So, for various reasons, I'm rereading the HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH books about the writing of Lord of the Rings. They're fascinating (for certain values of fascinating); what I'm going to do this time try to extract writing advice (thread)
Tolkien wrote drafts out by hand; he'd make scribbled notes on one draft that might get worked into the next. Most of the drafts were preserved, so we get to trace how the story evolves and changes. Basically, it's the Track Changes of doom.
First off - Tolkien sets out to write a sequel to the Hobbit, and he has absolutely no idea what it's about. But the man's a pantser (not a panther, autocorrect), so he just starts writing. And Hobbit nonsense amuses him, so we get a lot of Hobbit nonsense at the start.
The basic elements of 'A LONG-EXPECTED PARTY' are there, and some of the dialogue and description survives through many *many* drafts to the final text. Stuff like the fireworks, the various Hobbit families, the speeches. And Bilbo vanishing with the ring.
But he has no idea where Bilbo's going or why. There's a vague idea that he's run out of money, or gotten bored with the Shire, but that's about it. Still, Tolkien's already crossed the hardest threshold - he's broken the white page and actually written something.
Pretty soon, though, he runs into a problem. The Hobbit ended with "Bilbo lived happily to the end of his days", and obviously, he can't go back and change a published book - that'd be madness. So, either he sticks with Bilbo as his protagonist, or he comes up with a new hero.
Enter... Bingo Baggins.

Bilbo's son and heir.

Bingo's a sort of proto-Frodo, obviously. At this stage, he's basically Bilbo 2.0, without any real personality. His motivation wobbles between "Adventure" and "Moar Gold" for a bit.
So, lesson 2: continuity is important. If you're writing a series, everything has to line up with the previous books, so be careful of voice-of-god pronouncements like "he lived happily ever after".
Anyway, Bingo sets off with his faithful companions, Frodo and Odo. They'll become Merry and Pippin eventually, but after about a million name changes. Getting the right name for a character is very important, but you can live with placeholders for a bit.
They set off from Bag End for pretty undefined reasons. There's a vague "let's go on an adventure" feel, some muttering about money or the lack thereof, but again, there's absolutely no real hint of a plot at this point.
The absolutely pivotal exposition chapter at the beginning, THE SHADOW OF THE PAST, doesn't get inserted for ages. Tolkien's absolutely just spinning his wheels, amusing himself with Hobbitry. He's writing what he likes.
About the only idea he has for 'stuff that's going to happen' is 'Tom Bombadil sequence', and even that's him recycling material he wrote earlier (Tom, Old Man Willow, and the Barrow-wight comes from some poetry he wrote years prior).
(Also missing: Sam Gamgee. Not present even in embryonic form.)
As he's writing and revising, Tolkien realises that yeah, the one dangling plot hook from the Hobbit is the nature of the ring. So, he starts noodling with the idea that the story is going to be about the Ring somehow.
He starts making notes and writing fragments that will eventually become THE SHADOW OF THE PAST, but they're not yet integrated into the main story. Still, there's a subtle change of tone by the time Bingo and company run into Gildor and the Elves.
Around this point, there's also one of the most significant significant turning points in the development of the story.
The Hobbit are walking along the Road. They hear a horse approaching.

There's a mysterious rider, hooded and cloaked.

They hide.

He sniffs.

Pulls back his hood. It's Gandalf!
Tolkien then crosses out the last line. The mysterious sniffing rider transmutes from the Hobbit's friendly wizard pal to a sinister hunter, stalking Bingo across the Shire. As Tolkien puts it, "stories get out of hand, and this has taken an unpremeditated turn."
Without that moment, the 'Hobbit sequel' would probably have been exactly that. A sequence of mostly light-hearted escapades and a lot of talk about beer and sandwiches, of a length and piece with the Hobbit.
Bolts of inspiration can look like mistakes, and vice versa. Sometimes, you've got to chase a story down what looks like a blind alley.
(more later)
It’s fascinating to watch ideas bubble up and be discarded or retained. Is Farmer Maggot a relative of Tom Bombadil?(no) Do the hobbits get ambushed by Black Riders on the way to Rivendell? (Yes, but not in the way Tolkien initially outlines it)
The Bree chapter is a great example of how you can write a sequence and then later on add significance. The actual text comes together quickly in Tolkien’s draft. All the familiar elements are there - Butterbur, letter from Gandalf, silly Song, the use of the Ring, riders lurking
Even Bill Ferny.

but Saruman hasn’t been invented yet, so Ferny’s a sinister element without any real purpose. It’s only later that Tolkien connects him to a more complex plot.
I do this in games all the time - drop in a shadowy figure, work out who they’re working for later. it can also work in novels, although it can backfire. Novels need to be more coherent and have less space for explanations, so adding random baddies can be counterproductive.
The other huge difference is the mysterious Ranger in the corner of the inn. It’s... Trotter the Hobbit, a tough-as-nails wild hobbit with wooden shoes.
Trotter stays as a hobbit for many chapters before he gets rewritten as a Man. It’s amazing how little text gets changed, though. Sort of freeing, too - I must try making more radical changes in my own drafts and see how it goes.
More writing advice: do not promise your publisher that you’ll submit your new book in early 1939 if it’s going to take another decade to finish.
(And if you do, don’t demand they also publish your giant largely impenetrable epic at the same time, dump them in a fit of pique, and then come back when the other publisher doesn’t play ball.

To get away with that, your sales would have to be... oh)
(Stopping here again for a bit, but come back soon for “Tolkien gives really good advise on revising” and “Tolkien absolutely screws up by tying his hobbits in knots”)
Tolkien's reuse of words and concepts from the Silmarillion is hilarious. On p. 49 of the Hobbit, he mentions Gondolin; on p. 53. the Mines of Moria.

YOU: Hey JRRT of 1939, what are the Mines of Moria?
JJRT1939: Uh, dunno. Some Dwarf stuff, I guess? Just a name I made up.
YOU: Oh, ok. And Gondolin, a reference you dropped in an equally offhand fashion?
JRRT: *deep breath*
JRRT: Well Turgon was the second son of Fingolfin son of Finwe, brother to Fingon who rescued Maedhros from Thangordrim. Now the Vala Ulmo showed Turgon a hidden valley, where-
It's with the name Glorfindel that it really comes back to bite him. Glorfindel (1) was a heroic elf who slew the Captain of the Balrogs at the Fall of Gondolin in the First Age; Tolkien then uses the name for Glorfindel (2) who shows up to help Bingo and Trotter.
What does it mean if two Elves have the same name? Tolkien agonises over this for ages. What's the nature of death for Elves, then? If Glorfindel comes back, why don't other elves? Do Elves reincarnate? Many, many essays and changes of mind later, the answer is 'sorta'.
Said essays are interesting if you're deep into the lore of Middle-earth. From a writing perspective, though, it can be a good idea to remind yourself that you're in charge, and sometimes a simple change can avoid a lot of hangups. Like, say, calling the elf Clive or something.
Anyway, I've got to the point in the book where Tolkien stops for a bit, outlines the next bit, pulls plot threads together, and generally solidifies what he's got so far.

He's already hinted at it, but now he's decided that the Ring is the main plot.
So, he goes back and puts in the Shadow of the Past, and explains the backstory of the Rings and Sauron. It's not all together yet - Minas Tirith hasn't been imagined yet, so the Ring's dropped by a random elf, not Isildur. He's hazy on how many Rings there are, and who has them.
But he has his core story. Get the Ring to the Fire.

Now as he revises, the Ring becomes more sinister and important. The Hobbit buddies are now shown to be more aware of the Ring; we get the idea of a 'conspiracy' to support Bingo, as opposed to 'a bunch of Hobbits go hiking'
(The movies dropped this concept, which was a pity.)
His notes for revision add Sam, almost as an afterthought. He resolves to have *fewer* Hobbits. Currently, we've got Bingo (who'll become Frodo), Frodo (who'll become Merry), Odo (who'll become Pippin), and Trotter (>Strider). He's about to add Sam. He decides to get rid of Odo.
In the next few drafts, he totally fucks this up, and it's hilarious. What T. wants is "Frodo and Merry (and maybe Sam, if he keeps the idea of the servant") go on a quest. Drop Odo. But he has lots of Odo-dialogue in his existing drafts. What to do?
So, plan: The first bit of the book is "Hobbits go to Crickhollow". He'll dump Odo there.

But he also wants there to be a bath and a warm welcome at Crickhollow, so he has another Hobbit there, Olo (who'll become Fatty Bolger).
Then he ends up changing his mind for a bit, and keeps Odo in the party, renaming him Folco and changing Olo to Odo. So, he's almost at the final setup in Lord of the Rings, right?
Now, in Lord of the Rings, Fatty Bolger stays behind at Crickhollow to pretend to be Frodo, and ends up running from the Black Riders.

Here, though, Tolkien has Gandalf show up and rescue Odo. Gandalf then drags Odo with him while he's being chased by the Nazgul.
Gandalf brings Odo all the way to Rivendell. So, Tolkien's attempts to trim the number of Hobbits down to 3 (proto-Frodo, proto-Merry, proto-Pippin) ends up giving him 6 Hobbits in the Fellowship (Frodo, Merry, Pippin, Sam, Trotter and Odo/Fatty Bolger).
So, obviously, the solution is to not have Gandalf show up at Crickhollow, so he can't be there to rescue Olo and Olo won't tag along to Rivendell. So, where's Gandalf?

He's been imprisoned.

By who.

"The Giant Treebeard."
There are a bunch of Tolkien's 'the story foreseen' outlines in the History of Middle-Earth books, and virtually all of them have a note about the evil Giant Treebeard, who's totally going to do something mean to our heroes.
He'll capture Frodo. He's the one who captured Gandalf. He's in league with Sauron. Or Saruman. Tolkien's really, really hazy about most of the rest of the story, but if there's one thing he's absolutely sure about, it's that Treebeard's a bad egg.
So, another lesson: don't be beholden to your outlines*. They're a tool, a framework, not a binding restriction.

(*: assuming we're talking about novels here. Freelance RPG writing, different matter :))
Another good bit of advice Tolkien gives is to reduce anticipation. Often, when writing, you'll have an idea in one scene, but as you go on, you'll discover a later scene uses a more powerful form of the same idea.
For example, Tolkien has some dwarves show up at Bilbo's party with news of Dale. Then, later, he meets Gloin at Rivendell.

He (correctly) suggests to himself that he should cut the first set of dwarves, because it'll make the meeting with Gloin more interesting.
(He doesn't actually make the change, because he later increases the time gap between Bilbo's party and the rest of the action, but the intent is sound.)
There's a different between anticipation and foreshadowing. Anticipation is reducing the impact of a cool concept by having a lesser version of it show up earlier in the book; foreshadowing is hinting at a cool concept that's going to show up.
Another example of paths not taken: at one point, it's suggested that there were a bunch of invisible goblin-wraiths...
So, we're finally at Rivendell! Yay! We've got an uncertain number of Hobbits, but all the expected beats are there. Gandalf. Elrond. "The Sword of the Necromancer" aka the Morghul-knife, and Frodo's healing. Meeting up with Bilbo again, and getting Sting and the mithril-vest.
(The mithril-vest is another tangle of continuity. Bingo/Frodo can't have had the vest at Weathertop, otherwise he couldn't be stabbed. Ergo, Bilbo took it, and Bingo now inherits it. Only it's not a mithril-vest yet, as mithril won't be invented for another few chapters...)
The Council of Elrond introduces some new characters - Glóin and his son Gimli, sundry elves, and Boromir of Ond.

Ond's a kingdom in the south, near the Fiery Mountain, and it's under assault.
It's striking how many bits of the final book float around for ages before coming to their 'correct' configuration. Right now, the current draft has:
* Trotter the Hobbit
* Rangers as the descendants of Numenor
* The land of Ond
* The One Ring being lost
but they're not connected
Other ideas will never survive. For example, the first hint of what would become 'the Scouring of the Shire' is the idea that a dragon might invade Hobbiton at the end of the book.
Actually, here's a fascinating sample of one of Tolkien's outlines at this point. Outline:  Have to wait 'til...
It's all there, and yet it's clear he's only glimpsing it distantly. Whole _books_ take him by surprise - that's basically a synopsis of the rest of Book II, Book V and VI. No Rohan. No Ithilien. Only a hint of Cirith Ungol.
The Council of Elrond scene is much shorter in the first drafts. The whole hunt for Gollum is missing, and there's much less discussion of what to do with the Ring, or the Ring's history.
Then we get onto the composition of the Fellowship, and it all goes a bit funhouse mirror. The iconic 'Nine Walkers - four hobbits, elf, dwarf, Aragorn, Boromir, Wizard' is so familiar it's hard to imagine another configuration.
But Tolkien considers options like "Gandalf, Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Odo, Trotter, Glorfindel, Gimli."

Or "Gandalf, Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Trotter, Boromir".

Or the "ablative Hobbit" setup, where it's just the six Hobbits and Gandalf.
They set off, and the journey up to the Redhorn Pass is pretty much as it is in the book. Tolkien describes Boromir forcing a path through the snow and carrying the hobbits out of danger.
Including Trotter.

Trotter, who'd been portrayed as super-competent up until now, is now overshadowed by Boromir. It's clear that the character needs to change, and so he's transformed into a Man in the next draft.
It's bizarre, comparing the texts. There are passages of description that you'd swear were absolutely designed to suggest Strider's kingly ancestry and heroic stature that were actually written for Trotter, the battle-damaged wild hobbit with the wooden shoes.
The author and the reader perceive almost completely different texts.
Moria, and the hilarious continuity error on the doors. (Immortalised here:…)
The Moria-chapters are very close to their final form in first draft, including the fall of Gandalf. Tolkien contemplates removing Gandalf in several outlines, and seems to have always intended he return.
It's Gandalf's nemesis who changes quite a bit. At first, it's going to be a host of orcs on the bridge. Then, a Black Rider. Then he hits on the idea of it being a Balrog (another pull from his Legendarium).

Later, he even thinks of revising the scene so it's Saruman!
Another writer-y tip: Tolkien often slips from relatively finished prose into sketchy outlines. He'll start off describing, say, the crossing of the mountains in detail, and then on the same page scribble "down to Moria gate. Watcher in Water. Dark. Gollum-eyes?"
He clearly tries to capture his thoughts at the time, so when he comes back to the page he has some idea where he was going.
Anyway, we're here at Balin's tomb, where Tolkien famously stopped for some time, so more tomorrow.

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More from @mytholder

31 Oct 20
Why, Mr. Frodo, remember when you were Bingo, sir? Or Odo Bolger coming to Rivendell on the back of Mr. Gandalf's horse? Or the time we were imprisoned by Giant Treebeard in his garden? Don't these twitter threads never end?

By 1944, Tolkien had got up to the end of what's now Book IV - Frodo captured by the orcs, Sam on the far side of the gate. He doesn't get back to this story for another three years.
He had these scenes in mind long before that, though - Frodo getting captured has been in the works since Lorien. However, when he actually gets to this point, he wobbles a bit.
Read 75 tweets
30 Oct 20
All right, here's thread #3, as we go through THE WAR OF THE RING, the next volume of the HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH
The War of the Ring, by the way, was a potential title for the third volume of Lord of the Rings, which Tolkien preferred to Return of the King, as it wasn't a spoiler.
The Lord of the Rings was never intended to be a trilogy, either - Tolkien assumed it'd be published as one big volume.
Read 113 tweets
27 Oct 20
Thread 2! We're starting in THE TREASON OF ISENGARD, Volume 7 of the History of Middle-earth.
(I lost my copy of 8 and haven't actually read ever gotten to read Vol. 9, but copies of both are on their way.)
So, having reached Balin's tomb, and with a rough idea of where the book's going to go, Tolkien... goes back and revises his first chapters again. At length.
Read 93 tweets

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