I was going through all of my old "the next great novel" attempts, and, inspired by the Miss Snark's First Victim Secret Agent contest (sorry, link's not working for me tonight), I decided to post a few of my beginnings. I'm limiting it to about 100-200 words on most of them, though, b/c the majority are a little traumatizing for me. Only 3 of the 6 below made it into full-length manuscripts, which is about 1, maybe 2, too many. So here goes ... don't say you weren't warned.
1) Title: none. (I labeled it as "stuff" so it would sound boring on my computer and no one would open it out of curiosity and laugh.) Genre: ? (first chapter is about a teen, but then it shoots to her in college ... so maybe YA? Heck if I know ... didn't think about genres then.)
At age 15, in a dark, crowded room full of teenagers, Danika Benson’s life finally began. Because that night, Danika met Austin Dunaway.
As she sat in the corner of the gymnasium, her white sneakers lit by the black lights and disco balls around the room, Danika silently watched as other students talked, laughed, and danced with one another, ringing in the new school year.
At age 15, and in her sophomore year of high school, Danika Benson had been thrust from the comfort she had known for years when her father lost his job. She had been forced to move to a new school, to make new friends, and to try to fit in all over again. Like other teenagers, Danika desired to be accepted by her peers. However, her insecurities always held her back. At 5’6, with chestnut hair, hazel eyes, and a face full of freckles, Danika wasn’t exactly a beauty queen. She didn’t turn heads when she walked into the room. She didn’t have guys lined up just for the chance to get to talk to her. And she never got asked to dance. So why was she here?
---Yeah ... I used the phrase "At age 15"--not once which may have been forgiveable, but two stellar times. And I sounded like i was dictating my shopping list. Total word count on this one? 19,354 too many. (And from a cursory look back over it, I think I was just about finished. Yeah ... Uh huh.)---
2) Title: A Triangular Affair. Genre: chick lit/women's fiction
Three hours of cheap beer and vodka shots later, the seven of them gather in an intimate circle on the living room floor, an empty beer bottle spinning clockwise between them on the large white tiles. It slows, somewhat meticulously, and finally teeters to a stop. Their eyes meet for the briefest moment, and then quickly dart away. They carefully lift themselves onto their knees, slowly leaning toward one another. And then they kiss. When they both pulled away, their cheeks are flushing bright pink. It suddenly feels as though the room has grown ten degrees hotter, only the thermostat still reads a comfortable seventy-five degrees. Surely it isn’t the kiss that has caused them to feel this way. Surely a kiss between two friends, while playing a silly little game nonetheless, hasn’t caused their extremities to rise to a temperature that nearly lights the room on fire. Surely it is something else, they both assure themselves. But what if it isn’t?
---I don't even know what to say about this one. First w/the title: Like an affair with 3 people involved is so unusual that I had to label it a triangle. Let's just say I was going for literal. Next w/the writing: I swear, it's like I was setting the stage for a screenplay, using my best Mr. Moviephone voice. Who did I think I was, and what did I think I was doing, exactly? And, yet again, I might as well be reciting the pledge of allegiance. Except I think that the pledge is way more interesting than what I have here, and much better written. Total word count on this one? 15,197, and about 2000 more for my outline of what I had left to complete this little doozy.---
3) Title: Matched Up. Genre: Chick lit/Women's fiction.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It really wasn’t. And by “it,” I mean my life. I was supposed to be married to Alex—my first and only love, my high school sweetheart—by now, and we’re supposed to be living our own happily ever after. Alex and Alyssa—seriously, how cute would that look in calligraphy on our wedding invitations?
Being the typical girl that I am, I’ve had our wedding planned out for years—from the invitations to the honeymoon (never mind the fact that we’re not even engaged; that’s a minor detail). Of course, I change my mind at least once a month, but here’s the latest (Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with all the details. Just a select few.) We’ll get married at The Dunes, the private beach where we used to make out for hours, and where he asked me to go steady when we were sixteen. I’ll wear a strapless white gown, something simple and tasteful with beautiful beading on the bodice. My bridesmaids will wear classic black cocktail dresses (because I’m just not interested in a taffeta fiasco) and will carry small calla lily bouquets wrapped in white satin.
---So you may sense a couple of themes here: a fascination w/chick lit (which has passed, btw), backstory-backstory-backstory, telling-telling-telling, and at best very blah writing. It's not necessarily that I don't have a good idea inside my head, it's that w/all of the crap I've given to wade through, no one would ever know. For instance, if I told you this was about my MC's attempt to hook her best friend up with a guy from a dating website, where my MC goes online and pretends to be her friend and ends up falling for internet guy instead, creating all kinds of turmoil when everyone meets, would you get any of that from what I have above? If you would, you have powers beyond this realm. Be very careful, or scientists will lock you in a lab and study you for all of eternity. Word count: 2, 681 + about 1k of outline.
4) Title: Running Backwards. Genre: Chick lit/Women's fiction.
Reunion, T minus 1 day
“How the hell did I let you talk me into this?” Jocelyn shot a glance at her sister, Kendra, as she threw a black cashmere sweater and hip hugger jeans into her already overflowing suitcase. She rummaged through her closet full of shoes before deciding on strappy black sandals, brown wedges, black flats, pointy high heel boots, running shoes, her favorite fuzzy slippers, and her trusty flip flops.
Kendra giggled, adjusting the bright red scarf tied loosely over her pixie cut hair. “You know, you can’t fit your entire wardrobe into two suitcases. And you’re only going to be gone for five days.” Kendra caught Jocelyn’s eyes before slowly continuing.
“And you’re going because it’ll be good for you … and because you wanted to.”
Jocelyn furrowed her brow as she stood in her closet, trying to decide which belts and scarves to pack. Later tonight, she would fly back to her old stomping grounds, and in a mere twenty-four hours, she would be at her ten-year high school reunion, sitting in the midst of forty-five people that she was friendly with but never really knew.
---This one, I actually queried. Finished it, edited it, and sent it on its merry little way. Got about oh ... 20 or so standard rejections. Got 1 partial request, followed by a "No thanks; too much backstory for my tastes." I was attached to this one, but it took me awhile to realize why. It wasn't b/c I loved it, or b/c I thought the writing was any good. It was b/c these characters were based on real people--me, my sister, my clique of high school friends. The story was about a group of friends--my group of friends--going to their high school reunion, each with their own secrets and struggles. It was immensely cathartic and enjoyable, b/c it allowed me to extract quite a bit of written revenge on old classmates that I thought deserved it. But did that make it good? Not so much. I considered reediting it, changing it up, etc., but then I realized I just had to let it go. The only reader it ever had was my sister. And you know what? She ate it up. But that was b/c she knew these people, too, and it was like being in on a secret that the rest of the world wasn't. Total word count: 97, 828 (hot damn! I didn't realize that!)
5) Title: Beneath the Skin. Genre: Women's fiction (if it's chick lit, then it was of the darker/more dramatic variety, due to its subject matter).
“Holy Mother of God, it hurts!” I shrieked as a tattooed man named Sober dug a buzzing needle into my wrist.
Kendal wiped the sweat from my forehead and cocked her head to the side. “You can’t quit now,” she said as she looked at my half completed Chinese marking. “What will people think when you tell them your tattoo means ‘younger’? That doesn’t even make sense.”
I opened one eye and glared at her. “Please, for all you know, yours says ‘I smell like egg rolls.’ No offense,” I said with a quick glance toward Sober, “but it’s not like a man completely lacking Asian heritage is the most reliable source.”
“Oh, ye of little faith. Sober’s super-skilled in the art of Kanji. Aren’t you Sober?”
Sober grunted in response.
I rolled my eyes and glanced back at Kendal. “And just so you know, genius, the second word is younger. The first is sister.”
“Sister younger? Now you’re just being silly.” Kendal furrowed her brow and held her wrist up to mine. When she noticed that the first symbols were identical, she shook here head and tossed up her hands. “I swear … English must make zero sense in other countries.”
“S***!” I yelled as Sober began drilling the second word into my arm.
“Keep still,” Sober mumbled—his first words in over an hour.
“I’m trying, but you’re killing me.”
He shook his head and tightened his grip on my arm. “The drunk ones aren’t usually such drama queens,” he muttered.
---Okay, now this may not be your thing, and I certainly respect that. But it holds a special place in my heart. One day, I will go back. I will make changes. I will make this one work. Right now? I'm not ready for that. It needs too much attention, too much reworking, and I think it may need a younger narrator. Problem is, I can't make her that much younger and have my story still work as it is. So it remains in limbo. I did "finish it" at one time. I queried it to a handful of agents. I got about 3-4 rejections and 2 requests for partials. One, I was stoked about--I emailed a query, she replied the same/next day, and I sent her a synopsis and the first 10 or so pages. Result: not her thing, not into the writing, or something like that. I think I still have the reply saved somewhere. The second agent requested a partial, which I sent, but somehow it ended up marked as unsolicited and returned. By that time, I realized it wasn't ready--it wasn't anywhere near ready. So I never resent the partial. Word count: 85,174.
6) Title: Into the Dark. Genre: YA paranormal
I was four years old when I first saw a ghost.
We met in the guest bathroom of my mother’s latest “gentleman friend’s” house, while I was searching for a clean towel to dry my hands.
Bottom drawer, an unfamiliar voice said. Behind the razorblades.
I gasped and turned toward the sound, my wet hands collapsing at my sides.
The stranger sat on the bathtub’s ledge, his arms crossed over his chest and one foot kicked over his knee. He wore black boots, black pants, and a long black trench. His skin was an unblemished pale, his eyes brighter than stars against a dark canvas.
You are making quite the mess, he said with a disapproving nod toward the puddled white tiles.
Everything I’d ever been taught told me to run, but all I could do was stare, my eyes bulging from their sockets like marshmallows under heat.
Are you ill, child? he asked.
N-no. I tucked a loose curl behind my ear, tracking water across my cheek. I’m uh, I mean I um …
Ah. Plagued by the stutter. He frowned and shook his head. How very unfortunate.
D-do I know you?
No. And you will do well to maintain such an arrangement.
I braved a step forward, my eyes wide with curiosity. What are you doing here?
Things that I should not.
I don’t understand.
Of course you don’t, he said with a scowl. You are just a child. A brainless prey for the taking.
---I included the first 248 words or so, b/c it has been through some changes recently. I'm keeping the old version, just in case, b/c I can't be sure yet that I'm going to like where I've taken it. This is my latest WIP. It's my first YA, so in many ways, it feels like my first attempted novel. Is it great? I really don't know. I think it could be. I may need to tighten some things up and/or lose the prologue in the long run, but I could have something here. Rest assured, however, that it didn't come easy. (and oh ... word count: something like 90k--it's been changing a lot lately, though.)
The point of this, other than to make a fool of myself, was to note that writing is a craft. And, like any other craft, you have to work at it. You may have great ideas, but that doesn't equate to great execution. But that doesn't mean you should throw down your pen (or slam your keyboard into a wall). It just means that you need to keep practicing. Keep working at it. Join critique groups. Enter contests. Do whatever you can to learn and grow, both as a person and in your writing. In the words of someone very famous: "When life gets you down do you wanna know what you've gotta do? Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim swim."