Revision or: How Do I Make This Better?

I thought I’d do something a little differently today. I thought I’d show you a little glimpse into the process of revision. Below is the latest of many incantations for the opening of a YA novel I’ve been working on for some time. But, like all of the openings before it, it just lacked the punch I was looking for. After weeks of trying to come up with a better opening, I submitted this portion of the opening to an online contest for the feedback and in so doing, had a breakthrough. I finally came up with something that I think packs the punch I was looking for, as well as conveying the information I wanted to convey in this section. Following this version is the new version. I invite you to read both and tell me what you think. Which one does the better job of conveying the information? Or do I still need to work on it? All suggestions are welcome.

Version #1:

I don’t ask for a lot. Really. In my family, there’s not much to ask for, anyway. I guess you could say that demand out-weighs supply. But even if there was anything to ask for, I wouldn’t. It’s just not me. I’m kind of happy with what I’ve got so why ask for more when I don’t need it? Still, it would be nice if, just once, I could ask for this: To get through the day without someone making fun of my name.
Just once.
Please?
No, of course not. That never seems to be the case. Inevitably, someone, some time, is struck by the urge to make fun of my name. And how could they resist? With an unfortunate moniker like Irene Goode, they have a lot to work with.
Yes, that’s right.
Irene.
Goode.
That’s me. A born punchline for all the budding comedians of Amory High. Or wanna-be mean girls.
Today, it was Bridget Taylor stepping up to the mike for her shot at school fame. And me. One thing about Bridget: She lacks imagination. So rather than dazzling her classmates with her stunning wit, she fell short with a dull pun. A variation of which she’d been slinging at me since our first encounter in grade school.
“Can you pass this to the Goode girl?”

Version #2:

I always knew my name would get me into trouble one day. Seriously, with a name like Irene Goode, the probability for trouble ranked pretty high, if you know what I mean. Well, I guess Irene’s not too bad – unless you’re like a certain someone who shall remain nameless (Bridget Taylor), who once told me, “We had a cow named Irene once. We ate it for dinner.” Seriously twisted. Even in grade school. Yeah, so tell me something like that and you make an issue out of the first name. But most of the time, it’s not so bad. Not great. But not bad. Oh, no. The problem is the last name.
Goode.
Do you know how hard it is to live up to a name like that?
I do.

Or how about Version #3, which adds more detail:

I always knew my name would get me into trouble one day. I just didn’t think it would take this long. Maybe I just have a long fuse. Or a short attention span. Something. But, anyway. It finally happened. I snapped. And my name got me in trouble.
Seriously, with a name like Irene Goode, the probability ranked pretty high, if you know what I mean. Well, I guess Irene’s not too bad – unless you’re like a certain someone who shall remain nameless (Bridget Taylor), who once told me, “We had a cow named Irene once. We ate it for dinner.”
But she was one twisted sister. I mean seriously twisted. Even in grade school. Who would name something and then eat it? Or even say they did? That’s a demented thing for anyone to say, but really disturbing coming from a seven-year old.
Yeah, so tell me something like that and you make an issue out of the first name. But most of the time, it’s not so bad. Not great. (Like Maxie or Roxie, my idols!) But not bad. Oh, no. The problem is the last name.
Goode.
Do you know how hard it is to live up to a name like that?
I do.

So what do you think? Which version do you like better? And do you have any revision tips for other aspiring writers out there?

Margay Leah Justice

9 Comments

Filed under writing

9 responses to “Revision or: How Do I Make This Better?

  1. Hi! As I was tag surfing this morning, I came across this blog post (http://nevabryan.wordpress.com/2010/06/07/nevas-newsletter/) addressing opening lines of great books. I thought you might find this of value since you’re working on the opening of your own book.

    One point of interest is that, of the seven classic examples, only one of the stories is being told in the first person. First person stories are not always easy to push in the publishing industry because the point-of-view is so limited.

    But if you are going to tell your story using first person, starting the story with the pronoun “I” as the first word might not grab as many readers as other word arrangements. Try moving things around a little, maybe starting with the word “trouble.” (And I definitely prefer Version 2.)

    The focus should be on the very first sentence, though, before worrying about the rest of the first paragraph. You need to have a killer first line because that’s where agents and editors make their decisions on queries from new writers in today’s publishing environment (after they Google you).

    If you have time to visit my blog, I’d love to hear from you. There are lots of other tips and ideas in there that you might find useful. Good luck with your Journey!

    Cheri

    • Margay

      Thanks, Cheri, this is great information, not just for me, but for any aspiring authors out there who might be reading this blog right now. First lines are always a struggle, whether you’ve written one book or twenty, and it’s always good to get feedback from your peers on this.

      One thing that you mentioned that I find interesting is the statement that it is harder to push first person books because of their limitation. What I find interesting about this is the fact that – as an avid reader myself – I have noticed that more than half of the books I have read in the past year (all of them getting great buzz in the industry and on the internet) were all in first person. So I have to wonder how valid that sentiment is now, not that I am discounting what you said. I am just making an observation.

      Plus, I don’t want to discourage any potential writers who may be reading this from writing in the point of view that is most comfortable for them. I think if you try to force yourself to write in a POV or a genre or a style that is not comfortable for you, it is going to show in your writing. I have tried it myself. There was a time when I wouldn’t do first person at all because I thought it was too limiting, but then I read a lot of books that handled it so well that I began to be more open to it. And when this story didn’t seem to be working too well in third person, I tried first and it really took off.

      Thanks again for commenting!
      Margay

      • Hi, Margay. Thanks for your reply. You’re right when you say that writers should work in the point-of-view that’s most comfortable, and the subject of first-person novels has been debated forever. So we’re probably not going to resolve the issue here. And in the end, if we can sell what we write, I guess the POV doesn’t really matter anyway.

        My personal issue with the first-person POV is that there’s no way to write the story without seeing the pronoun “I” a million times. For me, the joy of writing a novel comes from creating new characters who are set apart from my own world. I’ve written several short stories in first person, and they always seem to turn out more autobiographical than I’d intended, which I assumed was due, in part, to the fact that “I” was telling the story. And when I went through the story and highlighted all of the “I”s, I was very uncomfortable to see how many there were.

        So again, for me, third person seems to afford me the distance I want between me and the characters in my novels. But as you said, we each need to tell our stories in the manner that fits us the best.

        Good luck with your story. Hope we stay in touch.

        Cheri

  2. As a roomful of people for an opinion on an opening like this, Margay, and you’re liable to get a variety of opinions.

    Personally, I like the first opening. There’s a little mystery to it; you don’t get to the point until the very end, and I like that. It’s also much cleaner, simpler, polished. The other two are too verbose and almost rambling, which is fine if that’s what you’re going for. I’m just not sure it is.

    BTW, my mother’s name was Irene–a name I’ve always sort of liked, maybe because there aren’t too many of them running around.

    • Margay

      J. Conrad, I think you are right about that. I have shopped this around in other forums because I thought the beginning needed work and you are actually the first person who liked the first version. Most people thought it took too long to set up the issues Irene has with her name and a lot of people thought that her attitude about it was more suitable to someone in grade school, that she shouldn’t still be feeling this way about her name in high school. Well, as someone with an unusual name, I can tell you that just because you get older, it doesn’t mean the teasing stops. Irene feels bad about her name because she’s been made to feel that way by others. That’s why I changed it to show that others are still acting juvenile about her name.
      Margay

  3. 3. For me it reads better and sounds more like someone thinking or talking. The words just flow out.

  4. I love first person narratives—I find it builds a close personal relationship with the narrator that third person can’t. Most of my long fiction is written in first person.

    Say what you will about repetitive use of the “I” pronoun, but it’s little different than “he” or “she.”

    I recently read a biography of Raymond Chandler and immediately afterward launched into The Long Goodbye. In my mind, this is a brilliantly written paragraph, yet note all of the “I”s:

    The living room was still dark, because of the heavy growth of shrubbery the owner had allowed to mask the windows. I put a lamp on and mooched a cigarette. I lit it. I stared down at him. I rumpled my hair which was already rumpled. I put the old tired grin on my face.

    Chandler is known for being an incomparable stylist (just read any of his Marlowe novels), and I’ve long felt that today’s writers are compelled to follow too many rules, which results, sadly, in a lot of formula fiction that lacks much style or voice.

    If the book industry is hurting (and who would argue that it isn’t?), I think publishers should rethink their policy of fitting everything into a cookie cutter mold. I think many readers are tired of reading texts that read as if the same person wrote it—no style or voice, just the same tired formula written at a sixth-grade level.

  5. christinehusom

    Margay, I like the 3rd also. It packs a punch. Now, for what she did . . . ?

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