Current word count: 16,822
Words written today: 394
Words til goal: 23,178 / 367 words a day til the end of September
Additional writing: revised two chapters in first novel. Now on chapter 20 of 33.
Yesterday I said that, as well as working on my new book, I have been revising my original novel, especially the opening chapter. In fact, I moved a lot of parts around so that a scene in chapter two became the new opener, a scene from the original chapter one was placed in the new chapter two, and 4,000 words were cut. The opener of this book has had more facelifts than Joan Rivers (ok, maybe not that many, but close 🙂 ), but this is normal, especially for the opening scenes.
To me, chapter one is the most important parts of a book, because it has to draw in the reader. The first few sentences have the biggest job of all. After chapter one, the second most important part of a manuscript is every other sentence, because each one has to keep the reader turning pages, and those at the end must resonate with the reader enough that he or she will want to treasure that book, recommend it to friends and seek out more by the same author. But that’s all after the reader has been enticed by chapter one.
There’s a generalization that most of the time, what’s written in chapter three is really the best start for the story because it takes a while for the writer to get into the story. This was very true for this manuscript. As this opener has had so much work done on it, I thought it would be interesting to detail it for you guys:
First draft of chapter one: POV not protagonist’s; scene showed the discovery of an item that is the reason for the protagonist to move.
Second draft of chapter one: same reason for scene but I tried a different POV, again not the protagonist (he can’t be in this scene). The reason I tried this second version of basically the same scene was because the first version was in an adult’s POV and I thought it would be better in a kid’s.
Third draft of chapter one: at a writer’s retreat, an agent suggested I use the same POV throughout, which meant I couldn’t use the item discovery scene as my protagonist couldn’t be in that scene. So my old chapter two, in which the protagonist is back home and first learns about them moving, became chapter one. This scene was reworked about three times for action as I got to know the character, but I’m not including them as individual drafts here.
Fourth draft of chapter one: In my new chapter one, my protagonist learned about them moving, but in chapter two he learned more about it as he eavesdropped on his parents talking, then in chapter three they moved. In the fourth draft, I realized that the story doesn’t start until they get to the new place, so I cut down all that back story to a couple paragraphs (at least it ended up being a couple paragraphs after many edits) and put it in chapter three, which became my new chapter one.
NOTE: All of this was before I had even finished the book! It was around this time that I got more dedicated, starting writing every day, and decided to forge ahead to the end of the book before I did any more editing.
In subsequent drafts of the full novel, the chapter one didn’t change too much from that fourth draft, except getting tighter and using better word choices. Until…
Fifth complete draft of chapter one: This was my latest reworking of the section, in which chapter two (technically, I think it would have been the original chapter four) became chapter one. Now in the opening scene, he has already moved in and is starting to explore his surroundings, the surroundings that bring him into the story.
I haven’t listed all the little word, sentence structure revisions that have been done in the various chapter ones. This lists just the major reworkings. But rest assured, there were numerous revisions for writing.
This kind of reworking is not unusual. Each story is different, and every time you write a new story, it will be different. But working on finding the best opening scene can take multiple tries. But it’s important work, necessary work. Many readers won’t buy a book unless they’ve read the first few pages and want to read more. I’m like that, and I know I’m not alone. If I’m interested in the title, I’ll read the jacket copy, and if I’m interested in the jacket copy, I’ll open the book and read the first few pages. If I’m not bored, I’ll buy the book. So, to satisfy readers like myself, I have to make sure that those opening pages really sing.
In my critique group a few weeks ago, a member of the group brought in his third revision of his chapter one and he sighed — with a smile — saying he didn’t think it would be his last revision. No, it won’t be. But that’s ok. It’s part of the process and part of the journey of writing the story. As I wrote all those chapter ones that eventually got cut, I learned about the characters. I now know more about the characters than what’s in the final book, and I think that’s the way it should be.
So, if you’re on your third and fourth version of your chapter one, don’t worry, you’ll find the perfect opener, even if it takes a few more drafts. The important thing is to keep trying.
How’s your writing or revising coming?