By Anna Bell
Whilst working on a sample chapter for my new book series, I’ve been breaking my golden rule and labouring over a single paragraph. I’ve been absolutely fixated on getting the opening lines just right. Do you ever get obsessive over one little bit of your work in progress?
I’ve never given a mere 100 words such attention to detail, but I think I’ve been feeling the pressure with this book; it’s the first in a new series, and hopefully the first of a new publishing contract (fingers crossed). I felt stuck, unable to write the rest of the first chapter until I was happy with how it started. After all, that would be the reader’s first impression of the new character, and I want to hook them into the rest of the book.
When I wrote Don’t Tell the Groom, the first paragraph flowed easily and it remained virtually unchanged throughout its various edits, right up to publication. I wrote a draft of the first chapter in one sitting and it all seemed to click. The same thing happened with the two subsequent books in the series, as they both followed a similar formula and had similar scenes at weddings. I find it especially important to be happy with the first chapter, as it sets a tone for the rest of the book and gives me an idea of the style of the novel.
With the new book, however, I couldn’t get the opening right, and I felt unable to move on to the rest of the chapter until I nailed it. On about the twentieth attempt of writing it, I finally felt happy. I read it to my husband – who’d had to hear all the other versions – and there wasn’t any wincing on his part. In fact, there was head nodding and even a smile. This meant I was able to write the rest of the chapter easily as it all fell into place.
I usually advise people to write quick and dirty first drafts of novels, as that way you can finesse and polish once you’ve finished the whole thing. The first draft is usually for ideas and the second draft is to fill in the blanks and create a book. I don’t re-read or edit until I finish, yet this time, I broke all my rules and became obsessed.
On the second draft, I get a bit OCW with the last paragraph of each chapter. I try to set up a book, which will make the reader want to keep reading to the next chapter – whilst trying to signal ahead with what’s coming. It’s a tricky balance to obtain, but I know as a reader how important it is. I love nothing more than getting to the end of a chapter when I desperately want to put the book I’m reading down to get something done, but I can’t as I’m so hooked that I’ve got to keep reading.
Along with the opening paragraph, the last paragraph in the book is probably the most tinkered with in my novels. I love trying to create that perfect ending to satisfy your readers and reward them for sticking with the book and finishing it.
I wonder if readers ever realise how much blood, sweat and tears goes into the smallest amounts of words. I wouldn’t like to think how many hours I’ve put into the first paragraph of my new book – let’s hope it will be worth it!
Do you get obsessive when writing particular sections of your book? How long can you spend labouring over a paragraph? Are there parts of your book that are especially time-consuming – first chapter, for example, or perhaps the last?