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I finally started! It took me–no joke–an hour to get through the first page. Then, the next morning, I realized it still wasn’t quite right and went over it for a second time. Then a third.
There are, like, five original sentences left now, and I’m still not feeling great about it. Can one over-revise? Is that a thing?
I’ve now made it up to the fourth chapter, but I have to say, this new pair of writer shoes I’m walking in are not even remotely comfortable. I know there’s a lot for me to improve on when it comes to just the writing part, but at least with that I can see little flashes of what I’m doing well. With revising, it’s such an unfamiliar process that I don’t know if anything I’m doing is right.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
This is the beginning of Because You, how I originally wrote it in the first draft. It’s my Hook, which needs to introduce the character, the setting, conflict, and ask a question to keep the reader curious.
Dark hair. Tattoos.
I looked around the coffee shop, well lit by the sunshine flooding through the windows at my back, and felt a slight urge to dig out my phone to send a very nasty-worded text to my best friend. Nora’s description was as helpful as saying, “He likes vintage crap and is in a band.” Weird, Austinites might be. Original? Not so much.
It was tempting to just turn around and leave. What good ever came out of a blind date, anyway? When was the last time anyone was at a wedding, and the happy couple was retelling their story about meeting each other for the first time at an awkward, pre-arranged date, by friends who were just tired of them complaining they were still single?
For the record, I was not here because of any complaining. No, my complaining all started after Nora had decided she’d met, quote: The, like, most perfect guy for you, Graham! I mean, he practically is you. Unquote.
Some might think her sweet and well-intentioned. And she was. Hell, she’d gotten me my shot at my dream job. An interview for a Senior Software Developer position at Cataclysmic. Freaking Cataclysmic! As far as I was concerned, they’d published two of the top ten video games of all time with StarBound and it’s even better sequel. My dream of working there was the single reason I’d moved to Austin a little over a decade ago, straight out of high school. Well, that, and the fact that Austin was the most liberal city south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Nora was an angelic snowflake that walked on water without melting, as far as I was concerned. And she probably had another month to ride that wave a gratitude from me, before I recalled that she was also a pushy harlot that didn’t know how to mind her own damn business. But that didn’t mean I was going to take this blind date bull shit lying down.
It did mean, though, that I couldn’t just turn around and leave. Sighing, I checked my collar and headed for the line at the counter. Whoever the guy was, he was Nora’s friend, too. Which meant he had to have at least some redeemable qualities. Which meant he probably didn’t deserve to be stood up and left wondering if his date had taken one look at him and bailed.
What I like about it:
- It starts with a couple questions. Who is the guy Graham’s there to meet? Will they get along?
- It does some basic setup of Graham’s personality. He’s judgey about people, pessimistic about relationships, ambitious in his career, and loyal to his friend. It’s a decent mix of positive and negative. I included the bit about his checking his collar to try and imply he cares about appearances.
- It hints at the larger plot around his upcoming job interview.
Where I think the major problems are:
- It’s all “telling” for one thing. I had this same problem with the hook I shared in a previous post that received criticism for that very thing. There a small bit of action, with him looking around then finally moving to the counter, but that’s it. Not enough!
- The potential conflict isn’t very strong. He doesn’t want to be there, and assumes it’ll be awful, but it could be a little stronger.
- As I said, there is some introduction of Graham’s character here, but I’m not sure it’s the core of who he really is. K.M. Weiland says this about protagonist introductions: “The characteristic moment is your protagonist’s big debut. He steps onto the stage, the spotlight hits him–and he shines. In this one moment, he shows readers what he’s all about: the good, the bad, the potential for greatness to come. The characteristic moment
tells readersshows readers exactly why this protagonist is going to be worth reading about.” What I have above is a kind of washed out version of this. It hits the notes, but not in any “shiny” kind of way.
- Stakes are set up about his upcoming job interview, but how it’s done feels forced and unnatural. Like I have a checklist of things to mention and had to squeeze it in. Probably because that’s basically what I was doing . . .
- Sloppy and too much of an info dump. On all levels.
Okay. Now let’s look at the much revised hook and what I changed.
Dark hair. Tattoos.
I looked around the coffee shop, well lit by the sunshine flooding through the windows at my back, and silently cursed my best friend’s idea of a helpful description. Nora’s text might as well have said, He likes vintage crap and is in a band.
Weird, Austinites might be. Original? Not so much.
Tempting as it was to just turn around and leave, I dug out my phone while heading for the line at the counter. Unless you’re setting me up with half the ppl here, need more info. Info I probably should have asked her for yesterday when she set this blind date up, but I’d been a little distracted by things that actually mattered. Like brushing up on my Java skills so I wouldn’t embarrass myself during the most important job interview of my life.
My phone buzzed. Uhh, hot? Tall? Doctorly?
Me: I’m leaving.
Nora: Don’t you date!
Me: So we’re in agreement.
Nora: Dare! I meant dare. Which you knew. Untwist your panties already. I’m looking for a picture on FB now.
This was stupid.
What good ever came out of a blind date, anyway? When was the last time anyone stood up at a wedding to toast the happy couple and retell their story about meeting each other for the first time at an awkward, pre-arranged date, by friends who were just tired of them complaining they were still single?
For the record, there was no complaining. At least not until after Nora had decided she’d met, quote: The perfect guy for you, Graham! Unquote.
Some might think her sweet and well-intentioned. And she was. Though sometimes the sweetness might end up being calculated, and her intent at least partly self-serving. I don’t know if she’d always been that way, or if being a woman in a male-dominated industry had uncovered previously hidden talents. Either way, I benefited. She was the one who got me the interview for a Senior Game Developer position at Cataclysmic, Inc.
As far as I was concerned, Cat, Inc. had published two of the top ten PC games of all time with StarBound and it’s even better sequel. My dream of working at the small indie company was the reason I’d chosen Austin as my new home a little over a decade ago, high school diploma still in the mail.
It was completely possible that Nora put my name in front of the CEO in part because she wanted us working together at the same company again, but I didn’t care about ulterior motives. I just cared about getting the job.
The changes I made, and why:
- First thing you probably noticed is that it’s a bit longer. I’ve added dialogue via texting to create more opportunities for “Showing.” This has the added benefit of setting up Nora’s formal introduction by giving little hints of her personality.
- I changed Nora’s quoted description of the guy he’s there to meet because it makes her sound like a valley girl, which she isn’t. I’m not convinced I like how the new version sounds . . .
- I emphasized the conflict a little. Graham is there to meet a guy, but he doesn’t know what he looks like and Nora doesn’t have a picture.
- I’ve slowed things down a little. Less info dump, more natural thought process. The details about the job interview are sprinkled in around the dialogue to help keep things moving. To be honest, I could probably clean this up even more. I’m still struggling to find the right balance for it.
- It still hits all the major points, but is majorly cleaned up. There was redundancy and excess fluff in the first version, which I got rid of. I’m trying to be honest with myself about what is and isn’t needed for the story, and to be brutal about the cuts.
My persisting concerns:
- I’m still not sure if it’s the perfect Characteristic Moment. I definitely like it better than my first attempt, but I worry that it doesn’t show Graham being his most Graham-ness.
- I’m a little worried Graham might seem too negative a character for some readers. He’s a goal-obsessed pessimist at his core, but he’ll thaw throughout the story. I might need to emphasize his positive traits (loyalty, generosity) more up front. Though, there is a bit of a comeuppance for him at the end of the scene, which would carry more weight if I emphasize the negative in the beginning. It also makes him vulnerable, to garner reader sympathy. Something I’ll have to think about.
- I’m not sure it “readable.” This, I’ll probably have to wait on until I get to the stage of having people beta-read it. I still have trouble deciding if something I write really is clear and described effectively, or if it only seems that way because my brain already knows what I mean by those words.
I’m sure I’ll end up making further changes. At the moment though, I’m trying to prioritize my revisions to hit the big stuff. Like making sure the characters are consistent, all the plot points are present and tied off, and adding scenes where needed to fill in gaps. If I let myself obsess over the smaller things right now, I’d never have been able to move on from the Hook.
Writing, I’ve decided, is all about learning when to let go and move on. It may mean I end up with a tenth draft before I call it a Final Manuscript, but that’s okay. Over time, hopefully, I can get better at it and become more efficient. For now, I’m just happy to be able to recognize where problems are, even if I’m not entirely sure how to fix them yet.