Beginnings are delicate things. First line, first paragraph, first chapter all require meticulous attention on the writer’s part. They serve as layers of an invitation to the reader to join the writer on a journey, and if the invitation fails to ignite the reader’s passion, they will get up and walk away, leaving the writer behind. No matter how amazing that journey may be, if an author can’t draw a reader in, they’re gone. So where middles and even endings can survive the sin of losing their bearings now and then, beginnings must be perfect.
I am about to slash my first chapter to shreds. I generally don’t go back and read something from earlier in a book while I’m in the process of writing or editing—I am, by nature, a linear writer—but in this case I took a look at chapters 1 and 2 last night because I’ve sent those chapters to a friend. I finished up chapter 1 with “meh” and “it’s too long,” while chapter 2 garnered my thumbs up. Why? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?
I didn’t want to dwell too heavily on it, not while I’m neck deep in a complicated rewrite of changing both the point of view (from limited 3rd to 1st) and the verb tense (from past to present). (I wrote about this a few weeks ago.) I am immersed in this and pushing to get it done, so I didn’t want to get myself hung up in perfecting chapter 1, not now, not while I’m making good progress.
But I couldn’t help it. I went to bed, sat on the mattress edge and thought about it. It was then it occurred to me. I may (or may not—the jury’s out) safely eliminate reference to a particular entity throughout that first chapter and give it its due in chapter 2. Will I be able to make it work? I don’t know. And I won’t know until I return to chapter 1 on my next rewrite. I’ve placed a large Post-it® on the cover page with some brief notes of what I want to do, and that’s going to have to be it before I get back to it.
Sometimes we have to kill our children. It’s a writer’s adage. Editing sucks, and what sucks more than anything is when amazing phrases or metaphors must be sacrificed for the sake of better storytelling and better prose. But we do it. And I’ll do it when the time comes to rip that chapter apart, throw away chunks, saving them for use in chapter 2 but knowing I’ll likely use very few of them, if any at all.
Why do we put ourselves through this torture? It ain’t the money, that’s for sure.