Letting go of the beginning

Post 24 of 31
I’ve been reading Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole (which I picked up at the Writers Digest conference), and it’s awesome. It’s got so many great tips and it’s so current (I mean, literally. It’s hot of the presses.)

I hit the section on “Starting Your Story” where Kole lists common clichés for how one, well, starts their story, and I realized, with horror, that the beginning to Winter Wilder falls into TWO of these clichés. The first being “Moving Van: A character in his car, driving to his new house, hating every minute of it.” The second being “Emo Kid: A character sitting and thinking about all his problems”


I admit, I’ve been very attached to the beginning of my story. After all, it’s the first thing I ever wrote of WW, and chapter 1 is probably the most polished chapter in my entire manuscript simply because of all the editing I’ve done to it over the past two years since I’ve started working on my manuscript.

I think it’s actually a well-written chapter on its own… but is it the strongest way to start my story?

My gut says NO.

It’s sending me into a mild panic, because here I thought my story was ready to be sent out. I’m panicking because the agent at the Pitch Slam asked me to send her my query letter with my first two chapters, and I went home eager to do just that.

But because of this wake-up call from Mary Kole’s book, I’m realizing that it would be a grave error to send Ms. Pitch Slam Agent my first two chapters as they are now. Which means I need to scramble to figure something else out, and fast.

Really, though, I should be grateful that I caught this error before I sent out my query letter and sample pages. Because of Kole’s book and infinite agent-y wisdom, I have something to gain from all this.

I’m glad I’m figuring this out because, you see, I already thought I had beefed up my first 3 chapters. After reading many books and articles on querying etc., I knew I had to make the first 3 chapters especially strong because they are the “first impression” of any book.

So when I finished my first draft, I took a hard look at my manuscript and recognized there wasn’t enough action in the first three chapters. I was teasing out the fact that Winter is a shapeshifter, but you didn’t actually see any evidence of this in the first three chapters originally.

So I went back and put in a new chapter 2 where Winter transforms, showing (not telling) the reader what she has to go through. There! I thought, I made it more interesting! And I brushed my hands off and considered it done. I figured that as long as I had some good action in the first 3 chapters, I was set.

But the truth that I didn’t want to admit was that, while chapter 2 was definitely much improved and more exciting, chapter 1 was still the same… not a lot happens besides a lot of, well, thinking. If someone doesn’t feel engaged enough to get through chapter 1, they’ll never even make it to chapter 2 where all the action happens.

That’s a risk I can’t afford to take if I hope to attract an agent… and later, a reader.

So with a heavy heart I’ve realized my beautiful, long-winded, melancholy chapter 1 must take the axe. It’s a 2 year old chapter that I’ve been clinging to, carefully tweaking and editing all this time. I’ve cut many other things out of my first draft that I realized weren’t necessary, but I never considered cutting chapter 1.

But it’s got to go.

In some ways it’s freeing, because it means I can really challenge myself to think of a fresh, unique and exciting way to start my book.

I better get to it.

This article was written by Tania


UrielNovember 4, 2012 at 1:16 pmReply

Hi, oh I feel your pain. I find it so hard to jetison stuff I have come to love. Especially beginnings. I used to think I was great at beginnings but useless at continuing. Then I realised that I was just good at writing myself into corners.

I’m glad I’ve found your blog. I have been very laxidaisical with my writing of late. Work has overtaken my schedule and I have found it easy not to be in the mood, or to be distracted. I have enjoyed jumping on board the writing sprints that Jane Espenson tweets, but intercontinental timelines and shifts, mean I often miss them. So I shall also be keeping an eye on your NaNoWriMo word count and using it as a carrot to inspire me to play catch up. Also I start a new job soon with regular hours soon so then I will be able to work out a schedule I can stick to.

I think writing is a distillation process. Junking the bad and keeping the good, can mean a pretty low word count, but hopefully what you get left with is quality.

TaniaNovember 4, 2012 at 5:17 pmReply

Thanks for the comment, Uriel! Writing can be hard, especially with other work and scheduling commitments. I guess, for me, the important thing is to do a little every day. It’s sort of like exercise… it’s easier when there’s consistency. Some days I only manage to write a couple paragraphs, but just the act of getting some words on a page helps a lot. There is also something to be said about quality over quantity. Hopefully we can inspire one another to keep at it! :)