I blogged yesterday about the first draft of the first chapter of the first book I ever took a real stab at. Today, I want to share what the first chapter looked like after I’d worked on it for a few years. This is from the sixth draft. (The last one I did.)
Right off, you’ll notice the biggest change: it’s actually in-scene. Early on I struggled with narrating too much. Instead of actually showing the action unfold, I would have my narrator talk about it unfolding. It’s like the difference between watching an episode of your favorite TV show and watching a character from your favorite TV show summarize that episode.
Being in scene is, generally, much better.
Other differences abound. As I recall, I lopped off a ton from the beginning of the book, so this probably takes place whole chapters later in the first draft. Real revision is like that. Huge, big, text-altering changes. It’s not spell checking or running a grammar check. It’s fixing the story and making it as good as possible.
Anyway. Hopefully this is interesting to you. Have a great weekend!
Into the Elevator
Dad shook me awake. “Get up, honey—it’s time to go.”
The sun was already out—I had overslept. “Already?” I sat up and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes.
“What do you mean already? I’ve let you sleep in an hour longer than I said you could. What time did you go to bed last night?”
The memory of the key adventure came rushing back. “I can’t remember,” I lied. “Can’t I sleep a bit longer?” We wouldn’t be going anywhere, anyway.
“Are you kidding? Come on. Out of bed, or else I’ll have Jacob come wake you up.” He smiled as he left the room.
That was playing dirty—threatening to turn Jacob loose on me. He’d probably try dousing me with water. I grumbled as I sat up, resigned to the fact that I’d at least have to get going, even if I didn’t have to go off to Magnifica. I didn’t change out of my pajamas—that would have required admitting this might work, after all. I had packed my bags last night before I had taken matters into my own hands. Now that things were taken care of, I could afford to be more casual. I slipped on some flip flops, put my hair up with a clip and went downstairs until the key was found “missing.” At the back of my head, though, there was a little voice asking if the key had won, after all. I was tired enough to ignore it.
Dad was running around like a madman—taking out the trash, making sure the dishes were done. We had an okay house, but it was known to have cockroaches. I lay down on the couch and tried to sleep some more until Dad came and prodded me.
“Jacob. Jacob!” Dad yelled upstairs to my brother. If I knew Jacob, he was upstairs trying to cram in some last minute time on the computer. He practically lived on strategy games—he claimed he was pretty good at them. Like I cared. What was the point in proving you were better than some machine? It wasn’t like he was going to be directing any armies any time soon.
After a few minutes—just enough time to shut down a computer—I heard Jacob come bounding down the stairs.
“Come on—we’re ready.” My dad prodded me again, and I opened my eyes. He had a sport jacket and tie on. On another man, they might have looked flashy and hip. On my dad, they emphasized his growing belly and lack of hair. He had put on weight since Mom’s death, and his hair was definitely not as dark as it used to be. He looked at me. “Aren’t you going to wear something more appropriate?”
“Come on, Dad—you aren’t actually going through with this, are you? I mean—trying to travel somewhere by elevator? Who do you think you are—Willy Wonka?”
“Oh get over it, Suze,” Jacob said from his corner of the room. “You’re a girl—why don’t you act like it?”
“Listen, Jake—I don’t need the whole feminine lecture from you again, alright? You can—”
“Enough you two,” said Dad. “In the car—no more questions.”
The next thing I knew I was sitting in the back seat in my pajamas, having not gotten ready at all and on my way to the Holiday Inn. This wasn’t how it was supposed to work. What had happened to the key?
“Yeah?” He was right in front of me in the driver’s seat, and he looked at me in the rear view mirror.
“Do we have everything?”
“Yes—I even made a list. We didn’t forget anything.”
“You have my suitcase?”
“And my backpack?”
“Yes—and you should thank Jacob for hauling all that stuff out to the car for you.”
Jacob, up front in the passenger seat, turned around and stuck his tongue out.
I rolled my eyes. “Grade school, Jake—very. What would Tiffany say if your face stuck that way?” He was a year older than my fifteen, but he only acted it when he was around people he wanted to impress. I hadn’t been one of them since elementary school.
“What would you know, lazy? Next time I’ll throw your junk out with the trash.”
“Right.” I looked back at Dad. “You got the key?”
Dad paused for a moment and turned to Jacob. “Do you still have the key?”
Jacob sat there and looked clueless—he stuck to his strengths. “You didn’t give me the key.” He lay back in his seat and shoved his baseball hat down over his eyes. If he ever took the time to dress right, he might have had potential—as long as he didn’t speak. T shirts and jeans weren’t a great fashion statement, though.
We pulled up to a red light and Dad started patting his pockets. I relaxed and got ready to go back to sleep while he patted some more. The car was already back to speed when Dad said, “Of course. I put it on my key ring. You had me really worried there for a minute, Susie.”
My eyes shot open as I lunged forward to look around my dad’s chair at the ignition. There on Dad’s key ring, right next to the cheesy “I love reading” charm, was the golden key, shining gleefully despite its tarnish. And it was in one piece. Last time I had seen it, I had just finished sawing it apart.
“Whoa! Are you a little nervous?” Dad asked as I realized my face was practically right next to his.
Jacob elbowed me in the side. “Sit back, doofus—you’re waking me up.”
I leaned back, dejected. “Where—Where did you find it?”
“On the kitchen counter,” said Dad. “It took me a minute—I thought I’d put it in the bathroom. But there it was, right in the open. Isn’t that like me?”
I laughed weakly. “Go figure.” What was I supposed to do now? The Holiday Inn was about a half hour away, but with the key on the key ring, there was no way I was getting my hands on it. Even if I could, what would I do? Swallow it? It would reappear anyway.
Plan after plan went through my mind, each more outlandish than the one before. I could grab the keys from Dad’s hands and make a run for it before we entered the hotel. I could slam on the brakes now and throw the keys through a passing car window. Or I could get stuck in an elevator on my way to Magnifica. Which was the most likely possibility, assuming the key did its job. I could see the Holiday Inn sign peeking through the trees ahead.
The seconds rushed by, and I was still clueless. Worse yet, I was going to have to get out in public looking like some ogre in training. My hair was a mess, and I was in teddy bear pajamas. Pink teddy bears! Struggling with my dad in the parking lot over a key ring would make my crazy woman ensemble complete.
I felt like I was on a roller coaster, hearing the clinkety-clink as we got closer and closer to the top where all that waited was a big long drop to the bottom. And I wasn’t sure if there would be the invigorating swoosh back up once the bottom came. Dad opened the door and got out, Jacob right after him. I numbly got out myself, still conscious of how underdressed I was. What in the world possessed me to buy let alone wear teddy bear pajamas? We unloaded our bags from the trunk, and I threw my backpack over my shoulder. I could run away and let Dad and Jacob deal with it, but the thought of my dad kicking back Prozac in the bathroom shattered that idea. He would need my support.
The automatic doors opened and closed behind us, and we made our way through the lobby, getting some weird stares from the front desk. They were used to people checking in first, I supposed. My dad pressed the up button, and I watched the digital numbers go down. 5 4 3 2 With a ding, the elevator doors opened to a green and tan, and we stepped inside. Now I could practically hear the sound. Clinkety clinkety. Dad got the key and looked for a hole. There it was, a janitor’s control below the button for the lobby. It was way too small for the skeleton key. This would never work—it was impossible. But so was a key reappearing and a package coming out of thin air. Dad reached over to put the key in.
“Wait!” I grabbed his hand, inches away from the keyhole.
“What is it?”
“We shouldn’t be doing this.” I was hysterical. “We don’t know—”
“Stop being silly—you’re imagining things. This probably won’t work anyway—that keyhole’s way too small. Here, look.” Dad shook free of my hand and touched the skeleton key to the hole. The metal around it seemed to melt and the key slid in as smooth as a knife into butter. Dad’s mouth dropped open and his hand jerked free from the key. It turned in the hole all by itself, and the button for floor 5 lit up. With a lurch the elevator started moving upwards. Clinkety clinkety—the top was getting near.
Even Jacob looked surprised by the recent turn of events—though he seemed more along the lines of the surprise you have when you open up a present and get an unexpected but long-hoped-for gift. Dad looked confused. Time seemed to slow down as we stared at the numbers—this time going up. 2. Clinkety clinkety clink. 3. I could stop this somehow. 4. I lunged for the key to take it from the lock, but it felt like my hand hit a brick wall inches before it could grasp the key. I cradled my arm to my body, surprised by the sudden pain. The elevator slowed down and halted with a jerk. 5. With a ding, the doors opened, and the noise in my head stopped.
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