Monday, March 16, 2015

Rewriting The First Chapter: Mining Your Current Beginning For Gems

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. Last week, I wrote a post on How to Know If You Need To rewrite your opening line, paragraph, scene or chapter.

Today, we're going to focus on the chapter you already wrote and which parts or intentions should get tossed or be recycled when you rewrite. I'm going to use my novel ROWDY DAYS OF DOM SANDERS as an example for you. Let's look as some questions you can ask yourself to figure out exactly how you should rewrite and what you originally did right (sort of.)

What did you love about it?
It's important to reread and remind yourself what you loved about your original chapter. Is it the voice? The character introduction? Or maybe its the way you worked in the setting.

For me and DOM, my love of my initial first chapter was based on showing Dom's trickster qualities, and reflecting the opening chapter of its inspirational book. (Dom is a Tom Sawyer Retelling.) I wanted to echo the opening of Tom Sawyer by having an adult looking for him and having him come out of hiding. I also needed to establish who his family and pet dog was, that they were poor and living in a new house that needed a lot of work, and that Dom really wanted a horse. My first chapter did that.

What may be hindering it?
This may be a harder thing to figure out on your own. Trusted Critique Partners or even beta readers may be able to shed some light on what's missing or if you are starting the story in the wrong place.

I'd had dozens of feedback and CP input on Dom, and many people loved its opening. But I had read on several agent blogs and heard agents as conferences mention that new houses, schools, and new kid in town could be tropes to avoid in the opening. I felt that Dom's was unique, but still worried about how it was coming across to professionals.

My other concern that one CP brought up was that my antagonist wasn't mentioned until chapter three. That seems too long to her, so she suggestioned cutting the first two chapters and starting there. While the idea was heart wrenching and exciting all at once, I just couldn't do it. Chapter two had a few key things that needed to be established for the rest of the novel. I couldn't think of a way to get that important info in another way I hadn't already tried.

Is anything else needed in the first line/scene/chapter?
Now you know what to keep and what to get rid of. But what else do you need? According to Les Edgerton, there are ten elements that should be considered. The first four are vital, the last six are things to consider.

  1. Inciting incident: what happens that brings forth the buried problem that pushes plot forward
  2. Story-worthy problem: that buried problem throughout the plot
  3. Initial surface problem: propels protagonist to action (or none-action), makes main character make a decision.
  4. Set up: only give what’s necessary for reader to understand next scene.
  5. Back story: dole out bit by bit.
  6. and 7. Opening line/Language: Reduce adverbs and adjectives. Each adjective diminishes first line by 10%. Avoid forms of “to be”. Reduce redundancy such as “ran quickly.” Avoid invisible words such as “beautiful” that dilute prose; the reader will skip over them anyways. Use these suggestions throughout manuscript, too!
  7. Character intro: pick telling detail and let reader fill in the rest as they get to know them in the manuscript. “ Also, don’t flood beginning with too many characters!
  8. Setting: the setting sprinkled in the opening should only help reader understand the time period, culture, or society of the story. 
  9. Foreshadowing: hint at action and/or obstacles throughout manuscript. More necessary for some genres than others. Thrillers and mysteries benefit from it.
For Dom, I was missing some foreshadowing via a bad guy, and a pull back of back story. I also needed to make it more exciting to grab some serious reader/agent attention.

Next week, I'll help you with the actual rewriting and give you an example from Dom to finish off this series!

What do you love about your current WIPs beginning? What do you think you need to change? Please tell me in the comments below!

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