Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Rewriting the First Chapter: Putting it back together with purpose

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. Part 1 discussed how to know if you need to rewrite your manuscript's beginning and last week (Part 2) I helped you figure out what to keep from your original beginning and what else your rewrite might need.

Today we're putting it all back together, like a well-crafted Frankenstein. (Okay, bad analogy, but you know what I mean.)

At this point, you've figured out what you need and if what you think were the best parts of your beginning should stay. Then its time to brainstorm how best to implement them. This is a great time to put your main character through some exercises if you are into that sort of thing. Think about how he or she will react to certain changes, write them into a corner and see what they do. Or just take a few steps back and get creativity flowing to figure out your best rewriting plan.

For me, it was a combination of brainstorming and talking it out with a great writer friend. (Thanks Shari!) After a great afternoon of story idea swapping and chatting and typing with some soup and coffee, she helped me realize that Dom just needed to come more alive and meet his nemisis sooner.

It took me about two weeks to rewrite the first chapter. Actually, it was combining my first and third chapters, working family intros into chapter two, and segwaying smoothly into my new chapter three. I thought long and hard about that first line, and as soon as I wrote it, I knew it was perfect. I made sure every sentence had a purpose, a part to play in each of the ten things I mentioned in part 2 of this series: initial surface problem, inciting incident, story worthy problem, character intros, setting, back story, language, foreshadowing, and setting.

I won a critique from a published author's blog and sent her the new first chapter. She helped me fine tune it, and then I gave it to a few CPs, the two that already LOVED Dom (and when I say loved, it was like fangirling and those moments when I wished they were agents.) With their thumbs-up, I sent the manuscript (that I'd already pimped to nearly every major agency) out to a few more on my dwindling list. 

The changes I made garnered two quick full manuscript requests in February, and landed me my awesome agent Jessica Schmeidler just last week on March 18th. (Emotional can't-believe-it post and shameless plug for her here) . Here's the first chapter. Let me know what you think in the comments below:

I snuck in the front door of our new house with a gopher snake dangling in my hand. Pops had to be in there somewhere. Searching between shafts of July sun from the holes in the ceiling, I found him hunched over a map on the kitchen table. 

"What are you doing?" I asked, thinking eagerly of treasure hunts and hunting trips. I slipped the snake into the pocket of my sweatshirt. He’d come in handy later.

"Well, Ol' Red is nearly out of gas, Son. And Mom don't get paid ‘til Monday. But I’ve got an idea." He pointed to the map. "When we go through town and ‘round to the mill, it's fifteen miles. But look."

He dragged his bony finger down the blue-inked lines of the creek, around the mill and South. Then he stopped, pointing to our property.

"If we drive through the creek..." I started.

"It's only ‘bout two miles," he finished.

"Will we make it?" Visions of white water rapids rushed around my mind.

"Should. Gotta avoid any deep spots. Mom’s off here soon. Load Rosie up and we’ll go get her."

It's not every day I got to ride up a creek in a truck, but even my excitement dimmed. Pop's wild ideas never panned out. The thumb stump on his left hand proved it.

My terrier Rosie’s blonde tail wagged as I lifted her up, and then she sniffed my pocket. The snake shifted as I pushed her aside and climbed into the cab.

Pop crept Ol’ Red around the hunched house and slumping shed. We’d only spent a night there, and already it felt like home. My brother Reed pumped his fist the night before when he turned the shower lever and nothing came out. Pop warned us that we had a busy summer ahead fixing things up, but I didn’t mind.

Even as Ol’ Red crawled slowly down the slope between the fields, I noticed something else that needed mending. The single-wire fence hung lifeless to the ground. We’d have to fix that when I got my horse. The truck tires bounced over gopher holes and upturned rocks, and the seat squeaked as it tossed us around. I kept my hand in my pocket, keeping track of my stowaway. Maybe I could sneak it onto the seat before Mom hopped in. I smirked. She’d be so freaked out. Gopher snakes look enough like rattlers to scare anyone who can't see the difference right away.

We stopped at the creek bank and got out to examine the depth of the water.

"I think we’re good. It stays shallow for a ways," Pop assured no one in particular.

"Yeah," I reluctantly agreed.

We climbed back onto the red bench seat. I made a show of snapping my seatbelt together and pulling Rosie into a protective hug. Pop grinned at me, double-checked our location on the map, and then waved it in the air like Charlie with Willy Wonka's golden ticket. I just laughed at him.

I held my breath as we eased upstream. A ways up, the front tires slipped. Dad shifted into reverse and circled around a big rock. I gazed out the window at the rising water, showing our progress. Pop did a great job of avoiding any major road blocks and keeping calm. I stroked a panting Rosie with one hand and the scales of the snake with the other. Eventually, I rolled the window down for all of us, and took in the view of the woods beyond our property.

Pop noticed my interest. "Lotta that land is a federal preserve. You guys can play up there, but be respectful of it."

"Yes, Sir."

Before I could say more, my feet felt wet. Pop detected it too, and we both panicked. Creek water was seeping under the truck doors. I pushed Rosie onto the bench beside me and clasped my knees to my chest.

"Uh, uh, uh, what do we do?" I asked.

"Well, we can't go back," Pop glanced at the map. "We’re ‘bout there. It should be right ‘round that bend. Hang tight."

The water started filling the floor board inch by inch. The movie Titanic we watched last year flashed in my mind. I imagined breathing the last bit of air in the cab just like Jack and his sweetheart did at the locked passage gate. At my funeral Papa Kyle would say, "Twelve was too young for Dom to leave this earth. Yet he loved his mom so much he died trying to pick her up from work."

Finally, the green tin roof of the mill came into view. Pop pulled up the embankment and parked on the side of the building by the office porch. When he opened the door, several gallons of liquid gushed out with him. Relief escaped my chest with a sigh. I rolled the window most of the way up and followed him, shutting Rosie inside. I patted my pocket to make sure the snake was there, and decided to stay close to the truck to beat mom back and pull my prank.

The menacing bark of a black-faced Rottweiler startled me. I made a face at her, egging her on. She barked even more. Who’d left her chained out here in the hot sun? I made a wide arc around her, searching for her owner, teasing her all the while. 

Someone had their back to me at the shop door. His husky voice snared into a phone, “I’ll deliver the goods tomorrow. Tell Rook to make the distraction happen.” The man slammed the phone back on its wall bracket and spun.

"Shut up, you stupid— Hey! Boy, what are you doing?” China Jin hollered. He skipped a step to the ground and marched toward me. Sharp eyes shot through black, greasy bangs, but a smirk lifted his thin mustache. "You keep taunting Missy, I'll let her off that chain and see how fast you can run." 

He was trying to scare me.

It was working.

Rosie howled like a hound dog and scratched the glass, not liking how close the stranger stood to me. I shushed her over my shoulder while scooting around Ol’ Red’s front bumper. My sweatshirt caught on it and fell off my waist. I didn’t stop to grab it. My parents came out of the office to see what the commotion was about.

"China Jin just told me he was gonna sick his dog on me!" I shouted to them, turning to point at him. But he and the dog had disappeared.

Mom shepherded us back to our ride. "You just leave that man alone. He works hard, but there’s something about him I just don't like."

I scooped my sweatshirt off the ground and searched its pockets. Just like China Jin, the snake was gone.


The bottom line? Sometimes you have to do what you know is best for the manuscript. Just slice, dice, and toss that beginning until it is worthy of the publication table!

Thanks for reading this week! Next week, I'm diving back into freelancing topics with a special guest and another mini series, this time on Ghostwriting. Don't miss it!

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