First drafts of famous novels

First drafts of famous novels

Before I published my first novel in September the pinned tweet on my Twitter account was

First drafts are allowed to suck.

I think that the point of a first draft is to exist so the author can improve upon it. Often than not the first draft is almost unrecognisable from the finished article. The first draft of Empty Nights, for example, featured a scene of my two protagonists train surfing out of London Bridge. When that idea is compared to the finished novel is seems completely ludicrous yet it was in the manuscript for several months before I removed it. Thankfully for me, other writer’s also had strange ideas in their first drafts.

1) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling

The boy who lived

The first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The Boy Who Lived, follows the character of Vernon Dursley, Harry Potter’s Uncle, as he notices odd things happening on his usual day at work. Men in robes are speaking about You-Know-Who and a large number of owls have been spotted across the British skies. That evening Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall and Hagrid arrive at the Dursley’s home and leave baby Harry on the their doorstep.

Baby Harry Potter

Upon re-visiting the series this chapter is rather strange. Although the Dursley’s appear at the beginning of each Harry Potter novel, we don’t get another point of view chapter from them and they don’t play a large role in the series. This might be because the earlier books (books 1-4) were targeted at children rather than adults and Rowling may have thought it would be better for the reader to be eased into the world of magic and introduced to it from an outsider’s perspective.

Although I find the opening chapter to one of the most success book series of all time odd, I prefer it to the original idea. According the JK Rowling, the first draft of The Boy Who Lived would have followed Mr Puckle, another muggle like Vernon Dursley, (muggle meaning a non magical person) who notices an explosion out at sea. He takes a boat out to investigate and discovers the ruins of a house. It isn’t clear why or how there is an house in the middle of the ocean, It may have been on an island but because the Harry Potter world is deeply routed in magic it may have been levitating above the waves. Either way, Mr Puckle enters the ruins, looks through the wreckage and discovers two burned bodies and between them and baby Harry.

Another idea from Rowling’s first draft was for Hermione’s last name to be Puckle. This might have made Mr Puckle Hermione’s Father and may have made Harry Herminone’s adopted brother if her family had taken him in. More interestingly this would have changed the tone of the series. Instead of supporting Harry through his dreadful upbringing the readers would be pondering over the mystery of who his parents were and why they were attacked. According to Pottermore it took Rowling seventeen drafts to complete the first chapter.

2) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite novels. It tells the story of Nick Carraway who arrives in the wealthy West Egg neighbourhood outside New York and his relationship with the mysterious Jay Gatsby, who throws nightly parties in his mansion next door to Nick. Although Fitzgerald died believing that his novel was a failure, it gained popularity after his death and is now considered a classic so much so that Great Gatsby parties are now a twenty first century trend.

The Great Gatsby is very different to the first draft Fitzgerald finished in 1924. In 1922 Fitzgerald began writing his third novel (his first being This Side of Paradise and the second called The Beautiful and Damned) after his play The Vegetable, flopped. To recover the costs of The Vegetable Fitzgerald wrote short stories for magazines which he described as trash. Among the trash however was a short story titled Winter Dreams which tackled many of the themes that would later be explored in The Great Gatsby and was considered by Fitzgerald to be the first overall draft of the Gatsby idea. Also in 1922 Fitzgerald moved to an area called Great Neck in New York where there was a stark divide between the rich and famous and the poor and unknown. This contrast became the inspiration for East Egg and West Egg.

By 1923 Fitzgerald had written 18,000 words of The Great Gatsby but dismissed it all as being a false start. While we don’t know what was in these 18,000 words we know that some of this work resurfaced in a 1924 short story titled Absolution. Although work on Gatsby slowed in 1924 due to the Fitzgerald’s family moving from Great Neck to the French Rivera and marriage problems when the family moved to Rome that winter the manuscript was complete. Revisions included fleshing out Gatsby’s backstory and major changes to chapters six and seven. Although we don’t know when these changes were made we know that at one point, Nick was called Dudley or Dud for short, the main characters attended a baseball game and there were two green lights at the end of Daisy’s dock instead of one.

Perhaps the biggest change was to the title. Although I like the title The Great Gatsby which leads to the question “Was Gatsby Great?’ alternative titles included Among Ash-Heaps and MillionairesTrimalchio, Trimalchio in West EggOn the Road to West Egg, Under the Red, White and Blue, The Gold-Hatted Gatsby and The High-Bouncing Lover. Fitzgerald liked the titles that incorporated the word Trimachio but his publishers advised him against this as no-one was sure how to pronounce it (I also have no idea). His wife, Zelda, suggested The Great Gatsby and although Fitzgerald at first agreed to this change he spent the months before the novel’s launch attempting to change it to either Under the Red, White and Blue or The

Gold hatted Gatsby. Alas for Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby it was.

First page Gatsby

Surprisingly two pages of the first draft survive. They can be found in a high-security, vault in Princeton, New Jersey. In the year 1923 Fitzgerald read the novel A Lost Lady by Willa Cather and feared that her character of Marian Forrester was too similar to his character Daisy Buchanan. In order to quash accusations of plagiarism after the publication of Gatsby, Fitzgerald wrote to Cather, explained the situation and provided her with two pages of the first draft which included scenes of Daisy Buchanan. Cather agreed that the two characters were similar but different another to avoid confusion among readers and wished Fitzgerald the best of luck with his manuscript. Although Fitzgerald’s own manuscript was lost after his death, his letters to Cather survive.

3) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of Roald Dahl’s most famous books. The book follows the story of Charlie Bucket who wins a chance to enter the chocolate factory at the end of the road, owned by the mysterious recluse Mr Willie Wonka. Once inside the factory Charlie is the only child not to have an accident and when he finishes the tour he is gifted the factory by Mr Wonka. Charlie’s story is well known but what is perhaps less well known is the life of his creator, Roald Dahl. Dahl fought in World War Two and had became an Ace pilot before suffering a crash in Libya that left him with back, neck and head pains that plagued him for the rest of his life. After this event Dahl was sent to Washington DC by M16 to work alongside Ian Fleming (the creator of James Bond) to spy on the Americans during the war. Aside from his famous children’s stories, Dahl also adapted Fleming’s novel You Only Live Twice to a screenplay and wrote several novels and short stories for adults.

The first drafts of Dahl’s works were normally gruesome but Charlie was particularly so. There were racist undertones in the first drafts. The Oompa-Loompas were African workers/slaves but Charlie himself was black which Dahl thought would shield him against any claims of racism. In the published versions Charlie was illustrated as white and the Oompa-Loompas orange.


There were also ten children who won golden tickets instead of five. The names Dahl toyed with include:  Clarence Crump, Bertie Upside, Terence Roper, Elvira Entwhistle (renamed Veruca Salt) Violet Glockenberry, Miranda Grope and Augustus Pottle (combined into the character Augustus Gloop), Miranda Mary Piker, Marvin Prune, Wilbur Rice, Tommy Troutbeck and Herpes Trout (renamed Mike Teavee). 

There were also many more rooms in the factory. The Spotty Powder room contained a sweet that when eaten would give the consumer a spotty complexion. The idea was that children would eat the sweet and appear ill so they wouldn’t have to go to school. In this chapter, Miranda Piker and her Father, a school headmaster enter the Spotty Powder room with the intention of sabotaging the machinery. The rest of the tour hear screaming coming from the room, after the doors have mysteriously locked but Mr Wonka assures them that everything is alright and even jokes that Headmasters are part of the recipe. Neither Miranda Piker nor her Father were seen again. Rather unsurprisingly this chapter was later published as a stand alone horror story for children.

The Vanilla Fudge room was a room that included a mountain of vanilla fudge that the tour had to climb. Once they had done so Wilbur Rice and Tommy Troutbeck rode on carts full of fudge towards the machinery and out of sight of the group. Of this, Willie Wonka comments that he has a:

“large wire strainer … which is used specially for catching children before they fall into the machine…. It always catches them. At least it always has up to now.”

The Warming Candy room contains a boiler which, Mr Wonka explains, creates a sweet that a single drop of which would allow you to stand naked in a blizzard and not feel cold. Three children then gorge themselves on these sweets and are led away to giant refrigerators to cool off for several hours.

There was also a rumour of a Children’s Delight room. A sample of this chapter was submitted by Dahl to the Horn Book review. Although the contents of this chapter were never made public,  in return for the submission the Horn Book Review published an essay of why Dahl was a terrible person.

4) The Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. 

Iron throne

George R. R. Martin is the author of The Song of Ice and Fire book series which is the source material for the Game of Thrones TV show. Although the TV show is simply titled Game of Thrones in A Song Of Ice and Fire the books are thusly titled:

A Game of Thrones – 1996

A Clash of Kings – 1999

A Storm of Swords – 2000

A Feast of Crows – 2005

A Dance with Dragons – 2011

The Winds of Winter – Forthcoming

A Dream of Spring – Forthcoming

Although the Game of Thrones TV show and A Song of Ice and Fire follow the same plot, (the battle for the Iron Throne) there are notable differences. For example in Game of Thrones Catelyn Stark died at the Red Wedding where as in the books she is resurrected as a zombie called Lady Stoneheart.

Martin is a very interesting writer. He is a “notter” which stems from the phrase Plotter or Notter. He doesn’t plot out his novels in fine detail. He has ideas for certain points or beats of the story, sits down and writes. I personally find that a terrifying concept but I do admire the man for keeping so much of the Game of Thrones lore in his head. He locks himself in his office in Santa Fe, New Mexico, starts work at 10am and begins by editing the previous days work. Sometimes this takes five minutes, other times it takes all day.  Martin writes on a DOS Computer (which was made in the eighties) and has said that he only writes eight hundred words a day although they are good words.

Martin DOS

Martin started writing A Song of Ice in the early 1990’s but in 2017 The official WaterStone’s Twitter account published a letter by Martin written in 1993 that described the outline of the book series. At the time Martin envisioned a three book series. The first book would contain (and resolve) the battle for the Iron Throne. The second book would follow Danni’s invasion of Westeros from Essos and the third book would be the story of the White Walker invasion from the north.

At the time Martin planned to write one book per year and estimated that each book would be eight hundred pages long. In the 2000’s Martin realised that the story and many subplots was going to be a lot longer than he anticipated. He bumped the series up from three novels to six and promised one book every two years. Martin failed to reach this goal as it has been eight years since the last book in the series was released.

Although the plot was always split between Danni’s invasion, Jon on the Wall and the battle for the Iron Throne several characters went through various changes. In the first draft Sansa was going to have Joffrey’s baby during her stay in King’s Landing, Joffrey and Robb Stark were going to meet on the battle field, both Jon and Tyrion were going to fall in love with Ayra (yuck!) and only five characters were going to survive to the end of the series. It’s unclear if this last point has been changed or not.

5) The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit

The Hobbit was first published in 1937 and is the prequel to The Lord of the Rings. The story of the Hobbit starts with Bilbo Baggins being convinced by Gandalf to host a party for a group of dwarfs. After the party Gandalf explains that the dwarfs plan to enter the Lonely Mountain, kill the dragon living inside and reclaim the treasure it has stolen. Bilbo joins the group and once he returns home at the end of the story he is rich and famous. The story Lord of the Rings has a much darker tone. Gandalf realises that a ring Bilbo acquired in The Hobbit, is the key to destroy the dark lord Sauron and assist Bilbo’s nephew, Frodo and the rest of the fellowship, in taking the ring to Mordor and destroying it.

Originally in The Hobbit, Bilbo was to be outgoing and charismatic but this was changed in later version turning him into the reluctant and introverted character we know him to be. During his battle with the dragon Bilbo was to cut the underbelly of the dragon open and escape the dragon’s cave by surfing on a golden cup through the dragon’s blood.


There were also interesting changes regarding Gollum and the One Ring. Gollum was much more friendlier than we know him and although he did have a riddling contest with Bilbo in the Misty Mountain, he agreed to give Bilbo the ring and they parted on good terms. In the published version, Bilbo tricks Gollum into giving him the ring and has to escape. In both the first draft and the published editions of The Hobbit, the ring is treated as a tool rather than an sentient object.

The Ring

After the success of The Hobbit, Tolkien’s publishers asked for more stories involving hobbits. Tolkin agreed and thought that another Bilbo adventure was needed. He wrote a story that involved Bilbo, having spent his treasures from The Hobbit, going on a quest to seek more gold. Bilbo departed Bag End with his three friends, Frodo, Drago and Ogo, passed through Rivendell and reached as far as Weathertop before Tolkin scrapped the idea. Bilbo became sidelined by Frodo and the characters Drago and Ogo developed into Sam (whose family had always been in the first draft) Pippin and later Merry.LOTR14

Aragon was originally an unnamed hobbit, famous for his wooden shoes, that lived in Bree. In the next draft Aragon revealed to Frodo that he was in fact king of the hobbits. In a following draft his name was strider and in the next revision strider became codename for Aragon the heir to Isildur and the rightful claimant to the thrones of Arnor and Gondor. It was only after this revelation that Tolkin decided that Aragon should be human.

It’s hard to imagine Viggo Mortensen wearing wooden shoes, isn’t it?

I’ve hope you’ve enjoyed reading this little list. If you want to follow me on Twitter you can do so by clicking here and I look forward to seeing you next week when I discuss first draft of famous films.

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