**Once upon a time it was a dark and stormy night . . .
Standing in the dismal parking lot of Revisionland, I clutch my manuscript. Part of me longs for the rustic comfort of Rewrite Inn, but I overstayed my welcome there. Outside the Revisionland entrance, papers by the thousands litter the ground. A whirlwind throws a pile at me. I dodge, trying to avoid numerous paper cuts. One sticks to my leg. I peel it off and read. It’s a beginning. A bad one. Not one I’ve written, but one discarded by another writer. It comforts me to know others have passed this way. I let the page float to the ground and march toward the gates.
A porter dressed in a red suit with gold trim sits in a glass booth to my right, reading what appears to be a manuscript.
“Hello,” I say. “I’m ready to enter Revisionland.”
His eyes don’t leave the page. He points to a narrow slot in the glass. “Ticket, please.”
“Uh . . . ticket? I didn’t know I needed a ticket. I don’t have one.”
He sighs and sets his stack of pages aside. He lifts his dark eyes to mine, his irritation evident. “You have a beginning I assume?”
He rolls his eyes. “That’s your ticket. Let me see it. I’ll read the first two hundred fifty words only.”
I fumble to grab the top page, resisting the urge to lick my fingers in case it grosses him out. Victory! I slide it through the narrow slot, and he snatches it.
He reads quickly, his face blank. He slides it back. It flutters to the ground before I can grab it. I bend to pick it up.
“Don’t bother,” he says. “Leave it there with the other trash. It’s not good enough.”
“Excuse me?” I say, clutching my first page to my chest as though I can protect it from his harsh words.
“It’s. Not. Good. E. Nough,” he says. “You can’t get in until you write a better beginning.”
“But I’ll write it once I’m in there. Just open the gates.”
“That’s not how it works. Do it right, or don’t get in.”
“I have to go back to Rewrite Inn?”
He shakes his head. “You can’t go back there.” He points to a small desk tucked off to the side of the glass booth. “Use that. When you think you’re ready, come back, and I’ll take another look.” He picks up his stack of papers and resumes reading.
I stare at him, but it’s obvious he’s dismissed me. I trudge to the desk. There’s a laptop open and waiting, a blank Word document screen staring at me.
I sigh and plop into the hard wooden chair. This shouldn’t take long . . .
But it does! I’ve been at it for two days. Each time I think I have it, the gatekeeper insists I can do better. He’s right.
As writers, we tend to rework our beginning several times, striving for that perfect blend of character, setting, and mood. It’s much harder than it sounds. If we don’t get it right, readers won’t read any further than the gatekeeper does.
So here I am, outside Revisionland, struggling to get my beginning right. I’d planned to skip it today and move on, but so much hinges on having the beginning right. Without it, I don’t know what to leave in or take out of the rest of the first chapter. Part of me wishes I could go back to my old beginning, but it won’t work. After the rewrite, this isn’t the same book. The old title doesn’t work. The old character name doesn’t work (only because there are other characters out there with the same name now). The old beginning doesn’t work either.
I’ve reverted back to a previous version’s beginning, but since it wasn’t part of the rewrite, I have to rewrite it now—does that even make sense? I’m struggling with what to put in, what to leave out, what to bang my head against . . . *sigh*
How many of you have made it past the gatekeeper? Are you in Revisionland? I hear it’s not as fun as Disneyland (I wouldn’t know, I’ve never been to Disneyland).
What are your tricks for finding the perfectly balanced beginning?
** combination of two “classic” beginnings in case you didn’t figure it out.