Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Work in Progress Wednesday #25

Last week my plan was to start writing my ever so bright and shiny new work in progress. That didn't happen though because my old WIP came tip-toeing up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, "Excuse me, but I don't think we're quite done yet."

It was so terribly polite that regardless of how much I wanted to tell my old WIP to take a hike - I simply couldn't.

So what prompted my old WIP to come out of (semi)retirement? Well, mostly it was the comments I received last week while taking part in the query contest over at Miss Snark's First Victim.

While the query itself received mostly positive comments, the first 250 of my manuscript didn't fare quite as well. The bulk of the criticism was focused on the use of present tense, and too many flashbacks. So, yeah, I had a problem with both the present and the past - not good.

The reason I used present tense was because while writing my first draft it just wanted to be written that way. At the time that seemed like a good reason to write it that way, but now I have to question whether that really was reason enough to write in a style that I now realize is HATED (like the kind of white-hot hate that I usually reserve for the synopsis) by many people.

Although I like the sense of immediacy present tense gave my WIP, it could also be restrictive - not allowing for a whole lot of foreshadowing, or "in retrospect" type moments. So, now I am considering going back and rewriting the whole 101,000 word manuscript into past tense.

Yuck.

The whole too many flashbacks was an easier fix - I just moved that info a little further back into the chapter, and think that it works just as well, if not better, having moved back slightly.

Of course, into this mixture I have also spent an inordinate amount of time endlessly obsessing over my firsts. The first sentence. The first paragraph. The first page. The first chapter.

In the space of a week, I have gone wwwaaaayyyyy beyond second-guessing myself. At a conservative estimate, I'd say I'm now somewhere around bazillionth guessing myself.

Anyway, since I am chasing my tail until I am dizzy, I am going to post a few two alternate beginnings here in the hopes of receiving a bit of guidance from some of my faithful readers out there.

OLD PRESENT TENSE BEGINNING

I’m pushing a vacuum, trying to shake the hangover still lingering four days after my Christmas Day drinking binge, when I first see it.

It is the bracelet sitting on my employer’s dresser. As far as I’m concerned though, the bracelet might as well be underneath a tinsel covered tree, all wrapped up with a pretty bow and my name on top. I know immediately that it is mine.

Usually, I’m not much for Christmas. I guess you could say it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, which was maybe why I felt compelled to drink so much of the moonshine my uncles gave me as a Christmas gift. It was the only gift I received. And it wasn’t wrapped in ribbons and bows. No, it was just two mason jars tucked into a brown paper lunch bag and left on my front doorstep.



NEW PAST TENSE BEGINNING

My uncles call it the Moby Dick rule, even though they’ve never read that book, or any other one. The rule is simple: always steal anything you can, except, never steal what your heart wants. Each of my uncles has his own story that proves the rule: a ‘69 Mustang Boss in metallic blue, a gold Rolex, and a pair of cowboy boots with a silver lightening bolt running down the side. Each item led down a different path of personal ruin.

Never one to obey my heart’s demands, I thought this rule didn’t apply to me - turns out I was wrong. I was pushing a vacuum, trying to shake the hangover still lingering four days after my Christmas Day drinking binge, when I first saw my own white whale.


Any and all opinions are welcome! I'd also love to hear everyone's thoughts on the use of present tense.

And work in progress Wednesdays are not just about me, so don't forget to tell me what you've been up to this past week as welll!

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If you want to participate in WIP Wednesday, simply post your own WIP Wednesday entry on your blog and leave a link to it in the comments below. Or if you don't have a blog, feel free to report your progress directly into the comments box.

For more detailed information concerning what all this nonsense is about please consult the original Work in Progress Wednesday posting.

Feel free to also make use of the lovely little WIP Wednesday logo as well!

14 comments:

  1. I like your first opener better because it starts in the middle of action. (And I personally didn't see anything wrong with the present tense, although I think its harder for first time authors to sell a book in present tense.)

    The second opener would really catch me if you stared with your rule: Always steal... Then the action from your first opener in past tense, then weaving in the explanation about the uncles. I think you moved to passive tense in the second one by saying: I was pushing. Maybe: I pushed the vacuum and tried to. . .

    Just my two cents for what it's worth! Thanks for sharing your story. Your first paragraph does a really nice job of catching my attention and making me want to see what kind of character this is and what she's going to do!

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  2. I think the past tense works nicely. I agree with Jody about the opening sentence, but I actually think it works beautifully if you just switch the first and second sentences:

    The rule is simple: always steal anything you can, except, never steal what your heart wants. My uncles call it the Moby Dick rule, even though they’ve never read that book, or any other one. Each of them has his own story that proves the rule: a ‘69 Mustang Boss in metallic blue, a gold Rolex, and a pair of cowboy boots with a silver lightening bolt running down the side.

    Incidentally, it wasn't until the third read through that I realized she's pushing a vacuum cleaner. I was thinking of it more metaphorically at first, a euphemism for the risk she's taking or something.

    You might clarify that a smidge and ground us more in the setting up front. Like "I was pushing a vacuum over his posh carpets" or "I was leaning into his fancy vacuum" or something. Or maybe it's just me. =)

    Either way, I like it Kate. Good luck!

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  3. Nice Kate! Like the other two, I really like the Moby Dick rule. But I also think it's good to start with her pushing the vacuum.
    I wouldn't worry about the tense right now.
    It seems to me that you've pulled it off fine. NOw, when you start querying, if you have multiple agents saying your tense doesn't work or kept them from reading, etc, then I'd consider changing it. :-) Otherwise, great job! I'm immediately intrigued by this character who grew up thinking stealing was okay.
    Interesting. :-)

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  4. When I read your first 250 words over at the query contest, I didn't even notice the present tense changing to past. And, I also don't have a problem with present tense. But I was jarred by all the flashbooks, which you've said you've fixed, so that's fine.

    Something I noticed in your first example: Is it possible to still have a hangover after 4 days? I don't know, so I'm asking.

    In your second example, I'm confused about the Moby Dick rule and when she says: "Never one to obey my heart’s demands, I thought this rule didn’t apply to me - turns out I was wrong."
    If she truly never obeys her hearts demands, then I would say yes, the Moby Dick rule doesn't apply to her b/c she'll never steal what her heart wants. Except from your query, she does steal it, right? And in the first example she considers the bracelet hers, so her heart DOES want it. So that thing about her never obeying her heart is contradictory. Unless you mean to say she's now thinking, "Aha, the Moby Dick rule might apply to me, b/c now my heart wants something, and I'm going to take it."

    I do like the part in the 2nd example where she "sees her own white whale." And I think it's interesting that she doesn't have any qualms with stealing.

    Are her uncles recurring characters in the story, since they're featured prominently in both examples?

    I'm sorry you didn't get to start on your new WiP and that you're second-guessing yourself, but I think that when people critique concrete things, like tense or flashbacks or even swapping sentences for clarity, that's a good sign, because they see enough good things in your writing and your story to want to make it better. It's kind of like, "Hey, this is good, let me help you make it better b/c I want you to succeed." So, I guess that is my pep talk for your second-guessing yourself. Keep at it! You're only going to keep improving the novel.

    And this is now officially the longest comment ever.

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  5. I like the past tense version because of the content--it held my interest more. But I agree with what Jody said about starting in the middle of the action. With the first one, it feels as though we, the reader, are standing along side her as she looks around the room.

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  6. kay, so I'm going outon a limb a bit and saying I really have no problem with present tense. I know some people do - but not me. Look at my all time fav YA book, Hunger Games - brilliantly written in present tense WITH flashback woven in seamlessly - maybe that is something you could look at for ideas. In terms of what was posted - I agree with Jody!

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  7. Wow, Kate, that's a HUGE decision to make!

    I do like the past tense better. It seems to be allowing you a lot more freedom.

    I hope you take the time to re-outline your book before you rewrite it. I'm in that mode right now, obviously, from my last set of posts. Now would be a perfect time to do that! And I'll bet you'll discover lots of stuff you can improve. I sure did when I sat down to re-outline Monarch before my rewrite.

    Good luck!

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  8. Kate, I simply adore present tense. I know other people don't, but that doesn't mean it's bad. I hope you're rewriting it because YOU want to, not because some present-tense haters didn't like it. I'm sure you are. Just so you know, I love present tense, and you had executed it really well.

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  9. I don't mind present tense. Like Christine mentioned, a lot of YA (Evermore and Wake come to mind) have used it successfully.

    I think your present tense version draws me in more. The first sentence may work better if you use the present tense (push) instead of present progressive (am pushing). That may be what's jarring to readers. If you look at books that use present tense, they rarely use the progressive form.

    If you decide to go with the past tense passage. I agree about moving the rule to the first line and get to the action quickly. The details of the uncles might need to be saved for later as this seems to be backstory type info. Also, there is some "telling" (Never one to obey my heart’s demands) that may need to be shown instead.

    Thanks for sharing with us! I think you have something great to work with. Good luck!

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  10. My 2 cents - I like the past tense example better. Everyone else has already given you some great advice, so will just say ditto. I'm in the midst of totally rewriting my first wip. It's daunting to think about, but take one day at a time and enjoy. Good luck.

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  11. Everyone thank you so much for all your great comments! You have all given me so much to think about and work with as I continue with revisions!

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  12. I'm also a lover of present tense, but I loved the rule from the second opening. I was strapped into the story like Ahab trapped in the harpoon rope. Loved it!

    I agree with the others about starting mid-action, but couldn't you keep the present tense and still use the Moby Dick Rule?

    Present tense seems to be a love it or hate it kind of thing, so go with what your heart desires ;).

    My WIP Wed: http://rebeccaknightbooks.blogspot.com/2009/08/work-in-progress-wednesday.html.

    Great post, and thank you for sharing your journey!

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  13. I hate when my manuscript starts poking at me after I put it down. I do like the second opener a little more. I don't know what it is about that first sentence that spurs me on, but it does!

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  14. I kind of liked the idea HL Dyer suggested. But I've always heard that opening action is important. Good luck!!

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