Whilst glancing through some old notes and files the other day, I came across an outline I’d written for George goes to Neptune, the third novel in my George Hughes trilogy. I glanced through it and was astonished. The plot I described was radically different to what ended up in the finished novel, and I had completely forgotten about this earlier version.
The early outline involves George meeting a long-lost sibling called Sally, who is legally entitled to a share of his vast wealth. At first George is pleased to meet Sally, and gets on well with her. However, Meredith has a bad feeling about his sibling, which George refuses to listen to. Sally proves a bad influence on George, but he doesn’t see the warning signs. Subsequently George voyages to Neptune, for the same reason as is in the novel, but once there, the alien civilization they encounter is very different (it’s a largely aquatic culture, dwelling beneath an ocean). It also transpires that Sally was genetically engineered using George’s DNA as a fake sibling, under the control of a splinter faction of Martian extremists, who used to follow General Grykur. They are using Sally in an elaborate game of revenge. The final act involves another Martian attempt at Earth conquest, this time thwarted by the aquatic aliens they discover on Neptune. Oh, and Giles gets killed off too.
The three page outline reads fairly well, detailing new characters, aliens, action scenes and there are some good ideas in it. There is a major focus in act two on the friendship between George and Giles, with Giles revealing huge swathes of dark personal backstory that foreshadow his demise in the finale. Of course, the finished novel is completely different. It is bereft of Sally, aquatic aliens, Martian splinter groups, and Giles doesn’t die.
What’s interesting about the earlier outline is how I much I replaced. For example, the Sally concept isn’t bad, but ultimately I replaced her with the more intriguing psychological battle George has against his own dark side. Ditching the aquatic aliens was entirely logical, once I came up with what George discovered on Neptune instead. I considered the Giles backstory too grim for younger readers, so that was abandoned. Furthermore, making the Martians the main baddies again just seemed repetitive, so that went out of the window too. The final act in the finished version is far, far stronger, with layers of irony and poignancy that were entirely absent from the earlier outline. In that context it made much more sense for Giles to survive. Obviously, I will not specify any further details on the finished novel, for fear of spoilers.
What I took away from rereading this old outline was one simple reminder: just because you have a good idea, doesn’t mean there isn’t a better idea, or a best idea. I am very proud of George goes to Neptune, and indeed the whole George Hughes trilogy, because with all three novels I feel I really did discard not just the bad and indifferent, but also the good, in order to get to the great.
Check out the George Hughes trilogy here.