Friday, February 4, 2011

Shake It Up

I often blog about the importance of listening to that "inner editor" we all have -- our "gut," if you will -- when editing a novel or story. Well, today, I was editing a chapter of my novel and felt "meh" about the opening paragraphs. That's not good. A new scene or chapter should always be treated like the first paragraph. It's important. It sets the tone, draws the reader in. Those opening paragraphs should pop, move, or at least be interesting.

Here's my original opening for Chapter Twenty-one:


Hours later, well after the meal had been devoured and the dishes cleared away, Holly sat at the kitchen table with her father. The girls had been upstairs, getting ready for bed, and he had just come in from work, deciding to eat in the kitchen rather than his study. He'd popped the last chip into his mouth and wiped his stubbled chin.

"So..." Holly started, twisting her napkin into the shape of a swan. "I wanted to talk about Mildred."


"Well, did you ever ask her? To marry you? You never said."


*YAWN* My inner editor tells me that scene feels flat. Uninteresting. So, here's how I changed it. I wanted to shake things up a little. To keep the content of the scene (an important exchange between a father and daughter about his recent engagement), but to begin in a more interesting, less generic way. I think/hope this version is an improvement:

She couldn’t make a habit of this. Of being angry with her father, constantly surprised at his constant insensitivity. But, after nearly three decades of knowing him, Holly still expected more. “People don’t change,” her mother used to tell her. So why couldn’t she make herself believe it was true?

Fashioning a swan out of her paper napkin, Holly waited for him to explain. The girls had gone to bed an hour ago and Holly was about to do the same, when her father had arrived home from London.

The look on his face when he entered the kitchen told Holly he was about to confess to something she might not want to hear.

“I’ve asked Mildred,” he'd told her. No compulsory small talk or segues to prepare her. Only an announcement: “I gave her the ring on Friday, and she accepted.”

Friday. Two whole days ago. And he was only just now bothering to let her know.


I'm not saying Version 2 is perfect (in fact, I'm still working on it), but I do think it's better. More interesting, more "active" than Version 1.

So, whenever you're a little stuck, whenever your inner editor tells you something is too flat, not good enough, shake things up. Re-think the scene. See it from a different angle. Make it pop. It might take a lot of mental brainpower and energy and time (it took me about twenty minutes of brainstorming, just for these paragraphs). But in the end, it's worth it.

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