Lynne and I went to a revision class taught by Hallie Ephron this spring. When Hallie asked for volunteers to read first paragraphs, Lynne was one of the brave ones, rewarded by Hallie’s deserved interest. My hand stayed down because in skimming my own potential offering, I came to an undeniable conclusion.
How many things were wrong with it? Let me count the ways.
No surprise, then, if I tell you that feedback from the group at about the same time was unanimous. With regard to the first chapter or so, as that is the focus here, the critique was a useful and literary "nope," for all the right reasons. In fact, the question was posed, shouldn’t the story start much later, well after that first chapter?
We don’t always take suggestions, it is true, even if all three others are in agreement. On this particular subject, all four of us agreed. I sat down to cut off the offending text.
I couldn’t do it.
I knew how I wanted to change the story, and a secondary character introduced in the first chapter would show up again once revisions were made. In addition, the protagonist’s experience with this secondary character showed certain motivations, or lack thereof, and to some degree propelled him forward. All well and good at a rational level, but not enough to catch and push the reader forward.
I started to play with them, deepened their quirks. I read it aloud to myself and decided it still needed something before it was read aloud anywhere by anyone.
The trick came in setting. I maintained the storyline, but shifted the action out of a restaurant (Sit! Eat!). The chapter opens now in a beautiful place both characters love, then shifts to a location only the protagonist adores. In doing so, the protagonist and secondary character fell further into place, their personalities became more pronounced.
Bingo! A first chapter I couldn’t wait to read aloud again and to email to the others. The lesson learned has carried me through every step since. Every bit – not just most bits – revised thus far, I would be willing to read aloud in a class, any time. Aha...
Wednesday, August 08, 2007