This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
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?