The Evolution of an Opening

Sherry — it’s gone from summer to late fall in just a couple of days in Northern Virginia! We are supposed to have our first freeze tonight!

Many, many years ago I decided to enter a short story contest. The first fiction I’d written in years (unless you count all those TV/radio/newspaper ads and marketing pieces I used to write as fiction). At some point I realized I was writing a novel instead of a short story and trust me it was a mess. Here’s the opening:

On Friday morning, the June sun almost blinded me as I walked downstairs into our shop. It radiated through the faceted glass of our antique front door. The walnut and glass door was one of two French doors from a mansion in Magnolia Bluff that succumbed to a mudslide. The doors were heavily damaged when we found them at the flea market in Fremont but we managed to restore them with a lot of hard work and good luck. The second door leans up against the wall of our office waiting for a chance to be useful.

If that isn’t a boring mess, I don’t know what is. Several drafts later I came up with:

Most of us go through life without ever being truly, gut-wrenchingly terrified. Usually we experience fear in little jolts cause by near misses on the highway, turbulent airplane rides, or phones ringing in the middle of the night.

I confess I still like this first line. However, I wrote it right around the time that everyone decided adverbs were bad and there I was with truly and wrenchingly.

So eventually I landed on this:

I didn’t want to tell Camille her diamond was fake. I studied the necklace for the third time with my loupe, willing the damn thing to change. Maybe one of Seattle’s triple threat natural disasters–earthquake, tsunami, volcano–would occur so I could yell: duck, swim or run instead of what I had to say. I paused a moment, then two, but no luck.

The thing I like about this opening is it tells us something about the protagonist. She’s a gemologist or at least someone who knows something about gemology. She’s compassionate. She doesn’t want to tell Camille that her diamond is fake for some reason. And we know the book is set in Seattle. We get a lot more information in this opening than the others.

If you’re wondering why you’ve never read any of this, it’s because Diamond Solitaire never sold. The picture above is some of my many rejection letters. I sent it out before it was ready – see the first opening. And then, even with the progression, it just was never quite good enough. I learned a lot writing that book in its various iterations so all is not lost. There are some characters, I love in the book and I may have to find a way to use them. Emily, the protagonist, was a former military wife, like Sarah. And both were divorced so, I borrowed bits of Emily for Sarah although both are very different.

Readers: What is something you’ve kept working to improve?

17 Thoughts

  1. Apart from improving my computer skills (to be able to continue working part-time in my retirement), it’s my life-long dream of writing fiction.
    I’ve attended many writing workshops and have drafts for stories and a draft for a novel (well, more like a saga covering a few generations)
    My main challenge is expressing myself well in English. I first learned to read and write in the US but we moved to South America when I was eight years old where I wasn’t among English-speaking people most of the time. So sometimes, or maybe most of the time, my syntax (maybe my grammar in general) is not quite right. I don’t have a college degree but I keep trying to learn to put my ideas, my stories on paper in the best way I see I can. It’s an ongoing project!

    1. That is so exciting! A college degree isn’t necessary for a writer. Keep at it — it took me a long time to get published. I took a lot of writing classes too. I also listened to authors whenever possible. It’s easier now because people do things on Zoom or Facebook. There are also a lot of great writing books out there.

  2. I kept working on my first Laurel Highlands Mystery, ROOT OF ALL EVIL, until it sold. I tell people it was my second book – and third, and fourth, and fifth! LOL

  3. Photograph! You never know it all. By the time you think you’ve learned your camera, something (desire to upgrade, it heaven forbid breaks, or you aren’t getting the type photo you desire to get) happens and you get a new camera. It’s starting all over learning where things are and how they work. Each picture is never the same – lighting changes, subject isn’t one to be still or angle might be different – are just a few of the multiple factors of capturing what the eye sees. You see a technique of another and hope to copy it or you desire to come up with your own.

    When we stop learning, we stop living. When we are content with where we are, we stagnate. So even if I might cry, whimper or throw a fit temporarily, I will continue to strive to do better, increase by abilities and always be looking for ways to improve.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  4. I am heavily involved in my local town’s politics so I make it a point to constantly try to understand the other party’s side, history, etc in hopes of getting along.

  5. Anything you write is great, Sherry (even the first version!), so don’t think badly about any of your writing. Sometimes trying to fix things that really don’t need fixing renders something less appealing than the original. I am constantly evolving and trying to shine a light where there may be shadows. Have a blessed day! Luis at ole dot travel

  6. My first thought was “everything”. But, mostly my penmanship – every time I see beautiful, legible handwriting, I aspire to be able to do that – just for my own enjoyment and satisfaction.
    (oh, yes, and so my biographer(s) will be able to read the source materials….lol)

  7. It’s a great opening. I want to know more! I’m in the process of reworking my first two books – oh boy, there have been many lessons learned.

  8. I love the progression to your polished opening, Sherry – yes, so much better! This post is also a caution for aspiring authors – don’t send it out too soon. I’m still looking forward to reading this book, just saying.

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