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I am currently revisiting the first few chapters of my Lara manuscript and trying to look at them through the prism of common mistakes made in the first 50 pages. The first chapter is in decent shape. The action starts on page one, the reader gets an idea of who Lara is without any obvious data dumps, and you get a sense of what the themes are and understand the conflict. And then there is chapter two …

I have laid out the first twenty pages or so of the manuscript on my sewing table and am forced to confront some difficult truths.

  • Difficult truth # 1 – Sometimes a little red pen just ain’t gonna do it. Chapter two is a disaster. I have taken it apart and put it back together again so many times over the last five years that I have no idea what it is about. And I wrote it! It is time to get a clean, fresh piece of paper and start over.
  • Difficult truth #2 – Too much back story too soon IS a bad idea. I have read more books on how to write a novel than I am willing admit. Most of them cover the topic of backstory and agree that less is more. In rereading chapter two, I have seen the light. Having the main character lay on the couch while regaling the reader with the details as to why she lives alone in a dark, depressing house slows the plot down. Shocker!
  • Difficult truth #3 – Every chapter in the first draft won’t make it to the final draft. I originally wrote chapter two in 2008 when the story was very different. In the intervening time, I have totally reworked the plot, completed another novel, a couple of novellas and about a dozen short stories. This chapter helped me figure out exactly who Lara is, and that’s great. The reader doesn’t need to know any of that stuff though. I have a feeling most of chapter two will go the way of all things.

On a happy note, chapter three looks good. I’ll be able to go back to judiciously using the red pen by the end of the week.