Tag Archives: First chapter

“If at first you don’t succeed…”

There’s a couple ways to end that saying. My favorite is “fry, fry a hen.” But, when it comes to writing, frying chicken isn’t nearly as useful as trying again, and that’s what editing is all about.

In my last post I went on and on about how I was going to go through my story and look at the dialogue to make sure my characters use authentic voices. Well, I didn’t get very far into my story, on account of being lazy and actually having time to spend with my husband this week. I got about a quarter of the way through my story though, and I think I can confidently say, all my people may sound the same, but they sure don’t sound stiff and fake (and believe me, after the book I just read [I feel obligated to state that I’m ahead in my book reviewing, so the book I’m referencing is not Steph Davis’ book, the review of which you’ll see on Friday], I’m quite keyed in to stiff dialogue).

What I did accomplish this week was yet another revision of my first chapter. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if the first chapter isn’t golden, no one will keep reading. Here’s what I started with:

“First, that scientific achievements and breakthroughs were the only thing worth pursuing. Every person, upon graduating high school, was expected to step into the professional world and begin working on something great. The rate of stepping depended on how smart the student was, but society dictated that anyone older than 27 who wasn’t doing something to make the world a better place wasn’t worth the time and effort. Such a person could only expect to do the manual labor the great minds thought were beneath them.”

Obviously, that wasn’t my whole beginning chapter, but the chapter was only one page long, so that was probably a third of it. And it sucked. So I made myself try to show instead of tell, and here’s what I ended with:

““You’ve got to be thinking now about what you’ll do with your life,” his father would tell him. “After high school, you’ve only got a few years before you reach 27, the age of expectation. But each year between 18 and 27 that you spend on anything other than your chosen focus is a waste. It will only hurt your chances of really making a big contribution.”

In third grade, Mason still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, and his parents were getting anxious.

“If you don’t start now, you’ll end up doing manual labor with the rest of the lower class people who aren’t smart enough to do anything else,” his father said. “We aren’t raising you to do that kind of worthless work.”

A week later, when they found out Mason was playing with the janitor’s son at school, Mason realized it wasn’t just the work his parents thought was worthless, but the people as well.

“But he’s my friend, why can’t I play with him at school?”

“Some people are better than others, son. It’s important to know where you fit in the social hierarchy. Upward movement comes in small steps for most people. Some people never move up. And if you are friends with those people, you’ll only move down.”

“But, dad—”

“No, Mason. My word is final, you’re not to associate with that boy anymore. If I find out you’ve so much as made eye contact with him, I’ll give you a hiding you won’t forget.”

Mason grew up, struggled with school and graduated with average marks, to his parents’ chagrin. Ad year upon year passed after graduation, Mason’s relationship with his parents grew more and more strained. His parents, successful scientists in their own rights, were ashamed of him, anxious for him to prove himself or disappear—with neither option being necessarily preferable.

Yet as his 25 birthday came and went, Mason saw his future stretching before him in a bleak stroke. With little chance at a significant scientific job, Mason’s only hope was to find some menial task and hope the project leader would allow him to work the job as a career, letting Mason save face and avoid a lifelong career as a janitor or garbage man. Mason never fully bought in to the idea that janitors and garbage men were somehow lesser people, but he wasn’t chomping at the bit to join their ranks, either.”

It might seem obvious that showing is better than telling, and we all know that it is, but still we fall into the trap of getting words down on paper and dealing with the rest later. And some portions end up needing a lot more dealing with than others. I’m sure this won’t be the last time I rewrite my first chapter. I’m still not 100 percent sold on it. But I’ll keep trying until I get it right.

Also, I expect that soon I’ll have to hunt for someone to do some critiquing for me, and that will, hopefully, open the door to whole new levels of editing that I haven’t even noticed yet.