Boy, is it ever Monday.
Which means, as always, that I’m sleep-deprived, grumpy, and hungry, as well as dreading the long stretch of week still ahead of me. I’m the only one to blame for my sleep deprivation — Persepolis Rising, the seventh book in The Expanse series, came out on 12/05, and I held off on reading it as long as I could, but now I’m devouring it every moment I get. Thank goodness for 40-minute bus rides, right?
Still: being so tired and grumpy doesn’t bode well for my plans to go home and write. I’ve spent the past week and a half either not writing at all (aside from morning pages), or picking at the same few beginning chapters of TVP. I made the mistake of asking my parents to read over the first few chapters (I know, I know, but I was getting itchy without feedback!), and my mom pointed out that my current first chapter didn’t grab her.
It’s a slow start, certainly, and my goal was to set the mood for this particular character’s plotline (I’m trying to avoid the standard prologue that seems to feature in 90% of the fantasy novels I read), but she does have a point — every scene, every sentence in a story needs to be pulling at least double-duty, and few more so than the first scene and the first sentence. They need to set the mood, and create a hook to grab the audience; later, my scenes/sentences need to build character, world-build, advance the plot — but none of that matters if I haven’t gotten anyone’s interest.
(To be fair, my dad liked the first chapter, and so did my best friend — my mom did too, but that bit of crit has put a bug in my ear.)
(And, to paraphrase Neil Gaiman, if someone tells you something isn’t working, they’re usually right. If they tell you how to fix it, they’re usually wrong.)
So I’ve been trying to write new material to fit around the old, to add tension and excitement and interest, and while I’ve written some bits I’m very fond of, nothing has felt quite right. A little voice has started whispering in my ear: it’s time to set aside the 70K+ words you’ve already written, and start fresh.
I’ve been writing long enough to know that that voice, however much it stings, is usually right. I should be able to salvage large parts of that first draft, but it’s time to start again. The plot is streamlined in my head, and I can cut away a lot of the dross, the fat, that kept the story from moving along.
No writing is ever wasted. Every word I write makes me a stronger writer for later, and I learn something every day I sit down at my laptop and get to work.
But — how can I create tension? Where’s my hook?
My current first sentence is:
Owen’s charges were still fast asleep when he swung through the attic window.
Which is all well and good, and the scene definitely goes on to set a nice moody, wintry tone, but nothing really happens. There’s no hook, no energy. Just a guy swinging through an attic window. I like it, and I can probably use the scene later, in a trimmed form, but I don’t think it really creates interest. It simply exists.
My new first sentence, the very first sentence of my new TVP draft?
Somewhere beyond the Anatomical Chapel, a child was crying.
Now that, to me, is a far better first sentence: you’ve got the crying kid (she’ll be fine!), which immediately sets the “something’s not right here” tone, which I can either play out or subvert as needed, but before that, we have the Anatomical Chapel. What is it? Who’s in there? And why is there a kid crying nearby?
Questions are good. If readers have questions, they’ll want to keep reading, in case they get answers. And the questions that keep readers reading all boil down to what happens next?
So: tonight, I will go home, eat french fries for dinner, pet my imperious and enormous cat, and then I will start fresh.
It feels weird to say it, but I’m excited!