I’m not blind to the fact that sometimes drastic rewrites are required when working on a piece of writing. I’ve done enough writing in my life to hoist that reality aboard, and I’ve even grown to like doing it. Just yesterday, I got the chance to rewrite the beginning scene of The Death House, and I’ve been glowing about it ever since.
I have been on the fence about whether my opening few paragraphs were strong enough to draw a reader in. I liked the initial paragraphs because they set up this atmosphere where the story takes place, but I determined that they only set up that atmosphere for me because I know the story.
The question I faced was: Will a brand new reader who doesn’t know the story be as interested as I am?
The answer: No.
I subscribe to Writer’s Digest and Writer’s Market which both offer me regular emails that feature tips on various aspects of writing a novel from published authors. I was browsing one of the articles a couple weeks ago that spoke of how to get an agent’s attention with the opening of your novel. It spoke of the “hook” paragraph. This is something that I am familiar with but that I had completely forgot to even consider.
I re-read my opening paragraph that day and ideas and doubts began percolating. They percolated until yesterday as I was doing dishes. I literally ran from the sink to write the new opening complete with an inviting hook. This required removing the first paragraph almost entirely and reorganizing and rewriting pretty much the entire first page. It was a great moment. I love writing. It’s invigorating. Editing seems to rock my world, too.
The Original Opening Paragraph:
The sun was rising slower than usual along the coast of Nova Scotia where the New Life House sat upon a large piece of farmland. The first snow had come and gone and had now half melted. Not unusual for the area. It was likely to happen a few more times before the heavy snow would bring several feet of the unpleasant stuff to last until sometime in April. A chill washed through the air as October moved into November.
The New and Improved Opening Paragraph:
“Another day, another kid,” Madeline thought morbidly as she glanced at four year-old Theodore in her rear-view mirror. He was strapped into a car seat, clutching a stuffed bear tightly in his lap. She had been working as a children’s aid worker for close to eight years now, and had mostly made peace with her responsibility to place unwanted kids in new homes. It was just these cases that she struggled with. With every child she had to bring to the New Life House, she was faced with the same unsettling worry: I wonder how long this one will live? She shook her head to clear the thought away as the property came into view. She didn’t want to be an unprofessionally sobbing mess by the time she arrived. And if Theo wasn’t crying, she sure shouldn’t be.