Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Oh, How Far We've Come

I just had to start the day with a picture. I just sneezed, I've got cramps, I'm tired, and the coffee tastes SO good this morning.

Ok. So back to the awaited post on how far we've come.

Julie Cohen blogged a few days ago and posted a bit of her first edition of "Delicious" vs. her final version. Delicious was written and rejected, and then Julie wrote several other manuscripts before going back and rewriting it. I think she was very brave to post a first attempt, so I'm going to borrow a bit of her bravery.

When I wrote my first book, I thought I knew everything and in reality I knew nothing. I had no plan, hadn't developed characters, didn't know the "rules" in first chapter openings, nothing. I didn't know the terms Black Moment, internal conflict, or sexual tension.

And boy did it show.

Some are fortunate enough to have the instincts--and the talent, for that matter, to strike gold very quickly. For others, like me, the learning curve is a lot longer. When I sold The Girl Most Likely to Samhain, I'd been writing and submitting for almost exactly 4 1/2 years. TGML was, I think, my eighth manuscript.

I'm going to post my own horrid example, and then one more recent.

She didn’t hear the car turn up the drive. Katie was sitting in her room, soft piano music playing on her stereo as she gazed outside dreamily. She loved days like this, warm and soft, with the wind whispering through the leaves of the maple trees, the grass a vibrant, rich green, her mother’s shrubs and gardens groomed to perfection. There was something incredibly perfect about it all, and as the music caressed her ears, Katie felt a great level of satisfaction with life in general.
She sat with the windows wide open, looking out over the neighbor’s lawn. Mr. Barkley was pushing a mower around and around, and the drone of the motor carried on the breeze to her. Her bedroom was light and airy, a collection of white wicker furniture - a bed, covered with a pink and green flowered spread, a double papasan, a rocking chair, and a double dresser with a large mirror. She loved her room. During high school and now in university it was her escape – a haven to study and dream and plan in. When she had moved into it her mother had given her free reign with the decor and it had remained the same for the past seven years.
A knock at the back door startled her. They weren’t expecting any company today, and most of her friends were working. Taking the stairs at a half gallop, she reached the back door in record time, stopping only for a moment to smooth the curly brown hair back from her face and straighten her tank top. Then she peered around the corner at the door.


Now from The Girl Most Likely:

Katie wiped her sweating hands on her skirt, lifted her hand to knock on the dark wooden door, and drew it back.
For the third time.
Why was she afraid of seeing Richard Emerson again? They hadn’t seen each other since high school. Surely they’d both grown up enough to leave unpleasantness behind. But the stakes were higher now, at least for her. Richard was her last chance, as far as she could tell. She’d been standing before his office door for five full minutes and had yet to garner the courage to knock.
Before she could chicken out once more, she took a deep breath, rapped on the closed door three times, and stood back. She tugged at her navy skirt and matching jacket, hoping she looked professional.
“Come in,” a deep voice intoned, and she turned the knob. It was slippery in her palm and she exhaled, trying, but failing to calm the nerves bouncing around in the pit of her stomach.

At least with this example, there are questions. What unpleasantness did they leave behind? What has brought her to the door after all this time, why does she care if she looks professional?

And a final example, from a sub that I have with M&B at the moment:

“Miss? Wake up. Can you hear me?”
The deep voice came first, then Alex’s vision gradually started to clear.
“Oh thank God. Are you all right?”
Alex’s eyes followed the sound of the voice as she looked up, dazed. Trying hard to focus, she found herself staring into the most beautiful set of brown eyes she’d ever seen. They were stunning, dark brown with golden flecks throughout, large and thickly lashed.
Men shouldn’t have eyes that pretty, she thought irrationally, realizing with a jolt that she was captured in the arms of the eyes’ owner.
“Oh, damn!”
The eyes crinkled at the corners at her classless exclamation and she felt his hands on her arm and behind her back, helping her to rise.
“Slowly now. You fainted.”
Really? I hadn’t noticed. I was too busy being unconscious. She bit back the snarky retort when she saw the genuine concern in his eyes. He even made sure she was standing firmly on her feet before releasing her—and then stayed close, as if he didn’t quite trust her to remain steady.
He would have fainted too, in her condition and with this heat…and the lack of air conditioning in the convenience store hadn’t helped much either.

First chapter rule: throw your characters right into the action. My favorite way to do this is to start with dialogue.

And incidentally, the last example is my favorite book to date. And it is very much like Julie's "Delicious". I wrote a previous incarnation long ago. When I went back to revisit it I knew I had to start from scratch. And the new version is so much better. It has voice. It has triple the emotion I think. Sometimes it takes a long time, but baby, we've come a long way!


  1. Yes, I live under a rock.

    WHO is that??

  2. Isn't it Scott Foley, Jennifer Garner's ex? She just goes from one good looking guy to the next...

    Thanks for sharing your examples of how far you've come in your writing. Makes you feel good, huh? And congrats on the pub date too!!!

  3. I said it before, I'll say it again:

    Jen Garner is a doorknob for breaking up with HIM.


  4. Jeez, I put myself out there, make myself vulnerable and all you guys care about is Scott Foley.

    Is it wrong to find that actually comforting? I mean that you think my next hero is HOT? ggggg

  5. I agree, Donna--it's easy to see how far you've come. And doesn't it feel good?

    I gave a workshop for unpublished authors yesterday and though they probably didn't like this advice, I told them about how great it feels to read one of your old mss and see how much you have learned. No writing is ever wasted, even if it never sees the light of day.