My editor suggested to me to re-write the first
five chapters of Don’t Tell the Groom to move the story along quicker and to have
less descriptions. Whilst it seemed like a daunting task it’s actually made me think a lot about how I
write and especially how I open a novel.
I approached the rewrite by printing out the first
five chapters and going through with a highlighter, highlighting any piece of text
that was a description. I was staggered when I saw the results. Large portions of
my chapters were bright purple. I don’t know whether I’d fallen into a trap, that
because my novel was written in the first person there were huge chunks of internal
monologue. I think I was conscious that I wanted readers to connect with the main
character and I’d tried too hard to get the reader into Penny’s head.
By taking a look at my writing style and in particular
highlighting what was going on, I realised that I started every chapter with an
insight into my main characters’ head, rather than a piece of action. I then started
to think critically about other books I’ve read. I picked up Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions
of a Shopaholic and re-read the first half of the chapter. There the reader is instantly
confronted into a Becky crisis where she is trying to analyse her credit card bill
with her best friend. The more I thought about good book openings, the more I thought
about the ones that drop you straight into the action. It all goes back to that
all important hooking the reader early on.
With this in mind, I re-wrote the five chapters
from scratch, telling the same story and same events, just with the action at the
forefront. It was hard as I had to omit some lines that I really loved, and I found
myself writing bits of it the same as I’d read it so much. But overall the pace
of the book is much better.
Before I started the re-write I had been working
on Millie and the American University, and when I went back to it I knew I had to
re-write the opening of that too. I’d originally started the book at the beginning
of an evening where Millie meets two of the main characters for the first time.
In my head it was logical, it was the beginning of the story. Only on re-reading
it I realised that actually it was quite dull and the only thing it did was introduce
the reader to the characters. Instead I started the chapter mid-party, when Millie
was hanging upside down doing a keg-stand. It now hooks the reader by transporting
them right into an American fraternity party, and we’re introduced to the characters
at a later point.
With both re-writes the story hadn’t changed. The
events of the chapter were still the same, they were just shuffled around to make
it more engaging for the reader. Now when I’m writing new work, and reading novels,
I’m really aware of the action vs description and I’m conscious of showing not telling.
Do you struggle with too much description and find
yourself hacking out large chunks of your manuscript? Have you ever had to do any
major re-writes of your novel – how different did it end up?