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.