The Evolution of “Dream Student”

The Evolution of “Dream Student”

Here’s another guest post I wrote up for my recent Virtual Book Tour – enjoy!


The very first draft of “Dream Student” was written way back in 1997.  It went through a couple of drafts and a half-hearted total rewrite before I put it aside for a long, long time…until the spring of 2012.  I was inspired by a friend’s success selling her first novel to get off my behind and try to do it myself.  And since “Dreamchaser” (the title I was using when I first wrote the thing) was the longest thing I’d ever finished, I went back to it to see what I could do.

The original book was written in third-person, with multiple POVs.  The final rewrite (which had only gotten 1/3 of the way through the story) changed everything to first person, and I realized that was clearly what was needed for this story.

Here’s a paragraph from the original draft:

12:40 AM, and Sara couldn’t sleep. She’d tried to go to bed two hours ago, but it just wouldn’t happen.

So she put on her slippers and wandered downstairs to watch Letterman. There was a pretty big group in

the lounge tonight; refugees from The Cellar. Apparently something had happened to the band that had

been scheduled to play there, and the replacement group the bar had found was simply awful. Even 10

cent chicken wings weren’t enough to keep Wounded Dog Theory from driving the customers out the


Here’s the same moment, in the final book:

It’s almost twelve-thirty in the morning and I’m not asleep.  I was staring at the poster of Daffy Duck over Beth’s bed, but I gave that up a few minutes ago.  I thought he was staring back at me.  I’ve got a print of Monet’s Water Lilies over my bed and now I half think they’re staring at me, too.

I realize that’s not good.  It’s pretty far from good, actually. 

So I crawl out of my bed, put on my slippers and my bathrobe and go downstairs.  Two of my fellow residents are sitting on the big discolored couch watching David Letterman.  I give them a little wave and I sink into a corner of the couch to watch the show. 

The first person, present tense gives the story more immediacy, I think, and that’s exactly what it needed.  I want the reader to be there with Sara, feeling her confusion and terror over her (at this point in the story) unexplained nightmares.

I think it was also important to keep the focus squarely on Sara.  Her best friend, her boyfriend, and several other characters all became POV characters at various points in the book (although Sara always remained the main character).

Another big change comes in the second half of the book.  As the story moves towards its climax, the focus is much more tightly on Sara and her hunt for the serial killer.  She also actively searches for him, whereas in the original draft she goes to the spot where he kidnapped one of his prior victims and lets herself be taken (and ends up killing him in their final confrontation).  The ending I actually used works much better; Sara uses her brains, and enlists the help of her best friend (and the talents of several of her classmates) to figure out who the killer is, where he lives and when he’s going to strike next.  And when she goes to confront him, she doesn’t go alone, and she does go with a plan.  Her behavior is more sensible, and much more in-character than the original ending.

The other big change I made, which I think worked very well, was to write Sara’s dreams in third-person even though the rest of the book was first person.  That sets the dreams apart and gives them a very different feel.

Overall, the original draft of “Dream Student” was a great learning experience, and it told me that I could finish a novel-length project.  But it also showed me how much I had to learn as a writer, and when I had learned those lessons, the story was still there fifteen years later, waiting to be told.

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