Hi, everyone. Just joined the site last night! Very pleased with what I'm seeing so far. I've completed two drafts of my first novel, and while I've already done a good share of revision (add here, cut there, etc.) I'll admit I'm not the best "revisionist." So first of, anyone have good tips for revision?
Second, I've heard this little piece of wisdom from a variety of sources throughout my life (magazines, professors, interviews of famous writers, and so forth) that often, after only a draft or two, the first twenty pages are essentially "crap," and should be tossed out and rewritten--from scratch.
Am I the only one who thinks this is crazy? I'm very pleased with my opening pages. Does anyone out there agree with this notion, and if so, why?
Editing is vital, as important as the writing... we all create differently, so we edit will tend to vary as well. I get my idea down first, writing be damned. Then I work through the writing, take a break, edit multiple times, adding colour to the story via good use of adjectives, metaphor and its companions, checking story arcs, consistency, building distinctive characters, extracting anything repetitive, etc. I find it helpful to have a goal for a given editing round, especially further on in the process.
No matter what anyone says to you, don't scrape any pages until YOU think they should be scraped.
You never know, those pages might make it through the last edit and they may not.
The first 20 pages may be the most difficult to do well, especially if you're writing in chronological order. Basically, the first pages that you write of a given story will be where you find your footing, and at that stage, you might not be quite sure of yourself and you'll be prone to making a lot of mistakes. At the same time, the first pages that the reader sees are crucial in getting her to stick with the story, so it could be said that the first 20 pages are the most desperately in need of revision, but it's awfully absolutist to say that the first 20 pages should always be rewritten from scratch.
When I spoke with my editor (Hi, Christina!) about my debut novel, apparently the first fifth of the book was what gave her the most difficulty because the setting was not very clear to her, but if your book doesn't involve a lot of world-building, that shouldn't be an issue for you.
This sounds like one of those cases where the advice is more of a "guideline" than a rule set in stone. You might need to rewrite your first 20 pages---or your first 50 pages!---from scratch, but then, you might also waste some great storytelling if you indiscriminately chuck your beginning.
Two novelists in my writing group, both graduates of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, both told me the first 30 pages of a novel are critical in terms of hooking an agent or publisher. They didn't tell me to completely scrap those first 30 pages, just to get to the action as quickly as possible and strip out anything unnecessary. At first I didn't know what to cut--I didn't want to sacrifice the world-building and character introduction at the beginning. After letting the manuscript sit for a while, it was easier to see what could be cut away to tighten those first pages. (Admittedly, it still needs work!) I think it helps to read the beginnings of some of your favorite books and see how they handled the pacing, etc.
Thanks, Laura. That's helpful. I especially like what you said about reading the beginnings of my favorite novels. I agree, it's hard to forfeit your own text!
Katie, I didn't read this discussion before starting my own about the revision process. Sorry! I can't tell you much, because I too am at a total loss. I'm just getting ready to redraft my first novel. And completely at a loss of even how to start! At least you've drafted twice.
I don't think you should delete anything. Save the first twenty pages in a file, you may need them or part someday. You also may want to add parts back in at some point.