The Story of Open Minds
Ch 6: Facing Revisions When It Feels Like Being on the Rack
Ch 7: How to Know When to Query
Ch 8: A Writer’s Journey: Self-Publishing Open Minds (Part 1)
Ch 9: Owning theWriterly Path:Self-Publishing Open Minds (Part 2)
Epilogue: Finding Time to Write the Sequel
Facing Revisions When It Feels Like Being on the Rack
The great thing about improving your craft and making outlines and sending your manuscript out to round after round of critique partners is that you find lots of ways your story can improve.
Unfortunately, this also means having to change actual words in your manuscript, cutting scenes and even rewriting whole character arcs. It's painful and makes you wonder why you signed up for another tour through the meat grinder.
It also makes you want to cheat.
After several early drafts of my YA novel Open Minds, I realized that the setting of my opening was a cliché. Now I'm not one of those writers who thinks that clichés are bad. I think of them more as shorthand. If you need something quick and easy, to send a clear message to the reader about a character (usually) or a setting (on occasion) or a conflict (almost never), you can use a cliché to quickly get the message across and then move on. Clichés are different than tropes, which are well loved story elements that can be used, abused, and turned inside out to GREAT affect in storytelling. Use tropes and use them well! But clichés you have to use with extra special care.
At this point in drafting Open Minds, I had already reworked the opening many, many times, getting it just right. I didn't want to revise the whole thing —again—just because it happened to start in a cliché setting (a high school hallway).
The justifications began.
My cliché wasn't really a cliché because this hallway wasn't any ordinary hallway. It didn't matter if my opening was cliché because everything else in the scene was very NOT cliché. I like breaking the rules; breaking the rules is good; I could break the rules for this one. And so on.
It is certainly possible to use cliché openings. For example, Hunger Games opens with Katniss waking up, the top cliché opening, right after having a dream or finding a dead body. It was absolutely a cliché, but it was done so brilliantly it never occurred to me that was a clichéd open until someone pointed it out to me. Suzanne Collins is an incredible writer. She can pull that kind of thing off and sell millions of books.
Me, not so much.
So, I sucked in a deep breath and resolved to rewrite the opening again, changing the setting so that it wasn't any cliché I had ever heard of. And that revision, without question, made the opening better. I had to stretch and think hard about what would draw the reader immediately into Kira's world.
Only later did I learn a great "rule" about breaking the rules from writing instructor Kathy Steffen at a Write by the Lake retreat: only break the rules when it makes your job as a writer harder, not easier.
As a general rule, anytime you have to work harder as a writer, your reader and story will benefit.
You can judge the result for yourself by checking out the first chapter of Open Minds. And yes, we eventually get to the hallway.
But we don't start there. :)