glorybee wrote:Interesting, Steve--care to share those first three sentences?
OK. But I have to tell a bit of a story about it or you may think I don’t understand what is "wrong" with the original version. I hope I don’t take this beyond people’s interest level:
The original idea that came to me was of a story of a writer who we first meet as he is struggling to come up with a great opening first line for his novel. During that process he decided to check out “great first line” lists on the Internet. Two that he finds that will play huge roles in the story—although the reader doesn’t know it at this point—are “In the beginning God . . . ”and “Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy” (the opening line to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe).
All of this was set in motion by the very first three sentences I thought of (although I’ll give 7 here):
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
“Call me Ishmael.”
He thought he was going to scream. “What makes them so good?” That question had become a torture. Why couldn’t he come up with a great first line? Not a passable first line, but a great first line.
The very first piece of negative feedback I got on the book was that the opening was “self conscious.” BUT, I was trying to write a kind of fiction called “metafiction.” And one of the “bibles” of metafiction is called “Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-conscious Fiction.”
So I asked the person who had given me this feedback whether he meant this in a bad sense or whether he just didn’t like metafiction. Actually, this is the short version; I asked specific questions using standard jargon for this kind of writing and the person responded that he didn’t even know what the terms meant. This person has major Christian publishing credentials, so I immediately suspected I was in trouble. When I got similar feedback a second time from a Christian publisher, I knew I had to change things. The problem was everyone wanted the book to open with “action” even though it was very important for the book to start with this one person in a room completely by himself.
One of the MC’s main “motivations” is anger at God due to his wife’s death. So, one “book doctor” even suggested that I could start with a prologue before the man-in-a-room-alone chapter one in which the wife would die in a horrendous, fiery car crash to get that all-important action up front! Just one problem—it was important for the wife to die of cancer because it was important for the couple to turn to God believing for healing because it was important to show what happened to the MC when those prayers weren’t answered.
So instead, I decided to let the reader know about the wife’s death chapters earlier than in the original version so that the reader understands the MC’s motivation much earlier on. This allowed as much “action” as I could get in a writer-alone-in-a-room-trying-to-come-up-with-an-opening-line scene. The new opening (quoted at greater length than the original) goes like this:
For the sixth time in three hours, Peter Johnson double clicked in the left margin of his document and hit the delete button. “More garbage,” he yelled at the empty bedroom.
Peter stood up abruptly, knocking over the desk chair. He looked down at the monitor, shaking his head. He began pacing around the room in as much of a circle as the furniture would allow, racking his brain for the words that were eluding him.
He stopped in front of a picture of Daphne and him. <I>I’m not going there today. Today I’m writing. Today I’m not going to play “what if?” </I>But he did.
What if Daphne hadn’t died? What would his life—their lives—be like? Why did she have to die? And why had they been so stupid, believing that God would heal her? How had they fallen for all those lies of a God who cares? Well, he knew now that there was no god. Peter wouldn’t even dignify him—or, rather, the bogus concept—with a capital “G”. They’d prayed and prayed and prayed to this god. And Daphne had died.
Peter just stared at the picture, replaying memories in his mind. The fear and trepidation of asking her for that first date. That glorious first love that he could literally, physically feel. Picnics in the park after the first warm spring day arrived that first year.
The years marched by—their college years, the wedding, the honeymoon. But then the darker memories came. The loss of the first love. His increased intolerance of her annoying habits. His first thoughts of divorce. Finally screwing up his courage to tell her, only to have her preempt his announcement with her own announcement. “Peter, I have cancer.”
Cancer. The word that changed everything. Peter never told Daphne of his divorce plans. Instead, he fell in love with her again. Only to lose her. “If you were real, god, I would hate you.” Peter spat the words into the empty room.
Peter picked up the picture, drew it closer to himself, and stared at it. He felt that old familiar fear. Had she really known? “Oh Daphne, I’m so sorry.” He placed the picture back on the dresser, facedown. He lingered a moment longer. “I’m sorry.” This time it was a whisper.
Peter reluctantly resumed his pacing. <I>Oh good, now I get to spend another three hours producing nothing. Why can’t I write a great first line?</I>
With a deep sigh, Peter righted his chair and sat down at the computer again. He googled “great first lines” and got 6,732 hits. Sure enough, three hours later, Peter was still digesting the results.
This opening (in the context of a full proposal) was enough for two editors and one agent to ask for proposals. Interestingly, at a writer’s conference, the editor who did a session on literary fiction liked the original version (which he saw more of than I put in this post), although even he liked the second version better.
By the way, I did eventually work “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” and “Call me Ishmael” back in.
So that all of this may have some benefit to your class, Jan, maybe the points here that would apply even to the Writing Challenge are these: 1) start with “action” (broadly defined), and 2) show the MC’s motivation early.
Again, sorry if this is more than you wanted to know.