I thought I was done. My manuscript was written, revised (and revised and revised and…), polished, proofread. I’d written my query letter. I was working on my synopsis. My novel was ready for the world.
Then I entered a contest. Not a big one, mind you. It was one of those agent-sponsored one-sentence pitch contests, which I love. So I’d fashioned a one-sentence pitch that I was really pretty pleased about, and the only other thing the contest had asked for was the first paragraph of the manuscript. No problem there.
When the contest’s submission period opened, I pulled up the file for my manuscript so I could retrieve my first paragraph.
Now let me stop there for a second, because here’s the thing... I like the beginning of my manuscript. I think it’s compelling. I think I have a great hook. A man learns that his terminally ill daughter has been promised to a mysterious technology upon her death, a technology that harnesses souls as a source of power.
One problem though. Looking at the first paragraph, that wasn’t actually how the book started. Oh sure, a few paragraphs in all those things happen, but that first paragraph, well all it contained was a knock on the hotel room door disturbing a man’s rest.
Really? Was that really how I’d started my novel?
The paragraph was, I was dismayed to realize, boring. How could that be, after the number of times I’d been over the manuscript? How could I not have seen that?
Maybe because I knew. I knew what happened in the beginning of the novel. I knew about the devastating telegram that my protagonist received a few paragraphs in. So I’d never really looked at the first paragraph as a standalone, as the very first impression the reader would have of the novel, a paragraph that would either make a reader want to read more or wouldn’t.
Hell, if not for the contest forcing me to see my paragraph as a standalone, I might never have really looked at it that way.
It was a frustrating revelation, but it was also eye-opening. Maybe more importantly, it made me reevaluate my novel in a way that I’d never done before, to look at a single paragraph all on its own. And not just a single paragraph. A first paragraph.
And let me tell you, it's an interesting exercise.
The good news is that not only do I think I know how to fix it now, but I think my fix might add a whole new element to the novel, one I’d never considered before. I can already see it in my head, and I love the scene I’m envisioning. It’s vibrant and active, and while the main hook will still come a few paragraphs in, I think my new start is going to make a reader want to read on, and that’s what we, as writers, are ultimately going for, right?
So yes, I thought I was done, and now--thanks to a one-sentence pitch contest--I know I’m not. In fact, right now I’m facing down quite a bit more work to incorporate my new ideas. But you know what? I’m happy. I’m happy to have solved a problem that two days ago I didn’t even realize existed. I’m happy because ultimately the changes I'm going to make might mean the difference between selling the novel and trunking it. I'm taking this as the gift that it was.
Has that ever happened to anyone else, one small thing that leads you to suddenly view a manuscript in a whole different light? I’m curious.