Friday, June 20, 2014

Wait to cut the throat-clearing

When I write articles, I usually write a lovely opening paragraph with deep symbolism or evocative figurative language to introduce my topic. Then I move directly into the topic of the article, keeping my tone mostly practical with a light side of humor, and say what I really want to say.

At the end of the article, without fail, I go back and lop off the head (paragraph).

The first paragraph is overwriting; it doesn't match my tone, and even if sounds nice on its own, it rarely contributes.

It's also often one of the first things done in the second draft of a novel. We all have to clear our throats when we start talking. But the throat-clearing doesn't have to occupy precious word space.

So why do we start too early?

Because it is throat-clearing. I write a first purple-prose paragraph to get myself in the mood for the article. It brings up in my mind what I'm talking about, and helps ground me in the issue.

When you write, if your first chapter or two feel embarrassing, if you begin to think you'll need to cut them, I suggest you don't go back and revise yet. Not until you've finished the draft. Literary throat-clearing is an important part of the process, because it gets you in the mood. Just know you're going to rework it your opening later.

After you finish the manuscript, then go back to the beginning. Decide where you need to start, and if you need a new opening scene. If so, you have a great opportunity to add in foreshadowing, and to parallel your ending to create a stronger feeling of closure--had you rewritten the opening as you were writing chapter 5, you'd miss that opportunity.

I also don't recommend getting feedback on your beginning until after you've changed it, unless you're looking for brainstorming on possible ways to really begin it. This helps focus your beta readers on a section that you really want feedback on--something you plan to keep.

Once you've rewritten your beginning, after the manuscript is finished, then ask for feedback.

There's a purpose for your throat-clearing. Don't devalue it. But also know that good feedback is invaluable, and often it's hard to get enough of it. So be prepared to cut your beginning, and focus on getting feedback where you can really make the best use of it. 

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