I just got back from an awesome Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) retreat on the fabulous Rottnest Island near Perth. And amid the writing and learning, I had a peer group critique session that came with a side-serve of…
The start of a book is key.
We all know that, right? It’s what will make a reader trust you enough to keep reading, to fall in love with your book. But before the book becomes a book, it’s the bit where the writer (me!) is just getting to know my characters. As. I. Write. So it’s slow and clunky. I’m fine with that because it’s a first draft.
I go back to those malformed starts once I understand the characters and story better. Once the manuscript is finished. I cut bits, add a few extras, read it and nod to myself. What a great start, look at how I’ve laid a trail of clever clues to what will happen! Pat myself on the back!
And up until now I’ve been totally convinced that’s the best I can do.
What I realised with that critique group, is that it’s way short. Sure, I understand what’s going on, but a reader picking the manuscript up can be completely thrown. It reminds me of an outstanding quote:
Clarity over cleverness
The boys from Sterling and Stone hit a chord in me talking about this. I wrote those words
down. Twice. I underlined them. I even drew a box around them.
You’re can’t be a clever writer if your reader doesn’t understand what you’re saying.
But I didn’t fully comprehend what it meant for me.
When it comes to killing my darlings, I now know I need to attack with a chainsaw. No simple tinkering and touching up of my first draft starts. I need my laptop to be a crime scene requiring a pot of bleach and a high-pressure hose to clean up. A bit like what was left of my banana after that quokka found my bag on Rotto.
Chapter One. Select All. Delete.
Let the fun begin!