterment of the story.

Shiva’s first PoV originally took place inside a manor house, with these lines:

Shiva’s hands were shaking. This always happened whilst doing something like this. She caressed her palm and stared at the offending fingers, hoping to shame them into stillness.

The chapter then played out like a mystery in miniature. From the first line we know she has done something, and then I drip feed clues: the room has been turned upside down, signs of a struggle are woven into the descriptions as Shiva scavenges for equipment. The chapter ends with the reveal of a corpse in a cupboard, and the realisation this mess is the aftermath of Shiva fighting and killing a man.

While it was a fun cliff-hanger, the chapter was problematic for a few reasons:

  • It failed to introduce the Gutters: the house belonged to the comparatively well off Fords, so gave no indication that most people are poor, and the fog wasn’t even mentioned despite being the Gutters most defining feature.

  • It failed to introduce Shiva: by the end of the chapter, she was still just as much of a mystery, which is a problem if she is going to be one of your main characters.

  • It failed to grab your attention: Besides the ending, the majority of the chapter was just Shiva picking up random items off the floor. This might have worked later on in the story, but not at the start when I really needed to hook the reader.

Stuck in the weeds

Shiva’s 2nd chapter then followed her journey through BraeFowl territory to meet Malcom Ford in the BraeFowl inn. They have a longer exchange than in the final draft, but she kills him all the same with poison found in the first chapter, with Cindy's help.

In the first half of the chapter I loved writing lore about these imaginary locations and families in BraeFowl territory, but on reflection it came across as an exposition dump. Even worse, most of it wasn’t relevant to the story being told.

Once inside the inn, the chapter faced a different problem. I loved the original encounter between Shiva and Malcom (including a moment with a fork I won’t spoil because I still want to use it) but the scene was too similar to the following chapter where Shiva attacks the Ford mansion (which makes it into the final draft as Shiva’s 2nd chapter).

To avoid repeating the same story beats I cut this section entirely, and moved some of Malcom’s dialogue to Draco, who was comparatively underdeveloped.

This all lead me to rewrite Shiva’s introduction to what it is now...

Method to the murder

The chapter starts outside to better introduce the setting of the Gutters: from the not very habitable acidic swamp land to the blurriness caused by the fog to the Shreeks that imply infection and disease are rife. Any superfluous descriptions of BraeFowl were cut. I did try to retain some of the mystery of the original draft in the way Shiva is introduced in the first paragraph.

When Shiva and Malcom meet they now fight right from the start, making the opening more exciting than the first kill happening off page.

I also decided I wanted Cindy to be Shiva’s voice of reason, so to have her actively participate in a murder didn’t fit the story anymore. So in the final version she saves Shiva’s life, but chastises her for killing Malcom. Finally, their conversation allowed me to characterise both women earlier in the story by understanding their goals and motives, while hinting at the wider story and cast within the dialogue.

Looking back at the bodies

In terms of writing quality, the final chapter was no better than the two I cut. But, like Shiva, I decided for the betterment of the Gutters, sacrifices need to be made.

If people find behind the scenes stuff like this interesting, I may do another post for future episodes. If tearing down the curtain like this broke your immersion, I apologise, this is a glimpse into how my mind works now.

Time has taught me that writing the splurge draft all those years ago was the easy part... was the editing that killed me.

Regardless, the whole process has been a great learning experience, and nowadays when I edit an episode I look forward to murdering chapters!


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