Tag Archives: Margaret Mitchell

Cultivate Subtlety: Throw Out Your First Chapter

What is the first thing you should do when you finish your novel? Celebrate, of course. Though there are millions of us worldwide who have written a novel, there are billions who haven’t. When we try to break into print, however, we enter a different dimension where everyone has written a novel, and we begin to feel as if we’re facing impossible odds in the publishing lottery. And it is a lottery, no matter what the insiders want us to believe. The right book on the right desk at the right time is the name of the game unless you are an extremely talented writer. But if you are that talented, you would be reading your contract, not this blog.

So, for us normal folk, what is the second thing to do when when the novel is finished? Start the editing process. And the first thing to do is throw out the initial chapter. Beginning writers tend to tell too much too early, thinking that’s the only way a  reader is going to know what’s going on, but by not telling, we add a little mystique and perhaps some subtlety to our writing. Being subtle is the sign of a great writer. Not everything needs to be described; not everything needs to be explained. If you let your readers create part of the story, they become part of the story, and they will remember it. (And you, too, the next time they are looking for a book to buy.)

I can feel you cringing, thinking that you need that first chapter, that it contains information necessary to the story. Don’t worry. If that vital bit of information is not mentioned elsewhere, simply add it to a later chapter. But if you are like me, you probably already have a second mention of that information in the body of your work, in which case it won’t be missed when you get rid of that first chapter. Don’t get delete happy though; be sure to save the chapter. You will need it for future reference as you revise the book.

One other reason to throw out the beginning: when you wrote it you were a neophyte. By the time you finished the entire first draft, you were a writer. You learned how to put words together to create an image, you learned how to make characters come alive. That experience needs to be exhibited at the start.

If you don’t like the idea of throwing out your first chapter, do what Margatet Mitchell did. She wrote Gone With the Wind from back to front.

Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than One, now available as an ebook download from Second Wind Publishing, LLC.

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Names Define Your Characters

Scarlett O’Hara was originally called Pansy. If Margaret Mitchell had kept that name, would her epic novel ever have become so popular? I doubt it. A Pansy would be sweet and biddable with rare moments of stubbornness, but she could never be as strong-willed as Scarlett, and she would never have caught and kept the attention of such a worldly man as Rhett.

Unlike women characters, men tend not to have exotic names. They usually have common, clipped names, which work well enough in most cases, but what if Rhett had been called Jack or Clint or even Brad? Millions of women would probably still have fallen in love with him, but they certainly would not have found him so intriguing.

Clothes may make the man and woman, but their names (in fiction, anyway) define them.

Though Scarlett fits the name of the character in Gone With the Wind, it could not be the name of a medieval heroine. In those days, almost all girls were named Mary, with Elizabeth coming in a distant second.

I suppose if Gone With the Wind were written in the 1980s, Scarlett’s name would have been Heather. Odd to think that in another forty years, youth will scorn that name as being old-fashioned, fit only for elderly women, much like Effie is today. (I shudder to think how many babies being born right now are being named Britney, Lindsay, or Paris.)

But I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that names matter and should be chosen wisely. A book may not be rejected because of a character’s name, but why take the chance?

Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than One,  and A Spark of Heavenly Fire now available from Second Wind Publishing, LLC.

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