More on 'Solutions for lackluster beginnings' in fiction
Published: July 1, 2005
|[In our August 2005 issue, Sam McCarver described a methodical approach to editing and revising fiction that can increase its odds of success. Following is additional material that he provided for his section on "Solutions for lackluster beginnings"; it provides a way to think about your novel as a whole, as well as its beginning.]|
You may revise and rewrite your first chapter more than once during the writing and revision phases. After a book is complete, following months of writing, the author appreciates the novel's full scope and is a better writer by then, realizing how to improve the beginning. So, when revising, ask:
• Do you show the plot to the reader in scenes rather than telling the story in narration?
• Do you have enough white space on the page—i.e., enough dialogue, which creates shortened lines?
• Can you trim or break up overly long narrative or monologue passages with action or dialogue?
• For variety, have you used the five types of sentences—declarative, compound, complex, compound-complex and periodic?
Here is an example, using only declarative sentences:
The crime was planned with precision. No evidence or clues were found. He had secured an airtight alibi at a judge's house party. He inherited his grandfather's estate without question. It was perfect.
Here is a revised version, offering variety and more interest and using various sentence types:
With a general's skill, the killer planned and executed the crime like a battle plan. To provide himself with an airtight alibi, he arranged to attend the judge's party, and was seen there by 50 guests while his grandfather was being murdered. Later, he inherited his grandfather's estate without a question. It was perfect, or so he thought.
• Does your novel have a consistent tone, mood, style and voice, such as suspenseful, humorous or supernatural?
• Have you used the active voice rather than the passive? For example, you may have written, passively, "It was raining hard." Put some action into it: "Raindrops as big as pinto beans struck the sheet-metal roof of the shack like a machine gun."
• Have you adhered throughout to the tense and point of view you chose for your book?
• Can you enliven descriptions of characters? Marion Zimmer Bradley liked stories with "a character I can get interested in." Create an image of your character with a word picture. Here is an original draft:
The tall logger called Bear entered the cabin and rubbed his hands together. He smiled at the woman in the kitchen, put down his bag, and embraced her warmly.Adequate, but plain. A better version, adding more description and character insight:
Robert Thurgood stooped down to clear the doorway with his head. His six-foot-six height and shock of thick brown hair had earned him the nickname of Bear. Inside the cabin, in the warmth, he rubbed his hands together--big, beefy, rough hands, skinned in his work as a logger. He smiled at the blowsy, heavy-set woman with the face of an ancient angel, surrounded by thin, sparse golden hair, turning gray. He set down his bag and took her in his arms. Hi, sweetie, he said. And kissed her.