As many of you know, last year HarperCollins Australia requested a partial of my book Deathhawk’s Betrayal. Alas, they have now declined to see the full manuscript. Given the ratio of acceptances, that’s unsurprising, but one can always hope. In fact, we should hope, because hope takes us many places. The editor was too busy to give me detailed feedback, but what she did say was she didn’t connect emotionally with the characters.
I won’t say I went immediately to panic stations, but I was concerned. None of my previous test readers had indicated this as one of the many problems I had fixed (or attempted to fix...). Was there a problem with the writing or was this simply a case of one personal preference in a subjective world? One cannot, after all, please everyone. Not even editors. That’s why published authors often get many rejections before an acceptance.
A number of writers I know encouraged me not to leap into anything on this basis. One opinion is not enough to justify wholesale changes. And I agree.
So I sought out some beta readers who are part of my target audience and I’ve generously had a half dozen or more offers of assistance, for which I am very grateful. I am also grateful to Twitter, which has given me access to these amazing and wonderful people, something I didn’t have on the last round of critiques I received on Deathhawk’s Betrayal.
And then, satisfied with my day’s work, I went off to read Lesson 2 of the online workshop I am currently doing, Hunting the Elusive Hook. The lesson happened to be on the first chapter of your novel and how to hook the reader, including the most important elements of that chapter.
Oh. My. God.
I had a total epiphany. I looked at my first chapter and thought ‘This sucks!’.
OK, maybe not that extreme. All the right elements were there, but they were in the wrong places. In all fairness, I did write this in 2008 and I have studied the craft of writing a lot since then so it’s reasonable to assume my skills have improved. I had edited it since, but I seem to have some difficulty editing what’s there into something better without completely ditching it and starting afresh. It’s like my creativity is chained by the words already written. The moment of potential has passed, what could be has become what is, and I can’t take it back.
So I decided to rewrite my opening chapter from scratch.
Because an editor said she didn’t connect emotionally with my characters? No, I don’t think so, that just happened to occur on the same day I read this lesson. The rejection may have just put me in the frame of mind where I was open to the notion that there was something not quite right with my opening chapter.
And when I say rewrote, I mean rewrote. I started from scratch, using the same key concepts, and rewrote that chapter with a completely different aspect. I referred to the original only occasionally to keep a key line here or there or to make sure I covered off all the important points. Otherwise, it is completely unrecognisable.
My husband, who is not a writer, also questioned my motives in rewriting the first chapter. In a quick test, I gave him the first page of the old version and the new version and told him to tell me which was more interesting. Grudgingly, then with increasing enthusiasm, he conceded the new version was much better. The old version he described as ‘cluttered’, which translated to writer speak would mean, I think, the pace was too slow and there was too much peripheral content.
So where to from here? I’m still going to send it out to my happy beta volunteers. I’ll even give them the old chapter one to compare to the new version. Who knows, they might get a laugh out of it. As a writer, I am here to entertain... right?
After that... it will depend on the feedback I get. There may be more revisions to make.
Then let the querying begin...
“He who cannot change the very fabric of his thought will never be able to change reality.”
“We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
This Sunday I'll be sharing the new first sentences of Deathhawk's Betrayal as part of Six Sentence Sunday so be sure to stop by and let me know if you'd keep reading!
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