How could editing a book take so long? I thought it would be fun (relatively speaking) to get together all of the versions of the opening paragraph of my work in progress, PULSE. The title itself is still open to change. It’s been THE WINNOWING (very, very briefly), THE HOME (Kind of a default title, just so I could name the folder) and after some thought, it stands as PULSE. Though an agent who wanted to call it “File 14442: Lara” could get me to consider it with the right paperwork. Like a publishing contract.
This is my current opening:
“The day began as I perched in the highest fork of the geroth tree. The dawn bent down to kiss my bare face before spreading in an arc of light across the garden. My hands caressed the silvery bark as the breeze exerted its invisible pressure, rocking me in the arms of the oldest of the sacred trees.”
But I started here:
“Watch it, girl,” snarled a young man. He had very active eyebrows. They narrowed and lifted and arched with over-emphasis as he spoke to me. He glanced over to a pair of figures wearing the same ‘uniform’ as he- jeans, a white t-shirt, heavy black boots. They were nondescript in every way, and were circling at the end of the broken sidewalk twenty yards away. I knew from my lessons they dressed that way as a protection to the group- it was harder to catch someone if they all had the same description. One of them casually threw a glass bottle as they started toward me, too. I started planning my escape, which I would have done before I had even left Home if I had been caught up on my homework. I never really thought I would need any of it in real life. The young man waved them away, and they yelled back, but sat down.
This opening was a nice idea, but too long, repetitive, wordy, passive, etc. I read in several places-- including “The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile” by Noah Lukeman-- that opening with dialogue is a bad idea. I think it’s equivalent to blindfolding the reader, spinning them around, and throwing them in the pool. You just have NO idea what’s going on.
I was trying to tell and show, instead of just show. i.e.- ‘He had very active eyebrows. They narrowed and lifted and arched with over-emphasis as he spoke to me.’
It would be better cut the first sentence and say- ‘His eyebrows narrowed and lifted and arched with overemphasis as he spoke to me.’
Or better still- ‘His eyes browed narrowed and arched as he spoke.’ This cuts twenty words I into nine. Besides, how many things can your eyebrows really do?. Describing the young man’s eyebrows does make it stand out from ‘tall dark and handsome’, but this was too much. It was useful as a writing exercise, but not a keeper.
There are too many problems here to go over them all, but the other main one is that Lara is thinking instead of doing and that’s boring here.
I revised, thought I had it perfect, and put this up on the Online Writer’s Workshop for Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror (hereafter OWW). It’s a great group of writers who have been precise, yet courteous in their reviews. Perfect fit for me!
‘I could feel that someone was following me, but dared not look. I hurried across the faded asphalt, avoiding the crumbled depressions that might trip my feet under my long robe. I tried to slow my breathing, tried to focus on anything but the single-minded pursuer: the bright cloudless sky, the sunlight bathing the apartment buildings and pawnshops in ambient light. It was not a place I would be comfortable after dark.’
A comment from a reviewer reads, ‘Good opening line. I’d keep reading if I picked this up in Barnes and Noble’, which is good. But, the rest of my chapter was too much, too fast.
Most beginning writers start with a chapter that explains who, where, what…and I went along with the (correct) idea that it would be preferable to skip the intro and start at the action.
However, multiple readers commented on how confused they were, so I decided to experiment again, trying to find an opening that would allow me to ease the reader in.
‘Mother was very careful with her feelings, and so it had taken a long time for me to be sure there was something wrong. But sometimes, when we were side-by-side in the dirt fertilizing the newer trees, her distraction would leak out, and I would want to hide things on her behalf…but what to conceal I did not know. I tried not to be too worried near the orchards, and the’
This was an attempt to start Lara in her environment, but boring. And somehow the last sentence was left hanging. I needed to start with an event instead of musings, so I tweaked.
‘The day I lost faith in Mother began perched in the highest fork of the geroth tree. The dawn bent down to kiss my bare face before spreading in an arc of light to the garden below me. The muted gold and green leaves awakened as the stream of electrons activated the photoreceptors, and the colors sang to me in full spectrum. Smooth silvery bark caressed my hands as the breeze exerted its invisible pressure, rocking both me and the oldest of the sacred trees.’
It felt too jargon-y and hoighty-toighty. Too much vocab and not enough flow…
‘The day began as I perched in the highest fork of the geroth tree. The dawn bent down to kiss my bare face before spreading in an arc of light across the garden. My hands caressed the silvery bark as the breeze exerted its invisible pressure, rocking me in the arms of the oldest of the sacred trees.’
This leads directly into a very intense scene that reveals Lara’s character, her major struggle, and the setting. I don’t think it will change much. But I’ve been wrong before!
Maybe this would be better:
‘I perched in the highest fork of the geroth tree, and the dawn bent down to kiss my bare face before spreading in an arc of light across the garden. My hands caressed the silvery bark as the breeze exerted its invisible pressure, rocking me in the arms of the oldest of the sacred trees.’
‘The day began’ is repetitive with ‘dawn’, but it seems AWK to me as is. I’ll have to come back to it.
Has anyone else gone through this process? When do you know you're ready?
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