Well, I’ve finally picked up the project I put aside a few months ago in order to rewrite The Frozen King. It’s a novel called Black Dog and I’m pleased to say the forced hiatus has given me both fresh enthusiasm and a fresh perspective. I’d written about 20,000 words before I had to put it on hold and today I moved all those words into a folder called First Draft and started from scratch.
The restart’s necessary for a number of reasons, not least a reappraisal of the way I want to tell the story. It’s quite a big story, and I’ve come to the conclusion that my initial decision to launch straight into it with an in medias res opening, tight POVs and minimal contextualisation was wrong. It needs a more confident authorial voice that’s less locked to the characters’ individual viewpoints.
I’ve also done more historical research while the project’s been on hold. Since the story’s set in 1933, with flashbacks to 1918, that’s important. The research has given me a better handle on who my characters are and what’s driving them to do the things they do. Hopefully, it’s given them a better chance of coming properly to life as the writing progresses.
The new stylistic approach is illustrated by the difference in the opening sentence as I originally wrote it in the first draft, and as I rewrote it today. Here’s the original:
“As the French tank rumbled towards him, Art Fletcher struggled to pull his legs clear of the mud.”
Like I said, the in medias res technique throws us right into the middle of the action. That’s all well and good, but it smacks of ‘generic wartime action scene’. This could be happening to anyone, in any battle. Do we really care who Art Fletcher is, and whether or not he’s going to get squished?
Here’s the new sentence:
“The first time Art Fletcher saw the black dog was on a battlefield in France.”
For my money, it’s a million times better. Not only does it possess the new authorial voice I was talking about, but it also (I hope) has that essential hook that makes you want to read on. We still know we’re going to read about a war, but what the heck is a black dog doing on the battlefield? And why is it so important to this character called Art Fletcher?
Of course, there’s every chance that sentence will change yet again as the manuscript grows. That doesn’t matter. What’s important is it’s setting me off in the right direction. Opening sentences are compass needles. If you get them pointing the right way to begin with, all you have to do is follow.