Way back before I signed with my agent, ALTERED had a beginning that I’ll call Beginning 2.0. It had already changed quite a bit from 1.0, and I hearted it something fierce. It took place five years before the actual story started and I thought it covered all the great things about Anna’s story. There was tension and conflict and a little bit of love. I thought it rocked.
But then my beloved beta readers suggested I totally ax that beginning. Start it closer to present day, they said. You need to hook the reader a little deeper, they said.
No. It didn't. But I couldn’t see how bad that beginning was until I wrote another one.
Beginnings---specifically first chapters---need to cover a lot of ground. They need to say something about the characters, the setting, the conflict, but they can’t say too much.
They have to tell the reader Maggie loves Dan without telling them Maggie loves Dan. They need to tell the reader Maggie hates her mom and writes angsty poetry without listing these things like attributes in a character worksheet.
The progression of ALTERED’s beginning taught me something valuable. It taught me how to write beginnings with the intention of throwing 1.0 and 2.0 straight into the trash so I could eventually reach 3.0.
Then I paint over it and let just a tiny bit shine through. I know what happens behind the scenes, now it’s my job to show the details as subtly as possible.
Jennifer Rush is the author of ALTERED coming Fall 2012 from Little, Brown. Check out her blog for news and updates.