You Again Again, Part 1: Begin at the Beginning
So the computers are unpacked, the printer is hooked up, my collage unearthed, my coffee perked, and my giant post-its on the wall. It’s time to go back to Titanic. Or as I call it, You Again.
I have drafts of this damn novel from 2002. Also from 2003, 2004 . . . well, just look at this collection of first lines. They span ten years and they all suck. (That’s a technical writing term.)
March 31, 2002
“Zelda stood at the leaded glass window and watched the the old limo bounce over the broken drive down from the highway, fairly sure that the people on board were going to make her life particular hell for the next week.”
[That’s not a bad opening. Unfortunately, it’s not where the trouble starts.]
June 10, 2002
“Esme Whittier thought about bashing her godmother over the head with the Art Deco onyx elephant that sat on the Stickley table by her side and decided it wasn’t worth it.”
[Because nothing says “riveting opening” like a bunch of pretentious modifiers.]
March 28, 2004
“Zelda Banks stood in the chill, dark hall at Rosemore, clutching with equal firmness a heavy silver tray of martinis and her temper.”
[This is the “God, I’m clever with language” open. STOP THAT.]
April 19, 2004
“The December afternoon sun smudged through the heavy terrace doors and backlit Zelda Banks’s godmother, who looked treacherously lovely against the frosted panes, another reason Zelda wanted to kick her.”
[“Smudged” as a verb for the sun? I must have been on drugs.]
May 2, 2004
“Esme Banks saw the two ugly stone pillars before Beth did and slowed the car, trying not to skid on the slush that was rapidly hardening into lumpy ice.”
[Welcome to a book about Careful Drivers. For the State Farm Agent Audience.]
May 17, 2004
Roxy Banks eased her ancient Volvo down the narrow lane, trying not to slide off the snow-covered road and into one of the ancient trees.
[Not as bad as some of the others but still, if this chippie’s worst problem is sliding off a road . . .]
June 29, 2004
“Zelda Brass looked into the stony blue eyes of her best friend and thought, This is not good.”
[Not as bad as some of the others, at least there’s conflict. Kind of. But I have to stop using that “This is not good” construction. I use it all the time in real life, but it’s time to retire it in my fiction. Lazy writing.]
Mar. 7, 2009
“Roxy Banks eased her ancient Volvo down the narrow lane, trying not to slide off the snow-covered road and into one of the ancient trees.”
[Five years later, still trying to make this one work. No.]
July 28, 2011
Zelda Banks turned her ancient Camry down into the snow-crusted lane and thought, I am cheerfully optimistic and completely in control.
[This one has possibilities. At least there’s personality on the page. Hmmmm. No.]
Nov. 23, 2011
“The lane to Rosemore was icy and full of potholes, twisting under heavy, snow-laden trees and a threatening December sky, and Zelda Banks said, “This is not good.”
[Oh, dear god.]
Also from about that time, I have a writing exercise on first lines from my MFA classes. I think the prof gave us a list of possible first lines and then had us choose six of them to open our books. For the record, most of these possible approaches are terrible ways to open a book. (Description of setting? REALLY?)
First Lines Exercise: Rose More
1. Generalization/God-like Pronouncement:
There are people for whom the world is completely relational; that is, it only exists in relation to them. Rose Montgomery Parker-Ray Baker was one of those people. She had three deceased husbands she referred to by their last names since that was all they’d left her (besides stocks, bonds, real estate, and a mass of very expensive jewelry), and twenty-eight ex-lovers she didn’t refer to all since she’d spent what they’d had when she was with them. She also had thirteen godchildren whom she referred to as “my Roses” in spite of the fact that two of them were named Martin and Gabriel.
[I don’t write omniscient, so this was a non-starter before I started.]
2. Description of a Person
People who wrote about Rose Baker always mentioned her knowing gray eyes and her generous mouth, but if you asked Rose what her best feature was she said, “My breasts, darling. They were perfect, and they stayed that way for years and years. Men will do almost anything for perfect breasts. God knows they did for mine.”
[Again, omniscient. If I were going to write omniscient and use this, I’d start with “If you asked . . .” But I’m not going to. Because I don’t write omniscient.]
3. Description of a Place
RoseMore looked like a stately home designed by Walt Disney after a couple of brandies. “Carve some more of those stone roses,” Walt would have said. “Can’t have too many stone roses. And throw in some pink stained glass.” The most disconcerting touch was the bas relief heads of the lady of the house that bracketed the carved walnut front doors. Rumor had it that Rose Parker-Ray had taken one look at the reliefs and promptly gone off for what was to become known as the best damn face lift in the world, returning to make the sculptor refinish the likenesses to match. Martin looked at the reliefs now and shook his head. “Before the face lift,” he said. “Look at the eyes.”
[There’s a reason people make fun of “It was a dark and stormy night.” Opening with setting is boring because it’s not about character.]
6. Reminiscent Narrator
“Rose had her own way of handling financial disasters,” Isobel said. “She’d go to whomever she was sleeping with at the time and say, “But darling, what are we going to do with these?” and the bills would be paid. The only one it didn’t work with was Quentin. I was there when he came by one day, and she showed him the bills and looked adorable, and he said, ‘Try it on somebody else, love. There’ll be a new one along any minute.’ And of course, there was, but that was the last time Rose slept with a musician.”
[I could use this somewhere in the book, but as an opening line, it’s awful. Also, it’s freaking back story. Start where the damn story starts.]
8. Line of Dialogue
“You know, Nell,” Rose said to her goddaughter, “you’re getting damn close to middle age, and your family has all that German blood, and if you don’t start exercising, you’re going to turn into the same little troll your mother did.”
[I don’t have any huge objections to starting with dialogue as long as it’s tagged so people know who’s speaking, but it’s not one of my faves.]
11. Establish POV in 1st person, voice
“People called me the greatest whore of the twentieth century, but that’s just middle class morality. If God had meant me to support myself, he wouldn’t have made me fascinating.”
[Actually not a bad opening. Unfortunately, Rose is the antagonist, not the protagonist. Back to the drawing board.]
Yes, it was called Rosemore then. Yes, the heroine has had several names. So has the hero. It’s been set in several different time periods. It’s been a romance, a romantic suspense, and now it’s paranormal, too. Yes, I have a plan. Hell, I have a COLLAGE. That also needs updated. More about that later.
Tonight, I sort through ten years of drafts and broken dreams. Tomorrow, I go back into the sea of broken drafts and find a way to
raise the Titanic fix this book.
Icebergs everywhere and not a raft in sight.