Monday, July 25, 2011

First Chapter Troubles

You only get one chance to make a great impression. And I'm having an outfit crisis it seems with my first novel's first chapter. I have three options:

  1. The original first chapter, one scene of Johnathan meeting one-night stand in bar.
  2. The original second chapter moved up, Johnathan waking up with her in his bed.
  3. A mash up of both, cutting the bar scene shorter, and ending with morning after.
I think I'm going with option number 3. I started rewriting last night at 2 AM (fantastic toddler opted NOT to sleep from 2 AM to 4 AM). I only have a paragraph, but I like it better than anything else so far.

For comparison:

Original first paragraph:

Johnathan Michaels' solitary watch on a black plastic bar chair grew more torturous with each passing minute. He checked his navy blue digital. Fifteen minutes late. If it was anyone else, he'd have already left. 

First paragraph of original Chapter 2, currently Chapter 1:

Tastes of roof tar and rotten fruit filled Johnathan's mouth. Pulling his sticky lips apart with a soft smacking sound, he tried to clear the after-party taste from his mouth with a swish of his tongue. No, he needed mouthwash and a good brushing. 

New chapter 1 beginning written last night:

At quarter to eight, Johnathan Michaels suffered the stuffy one-week-to-Christmas Metro train, then froze his nuts off walking three blocks to a bar along the U Street Corridor. Twenty-five minutes later and killing his second beer, he waited uncomfortably alone on a wobbly, plastic bar chair. Alex and Eric were late. If it had been anyone else, he'd have already left.

In my last year of high school, we spent an entire 9 weeks on college essays, working and reworking four different essays each. One of weekly exercises we had to do was rewrite three of the four essays' beginnings in three different ways. That's 9 different introductory paragraphs, and we had notes on different ways to start, such as with a quote, lyrics, sensory device, in the middle, traditionally, etc. I don't remember all of them.

I'm learning an important lesson: say more with less. In the last paragraph, I given the setting (Washington DC) the time (one week before Christmas) and action. I also managed to keep my male characters' voice. I've realized I neutered him quite a bit in the manuscript, trying so hard to follow different rules, but I don't think it's good writing without my character's view on things. Originally, I had this entire paragraph talking about the freezing December weather, but I think "froze his nuts off" captures the exact temperature. We all know what that feels like. If the story was from Alexis' POV, I would have described the sharp pain in her feet as feeling returned after her frozen three-block walk from the train station.

On Wednesday, I'm driving to Virginia for 10 days. My mother has promised to watch Catie so I can get back on track with my manuscript. I remember one of my Twitter writer friends talking about how she just retypes her first draft from scratch to edit/improve to a second draft. I'm seriously considering it. Maybe not for every chapter, but the problematic ones. I have some awesome chapters later on, but that does me no good if I can't make chapter 1 grab the reader's imagination and hold it until the next one.

I also have a book review due this week.

Beginning to doubt making a 9/22 publication date, BUT, I'm going to keep working towards it. Worst case scenario, I am late by a week or two, but keeping the time crunch until then won't hurt in the least.

"CANCELLED" arriving SEPTEMBER 2011A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby.


  1. Just realized I don't like the cadence of the third paragraph. Edit:

    At quarter to eight, Johnathan Michaels suffered the one-week-to-Christmas full Metro train, then froze his nuts off walking three blocks along the U Street Corridor. Twenty-five minutes later, Alex and Eric were late. Killing his second beer, he waited uncomfortably alone on a wobbly plastic bar chair. Anyone else, he'd have already left.

  2. Oh! Go with the first paragraph of chapter 2!!! That's an awesome first line/paragraph. Far more evocative than either of the others!! I immediately want to know what he was doing last night.

    The new one kinda bores me really. He's killing time/beers? That's not as interesting.