Tag Archives: beginnings

Bad Innings vs Great Beginnings

Middle Son had baseball tourneys all weekend.  At ten, it’s his first year on the traveling league.  His team held its own, winning two of four games.

However, one game…yeah, that one…

After the first inning, the score was 12 – 0.  And we weren’t ahead.  We had some bad pitching and more than a handful of errors. 

Parents were crabby.  The kids were dejected and the coaches not thrilled.  Sports are as much a head game as they are a physical competition.  Psychologically we had already lost.

You won’t be surprised to learn that writing is exactly the same way.

A bad beginning leaves a bad taste in the mouth of our readers.  It can send them packing up their lawn chairs and sunflower seeds, already convinced there is nothing left to hold their interest. 

All too often, I’ve heard writers ask if they could send a random chapter for a submission.  Uhm, no.  Not unless you’re writing a nonfic.

Readers–of which agents and editors are–want to start with the scoreboard at 0-0.   If chapter one is not your strongest chapter, it shouldn’t set the tone of your entire novel.  You need a new beginning.  One that hits a homerun and keeps the crowd excited. 

Our little guys made quite the comeback in this game.  They didn’t win, but they made some great plays, hit some sticks and cut down on their error rate.  The next four innings were a blast to watch and not at all expected after the first bad inning.

But unlike spectators at a Little League game, agents and editors don’t have to stick around to see if you find our groove.  If we don’t throw a strike in the first inning, they’ll call us out and move on to the next promising team.

How important is your first page?  Your first paragraph?  First sentence?  Have you ever put a book back on the shelf when the first inning promised to be a wash? 

Curious minds want to know.

Liar, Liar! Misrepresenting our writing.

Prior to a visit from my mother-in-law, I clean closets, wash walls and dust blinds.  Two days after she leaves, my closets have reorganized themselves, the walls sport new fingerprints and the mini dust bunnies have repopulated the mini blinds.

It’s really rather laughable–except that we carry this propensity for false representation into the writing world.  Contensts, with their tight word count requirements, have writers providing their best words.  Not necessarily their true words.

While reading commentary about contests, I found an alarming number of contestants discussing how they culled their manuscripts to find their best entries. 

The first 250 words weren’t as enticing as the next 250, so I swapped some stuff around.

The good stuff doesn’t really get going until the second page, so I entered that one.

I didn’t think Contest Judge would like my MC’s personality, so I tweaked it to make her appear not so crabby.  I wanted them to connect.

Many entrants indicated they would not keep these changes once the contest was over.  They edited to put their best foot forward for a specific length of time.  This rankled me a little.  Mostly because I found myself thinking the same thing last night in bed.

Based on solid feedback, I have been revamping my opening pages of a manuscript.  In the process, I’ve cut some really great lines.  However, they just didn’t work with this “new beginning.” 

While singing my old opening in my head like a lullaby pondering the changes I made, I had a fleeting moment of panic.  I wanted to put everything back to normal just because I loved so much about the original opening.  At the moment it didn’t matter that the changes addressed some important issues and made my manuscript stronger. 

I thought to myself, Self, put your best foot forward now and see how it goes.  If it doesn’t work out, just change it back.

This was followed by a quick, “Liar, liar!”  Princess Bride style.  It took me a second to realize this voice was right.

Specifically, why would I make my manuscript stronger for the moment and then go back to something I know isn’t as good?  And more generally, why do we revamp something for a first impression, but then pull back later?

I let my closets slide because it takes too much energy to keep them perfect.  I don’t have the patience to follow my kids around every morning.  And I most certainly will not hang their clothes back up and tidy the mess they made while finding the right combo of t-shirts, jeans and sweatshirts to go with their moods. 

That’s okay.  They’re my closets.  And my kids.

But in the writing arena, this lazy attitude isn’t okay.  Nor is it okay to love something so much that we refuse to make permanent changes–even when we know we are not putting our best foot forward in the long run.  Or should I say especially when we know that a stronger version exists? 

Once upon a time, I was naive to this.  I didn’t have the experience to understand that the most beloved was not necessarily the best.  Now that I do, I would be remiss if I didn’t edit to the best of my ability. 

So, I have to cut a few wonderful lines.  Fine.  I’ll just replace them with something better.

Have you fallen victim to changing passages for the moment, only to go back and keep the original?  Is it because the original is the strongest writing or the most beloved?  How do you know the difference?

happy editing~ cat