The good news is that is a good story. It’s a fun read and I’m looking forward to start working on it again. I’m hoping to have it ready to query in time for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference this year.
The bad news is that it’s in much worse shape than I thought.
After reading the first page over a couple of times and taking some notes, I’d like to share some of the mistakes I’ve made on the first page of this novel.
Sadly, one of the biggest problems jumped right off the page and bit me in the nose before I even finished reading the first sentence. Since I plan to rewrite this scene in its entirety, I’ll share that first sentence right here:
Chris Raydon couldn’t remember exactly who it was he was dreaming about, but he was certain she was far more attractive than his friend Robbie Hansen, who was leaning over Chris with his face close enough to kiss him.
Can you tell how many things are wrong with this?
For one thing, it’s way to cliché to start a novel with a character waking up. And why does it matter that he’s dreaming? And who cares what he is dreaming about?
Moving on to the next two paragraphs…
“Wake up,” Robbie said with a rather loud whisper, while shaking Chris’s shoulders, apparently oblivious to the fact that Chris was already awake.
“Get off of me.” Chris said, pushing Robbie away. He sat up in his sleeping bag and reached for his glasses.
While I don’t necessarily consider this terrible, it does have its problems. The scene is clearly being told from Chris’s point of view, and even though it’s reflecting his thoughts, the tone just seems to make the prose too casual. Almost like the writer is talking to the reader, which is a huge pet peeve of mine.
I’m assuming I threw in the meaningless action of Chris picking up his glasses in order to give him some sort of physical trait (glasses) but, really, who cares if he sits up and reaches for his glasses. Also, I notice that he pushes Robbie away, and then sits up. How does that work?
It was still dark outside. When they crashed for the night, they decided that it was too late and they were too drunk to bother putting up their tents. He was sleeping out in the open and he could see a clear sky full of stars above his head.
“Good Christ, you weigh like three-hundred pounds.” Robbie was the third-grade prankster in the group, meaning he hadn’t learned a new prank since the third grade, so Chris expected to be the victim of some kind of lame joke. He also highly doubted that Robbie had sobered up enough to be serious about anything, which added to his suspicions.
“It was still dark outside” is a terrible sentence. “Was” is my death word. It kills my writing. In fact, on the opening page of this first draft, the word “was” shows up 13 times. The other problem with these two paragraphs is that I throw in a some back story at an inappropriate time. Pulling the reader back to when the characters were in the third grade does not move the story forward.
You don’t want your first page to confuse the reader.
Another problem I see further into the opening scene is that I immediately introduce four of the main characters, and use nothing other than their names and a couple of superficial characteristics to describe them. The dialog is limited due to the nature of the scene, and there is nothing to differentiate them from one another.
In other words, they are very cardboard-like.
So in closing, this was a good exercise for me. Like I said, I haven’t touched this novel in at least two years, so looking at my writing then compared to my writing now was kind of cool. I still believe there is a great story to be told in this novel, but revising it will take some serious work.
Sometimes it’s great to put a story aside for a while and then come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes. After that, clean it up and have some trusted readers give it a look as well.
In addition to the problems I found in my first pages, it’s worth mentioning a couple of other things you should look out for: It’s not good to throw too much at the reader in the opening. If you force the person reading your book to remember too much, he’ll be turned off. That means, don’t introduce too many characters, too much back story, or info-dump.
What common problems have you found when you go back and read an older first draft?