Endings and Beginnings

Stein on WritingI finished reading Stein on Writing.
Last week Stein spurred me to rewrite my culminating scene with more tension. I’ve also talked a bit about how he inspired the ultimate conflict in my novel.
This weekend I spent an hour working on a new first paragraph. Stein’s last section in his book was on the art of rewriting, of the need for multiple drafts, and how we must be ruthless with ourselves. He convinced me to cut the first 1100 words of my manuscript. It was something that I always knew but didn’t want to admit to myself: my opening was weak, and I didn’t want to read it. And if I don’t want to read it, then why would anybody else? The first sentence was good, but the rest of the page didn’t live up to the expectations it set. So I just did away with all of it and started at the second scene.

For the sake of posterity, here’s the old first sentence: “Rahab was almost sixteen when she convinced her parents that the best solution to her problems was to run away from them.”

The new one heads us in the direction of the title of the book, Into the Flames. This opening reads: “Rahab Carmichael scrunched her eyes closed as she slouched lower on the splintering bench, trying to eradicate the image of the burning orb from her mind.”  It’s not set in stone.  In fact, I’ve already changed it since I pasted it into this post.  But I think it already conveys more of what I want.

With no surrounding context (other than the title), which would you be more likely to pick up and read in a bookstore? What kind of expectations does each set in your mind?

Posted in Into the Flames | Tagged as: , ,

4 Responses to Endings and Beginnings

  1. Mara says:

    Well I’ve already told you that I really like the new opening. However, I do kinda feel like you tried to squeeze just a little too much stuff into that first sentence. For example, I would leave out “splintered” cause it just makes the sentence kind of cluttered.

  2. Your original first sentence makes me think the tone of the book is going to be light-hearted sarcasm, which I have absolutely no problem with. I enjoy reading light-hearted sarcasm. However, the sentence also leaves me confused, because I don’t know if “them” refers to her parents or if it refers to her problems.

    The new first sentence definitely paints a more complete picture in my mind. I get more of the setting, and right off there’s a defined conflict for the main character. I might split the sentence into two, but I think that’s more of a stylistic preference. The presence of a defined conflict (“trying to eradicate the image of the orb” vs. “need to escape from ‘problems'”) still makes this second one the better opening.

    • jessie says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Courtney, especially since you haven’t read any of my drafts before so you don’t know what’s supposed to happen (as opposed to Mara). I’m still working on it, but you telling me what you like and why is good so I’ll remember not to change that part. 🙂