In a perfect writer’s world, the first time we put pen to paper words would flow out into perfectly constructed scenes which would become page-turning novels. In the real writer’s world, it takes many revisions and copious editing to improve draft one of a manuscript into a published book. Today Andrea Cooper shares how she transformed draft one of her opening scene in Shadow Bloodlines to a suspenseful scene that sets the tone of the book. Welcome, Andrea!
Opening chapters are hard. Writers must engage the reader immediately, set the tone and setting for the novel all without the dreaded info dump. It’s rumored that J.K. Rowling rewrote the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone a dozen times.
But how can a writer evaluate how their opening chapter is experienced by the reader? This is why I believe beta readers are invaluable. They’ll point out when my chapter lacks tension or when something’s unclear. Sometimes the problem with an opening is knowing when/how to start.
I’ve read some novels where the entire first chapter is setting the character(s) in their world and nothing happens to the end of the chapter. Kind of like my first example below. Not much happens in Beth’s High School world. When one of my beta readers brought this up, I had to change it. I think the revised version is much better, but judge for yourself:
Chapter One Opening – before editing:
The scents of greasy fries, burgers, and spicy nachos choked the air in the school cafeteria. The bell rang. Metal chairs scrapped across the linoleum floor as my fellow classmates finished their lunch.
“Thanks for covering my babysitting shift last weekend, Beth.” Melody, fellow swim team member, said getting up from the table.
“No problem. The twins are cute.”
She shrugged and her empty soda can fell over on her tray. “If you say so. I had to clean toothpaste off the ceiling and mirror last month.”
I laughed and wadded up my napkin.
Ryan, who drew so much I’d never seen him eat or do homework, smiled slightly as he waved bye to us—or rather Melody.
Hmmm … was he crushing on her?
I shoved my textbook back into my backpack and rose.
Time for my dreaded bio class. I hated it. No, I detested it with every molecule in my body.
Biology II, Bio for short, was added as a requirement for my senior year. Yay, me. I could do without the dissecting and rancid smells. Even now as I scurried with the other kids out of the lunchroom, popping the last fry into my mouth, I already smelled embalming fluid.
“Beth!” My best friend, Jacqueline elbowed me as she careened through the crowd after leaving the popular kid table. “You still coming over after school, right?” We’d been friends since braces and training bras—even bought our first of the latter together when our moms ran into each other at the mall. Though, my bras stayed small, Jacqueline’s grew three sizes over a summer.
Her straight teeth and blonde hair made her look like a movie star. I still looked like me: mousy brown hair, bizarre eyes that changed colors depending on my mood and what I wore. And I probably always smelled like chlorine since I was on the swim team.
Chapter One – after editing:
Don’t go to school today! -Dad.
I re-read the text message and double-checked the unlisted number. Was this a practical joke? Dad had not contacted even mom since before I was born, let alone me. I didn’t exist as far as he was concerned.
Why would he suddenly send me a message anyway, and at five after eight in the morning?
I shoved the phone into my pocket and dragged myself back to my seat in the school cafeteria. Greasy fries, burgers, and spicy nachos with fake cheese choked the lunchtime air. The bell rang and metal chairs scrapped across the linoleum floor as everyone finished their lunch. But my burger sat half-eaten on the table since finding Dad’s text.
Wrong number, perhaps?
“You ‘k Beth?” Melody pushed away from the table.
“Yeah.” I nodded, refusing to bring up my father issues with my swim-team partner. If I ignored the message, I can pretended it never happened.
“Thanks for covering my babysitting shift yesterday,” Melody said.
“No problem. The twins are cute.”
She picked up her tray and a crease marred her tiny nose. “If you say so. I had to clean toothpaste off the ceiling and mirror last weekend. Those kids are monsters.”
I forced a smile, still thinking of my dad’s text, and wadded up my napkin, throwing it onto my plate. “They’re not too bad.” Not as bad as receiving a random message from an estranged father. Then the next words flew from my mouth before I could stop them. “Hey, did you guys get any weird messages on your phones?”
Melody glanced at her phone and frowned. Ryan, who sat across the table from me, shook his head. “Nah, nothing except my mom reminding me to take out the trash when I get home. Why are you?” he asked.
A creepy feeling tickled the back of my neck. “Just spam.” Must be a wrong number, then my thoughts shot to mom who raced out the door this morning without even her normal hug goodbye, but just a quick peck on my forehead. I shoved my textbook back into my backpack and stood, shoving the paranoia to the back of my head where it belonged.
Biology II was next. An added as a requirement for my senior year. Yay, me. I could do without the dissecting and rancid smells. Even now as I rushed with the other kids out of the lunchroom, I already smelled embalming fluid. While no one else seemed to mind the smell, especially outside the classroom, for some reason it gave me the worse headache.
“Beth!” Jacqueline elbowed me as she careened through the crowd after leaving her Calculus class. “You still coming over after the college tour? I’ve got the perfect dress you can borrow for tonight, and I rented that B-Horror movie that everyone’s raving about. Night of the Demons.”
She was skipping the local college tour. She’d already gotten into the University of Texas’ software engineering program. Swim scholarships had been given out late January, but I was still debating Texas A & M and University of Florida. Mom suggested keeping my options open and visiting some schools closer to home. I preferred to be near the ocean, but that would mean leaving my friends and my mom. Both University counselors said they’d give me until the end of June to decide.
“Not your crazy b-trash movies again. I swear the last one gave me nightmares about that three-headed croc.” I fought to hold the cafeteria door from slamming into me as a horde of fellow students shoved past.
“It’ll be great, you’ll love it.” She winked at me then took off toward gym class.
Inside the crowded classroom, I retrieved my notebook and pen from inside my backpack—the light on my cell blinked, but I ignored it. Since I was staying with Jacqueline this weekend while her parents were away on their cruise, maybe I could trace the call and confront my loser dad. Mom would never go for it, but the idea of seeing him face to face and getting the low down on why he really left made me smile. Jaqueline loved an adventure.
“Hey, Iron Lungs,” one of the basketball players called out across the classroom and his buddy high fived him.
I turned around as they both stared my way, waiting for a response. I offered them a wry smile in return and slumped into my seat. Jeez, win one breath-holding contest in middle school and no one lets you forget it.
In this revision, I incorporated a problem immediately, then weaved in aspects about her friends and life all the while she and hopefully the reader are wondering about this mysterious message. Hopefully it works, as after these changes, all of my beta readers loved the chapter.
Shadow Bloodlines Blurb:
I didn’t know I was a shifter until the hunters found me…
When eighteen-year-old Beth receives a mysterious text from her deadbeat father not to go to school, why should she listen to him now? But when strangers show up in one of her classes hunting her and wanting her dead, she must uncover the truth about why and what exactly she is.
Amar has been entombed in stone for centuries. He longs for freedom and only the blood of a shifter will set him free. After centuries frozen as a gargoyle, he doubts there are many of his kind left. Yet, Beth rescues him and more than his responsibility to protect her fills him. He must choose between duty and love.
Before the race of hunters capture her, Beth and Amar must find her shifter dad in order to save all their lives.
Shadow Bloodlines Excerpt:
As I reached for the door handle, Jacqueline returned with a jacket and a baseball hat. The music blasting through the walls.
“Where’d you get those?”
“Stole them.” She tossed me the black sports jacket and I donned it. Then she helped me stuff my hair up into the cap.
The jacket hung to my knees and swallowed me. My stomach clawed into my throat.
“It’s the best I can do under short notice.”
“And my skirt?” I tugged the sides of the black dress. “They’ll never buy that I’m a boy if they notice it.”
“Keep your head down and keep moving.”
Uneasiness crawled into my gut and my heart slammed against my sternum before my fingers even brushed the door. Jacqueline pushed past me and straight to one of the muscled guys who barely gave her a glance.
I snuck out of the bathroom, thankful for the throng of people. In the corner, Jacqueline flipped her blonde hair over her shoulder to distract the suited guy. Across the dance floor, I spotted another of Ms. Moor’s minions and ducked under a table. The couple gave a gasp and I shushed them.
“Sorry, it’s my ex. He’s crazy.” I crossed my fingers that they’d believe me.
“Don’t need to tell us about crazy exes,” the girl answered.
Peeking out, I realized I’d lost sight of Jacqueline. Had they figured out what she was up to? There. She stood a few tables from the dance floor waving her hands like she was flagging a street race and I dashed to the other side of the bar. My heart thumped in my chest like I’d swam a hundred relays. How could five feet from the door seem so far?
When the guy talking with Jacqueline suddenly turned to see what she was staring at, which was me, I tucked my hat down and shook my shoulders as though laughing with the others near me. The goon stared at me and his eyes narrowed. Then he spun and careened through the crowd, barreling right for me. God! He’d spotted me. I jerked away from the bar to run. Muttering an apology, I pushed around people while constantly looking back at the guy, who was now shoving dancers out of his way. Acid rose in my throat. His flicked out his cell and yelled something into it.
My breath came out in short huffs. Could I make it outside? I sprinted through an opening in the crowd. Nearly to the door, a brawny guy grabbed my arm and I screamed. The music drowned out my protest.
My assailant gave the bouncer a wink and a fist full of cash, which he shoved into his pocket and looked away.
“Let’s go, freak,” he seethed into my ear.
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About the Author:
A.R. Cooper is the YA pen name of Andrea R. Cooper.
She loves reading and writing YA Fantasy, adult fantasy, paranormal and historical romance.
When not writing or reading, she enjoys her husband and family, friends, Zumba, Martial Arts, and video games.