A New Beginning (Literally)

Revise [Again]

So officially, I'm up to revision #8 (with many many more unnumbered revisions along the way).   Here's hoping that the eighth time's a charm.  I'm seeing notable improvements at each iteration, though - so it's been worth it, despite all the cursing and pity-fests.

The reply that I received from the agent (originally mentioned in my last blog post) was indeed a rejection but, as hoped, it was a personalized one that reaffirmed what I had suspected was the issue: the book wasn't starting where it needed to.

I'd been trying to rectify this for some time but I'd been afraid to bite the bullet and scrap a good chunk of the opening chapter. Instead, I'd tried to "Band-Aid" a solution by cutting what I was brave enough to address and adding in a few new opening paragraphs that provided some compelling world-building details I hoped would create interest right from the get go. But, as the agent's reply confirmed, I'd only compounded the issue.

Mary Rosenblum's Dec 2015 newsletter for new writers had already given me the direction I'd needed:

First Page Idol
Let's talk about the first page. Everybody reads the 'Look Inside the Book' or the sample download. At the recent speculative fiction writer's conference, where I was a panelist, one of my panels was 'First Page Idol'. We panelists were all publishers (except me, who edits for publishers and teaches this stuff) and, as in American Idol, the goal was to judge the first page of a novel. These were submitted by the audience. We put our hands up when we were done reading. That's where the editor rejects the mss by the way… Then we talked about why we were done.

It was a hit. A big hit. While we weren't nearly as snarky as the TV show judges, the comments were to the point and the writers who had the guts to submit got some great feedback. Look, folks, leave out the backstory at the start! That was the biggest source of waving hands. Put the readers down in a scene. You want them to at least have a sense of the world they're in, but [generating] reader-curiosity is fine. Satisfy it down the road a few pages! The characters who immediately started musing about why they were there and what was going on brought those waving hands into the air instantly. Yeah, we want to know what's going on but NOT RIGHT NOW. Right now, you need to make us lust for more so that we keep reading. Think action. A clear sense of conflict. Vivid main character.

Skip the backstory.

Yes. Really. SKIP IT. At least in that opening scene.

NOTE: if you don't already subscribe to Mary's newsletter and you're a new writer, I highly recommend it.

Books aren't written - they're rewritten

I'd lost ground and broken the first two tenets that every writer should have tattooed on the back of their hands: "show, don't tell" and "kill your darlings" (as in, remain ruthlessly objective about what you write and don't be afraid to cut something that's just not working, no matter how attached you've become to it). I'd loved how those opening few paragraphs wrapped up and I'd convinced myself that they were "world-building," not "backstory" so it was okay to have them there. But that "world-building" bordered on mild world-dumping, so it needed to go.   

My goal this weekend was to ruthlessly cut everything out of that first chapter that wasn't actually needed, bringing the opening of the manuscript to where the action actually kicks off ("arriving late to the scene" as my last post had mentioned) and then intermixing some of the key backstory points later on, into the flow of the narrative itself. I'm actually really happy with the results of this latest pass.  

I've sent the chapter to some of my early readers for their feedback. Once I hear back from them, I'll polish it up and send it out to the next agent on my list (who has graciously said that she'll take an update to the manuscript I'd sent her a few weeks ago).

I've always found that "starting" is the hardest part to writing... and it seems infinitely harder when you have to keep redoing that start over and over again. But it's getting there. If nothing else, writing these blog posts will serve me well when I eventually begin this same process for book #2, I'll be able to re-read the posts to remind myself of what I've learned along the way during this iteration. And hopefully, that'll save me from making a few of the same mistakes again.  :)  

Meanwhile, I've earned me a few hours watching Edge of Tomorrow on Netflix!  (To the internet!!)

All stories end when they return to the beginning



two Responses to "A New Beginning (Literally)"

  1. Eric Thomson
    Eric Thomson on 15-05-’16 19:32

    I’ve so been there, including with my latest where my editor told me to scrap the entire first chapter outright. You’re going through what every one of us has experienced, so pull out the electronic machete and hack.

  2. A. Lee Ripley
    A. Lee Ripley on 15-05-’16 21:11

    I have to say, I’m a fan of that machete visual, there. Thanks, ha ha! I think I’ll use sound effects as I carry the revision on through the other chapters.

    Thanks for the words of encouragement!!!! :) PS: I’ve ordered the first two books of your Dunmoore series (, can’t wait to dive in!!!

(optional field)
(optional field)
This is a quick question to make sure you're not a spambot. :)
Remember personal info?
Small print: All html tags except <b> and <i> will be removed from your comment. You can make links by just typing the url or mail-address.