Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Rewriting The First Chapter: How You Know You Need To

If you're actively using online resources within the publishing industry (you are researching so you can learn, aren't you?) then you may have heard that rewriting the first page is not only recommended, but also necessary for your novel or project to come to fruition. I've decided to do a mini series on the steps of rewriting any novel's beginning.

We're going to start today with how you can tell for sure whether or not you need to do any rewriting on your novel's beginning.

I actually didn't begin the whole "rewrite the beginning" thing with DOM. I was working on one of several WIPs, a YA fantasy with multiple viewpoints. I'd put the first chapter in front of several writing group critiques, a couple online critiques, as well as NANO 2014 forums for input. I got so much varied input that my head nearly orbited off the earth. Too much action, not enough grounding, too much intamacy between sisters, not enough personality from the sisters... the list went on and on. I finally set it aside and awaited trusted critique partner feedback.

In the meantime, I did what I do best: researched. I read dozens of trusted blogs' post on novel beginnings, editing, and rewriting. Following their suggestions, I stalked my local bookstore's shelves, reading first lines, pages, and chapters. I also used my kindle app to check them out. I even bought a used copy of HOOKED: Write Fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go by Les Edgerton at Lori Goldstein's suggestion. (By the way, if you haven't pre-ordered her book BECOMING JINN yet, go do it right now! It comes out in April!)

At this point, DOM had been through several rounds of contests without too much success. So what did I need to do to make Dom more attractive? I brainstormed for the millionth time, and wondered if maybe the opening wasn't doing its job just as my YA fantasy's wasn't either. I'd changed it quite a bit, but maybe it just "started in the wrong place" or "didn't give enough foreshadowing" or "didn't give the reader enough concern for Dom." Should I rewrite the first scene? Combine some of the first few scenes? Cut the first few chapters all together?

I sent it out with these questions to my critique partners and beta readers. I got a lot of mixed answers. It took me another couple months of hemming and hawing to finally open the document back up and force myself to look over every word of the first chapter with very, very subjective eyes. And I realized the first chapter just wasn't doing its job.

And by subjective, I mean tired.

What is the first sentence/scene/chapter supposed to do and how do you know if you need to rewrite it? Here are some questions for you to ask yourself before you get out the red pen or scissors.

Does it start in turmoil?
It doesn't have to be crazy action or fighting. It could be inner turmoil or an important choice. But if the scene is stagnant of some sort of conflict, the reader might just stop.

Does it offer even a slightest hint of foreshadowing?
This is one of the most common reasons agents encourage writers to rewrite their beginnings. Once the manuscript is done, the writer knows where the plot is going and can better foreshadow what's to come to keep the reader wondering from page one.

Do you hint or introduce the antagonist or major problem?
Just as you need to introduce your main character in all his or her personality, your bad guy needs to have some sort of mention in the beginning of the story. Even if its just a slur from your good guy.

Does your protagonist fully introduce him or herself?
Of course we all know that we should meet the main character right away. But its more then this is so and so and he likes cookies. We need a sense of voice, personality, and a reason to root for him (or her).

Does the reader get fully settled into your setting?
The beginning isn't a place for info dump, but like a well-seasoned soup, you need to sprinkle setting details into the beginning to ground your plot in an environment that your reader can sense.

If you can't answer all the questions above with a resounding yes, then you may want to consider a rewrite. Come back next week for part two of this series to find out how to mine your current beginning for its best qualities.


  1. Thank you for the post! I know I will be using this as I write.

    1. I'm so glad it is valuable to you! Best of luck with your writing!

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  3. It was a very very good idea to form your skills of writing under those of the novels that you will almost used to build more confidence when you start seeking such ideas, so this will indeed be a good help. rephrasing sentences