Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Quest for Perfection

Well, gang, I hate to break this string of posts about POV, but I can’t think of a thing to add to the discussion.

I’m currently struggling with the idea of perfection. In other words, I’m revising.

First chapters, especially opening paragraphs, are a huge source of grief for me. I know all too well their importance. Yet I also know better than to try to polish chapter one to a spit shine at the expense of never writing the rest of the novel. So I wrote a crappy first draft of a crappy first chapter and then went on about the business of completing the book. I knew I would have to come back and face those opening lines at some point. But I tried hard to ignore them.

Now here I am. The first draft is done. I’ve completed a hard copy read of the entire manuscript. And I’m staring at PAGE ONE, CHAPTER ONE again.

I have rewritten the opening several times. I like the new versions…briefly. By the next day, however, they’ve lost their charm.

I really want to brush it aside and go on to revise Chapter Two. Or three. Or twenty. Anything but Chapter ONE.

But I NEED to grit my teeth and figure out how to make this blasted first chapter the best it can be. Unfortunately, all I see are all the things about it that are wrong. Maybe I’ve read too many books on writing great openings. That long list of “don’ts” is daunting.

I have written, rewritten, copied, pasted, slashed, and burned. And I’ve thrown in the towel. At least for the moment. I have a few tweaks I want to make, but then I’m moving on to the second chapter!

Or not.

Does the quest for perfection drive you as nuts as it does me???


PatRemick said...

Yes. What makes it worse for me is that I am not one of those people who adores the process of rewriting. This makes trying to reach perfection torture.

But how do you know yours isn't perfect already -- keeping in mind the message from the previous post that creating and evaluating fiction is so subjective? :)

Joyce said...

Another yes. But I love revising--at least until I get thoroughly sick of the book.

I have to revise as I go along, so my first draft is really like a second or third draft. My problem is that I'll start with what I think is a great first line, and I can't make myself ditch it--even if the chapter isn't working. I have to find a way to use it somehow. Whether that works or not remains to be seen.

Annette, if I know you, that first chapter is perfect already. Move on!

Annette said...

Joyce, you have no idea how much I needed to hear that today.

I don't believe it, but I needed to hear it. ;-)

Pat, I do need to remember the subjectivity factor. I think I need to just move on, as Joyce said, and let my first readers tell me if it works or not.

ramona said...

Annette, are you familiar with "The Plague" by Albert Camus? In it, there is a character named Joseph Grand who is writing a novel, but he is such a perfectionist, he never gets beyond writing the first sentence, because he can't make it the perfect sentence. All he does is switch around the words, trying to find their perfect order.

Don't be that guy, LOL.

Paula Matter said...

What Pat, Joyce, and Ramona said.

You just needed a reminder because you already knew it.

Annette said...

Ramona, you'll know soon enough how far it is from perfection. I'll be in touch in a few days.

Paula, you just want me to finish this round of revisions so you can get your hands on it.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

I agree with Joyce. Move on.

If a more interesting idea doesn't come while you're into the rest of the book, then you probably have a better 1st chapter than you realize. You're probably too close to it right now.

Alan Orloff said...

Put me down for a "move on." You can always come back and fiddle some more on the NEXT revision :)

Jennie Bentley said...

No. The quest for perfection does not drive me as crazy as it drives you, however crazy that is.

There's no such thing as perfection, and plenty of novels are signed and published every year without being perfect. I know for damn sure mine aren't! They're as good as I can make them, and I work on them until I get to the point where I can't face opening the file again, but then I'm done.

Do what everyone else has already said and move on. You're never gonna reach perfection. Good enough is good enough. (And yes, I know I'm gonna get a deluge of people screaming that good enough isn't ever good enough, but please, when it's as good as you can make it, then it's good enough. You're not getting paid enough to kill yourself.)

Annette said...

The immediate problem, Jennie, is I'm not getting paid ANYTHING. ;-)

Will, I think you may have nailed it. I can't find anything in the chapter that I can delete or postpone until later without seriously screwing with the story. And I'm definitely too close to it.

Alan, you're right. I keep acting like this is my last chance to get it right. I can, indeed, fiddle with it later, too.

Jennie Bentley said...

Just FYI, our buddy CJ Lyons just posted a marvelous treatise on world building on the RWA Fantasy, SF, Paranormal blog that touches on openings. Since it's CJ, it's very good! AND... it offers a chance to get feedback on your opening sentence.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Oh, yes!! That's why I procrastinate from getting back into one all the time. I think that's linked with confidence, too, another thing I lack. At some point, so I'm told, we just have to move on.

Annette said...

Eileen, I think you've made an excellent point. Confidence, or lack of it, will definitely contribute to being driven nuts.

Jennie, thanks (I think) for the link to CJ's post. Love, love, love her. But just when you all had me convinced to move on, CJ's given me more to fuss over and think about.

Jennie Bentley said...


Paula Matter said...

"Paula, you just want me to finish this round of revisions so you can get your hands on it."

Nope. I think moving on is what you need to do because by working on the next chapter(s), you'll most likely see what's wrong with chapter 1.

You know damn well how ideas come when we're not focusing on the same thing over and over...

It's when we step away from the "problem" that the solution comes to us.

You know this.

Patg said...

Move on, get that middle done, it is where most people quit.
Remember perfection like genius is highly overrated.

Dana King said...

This is why I know going in I'll do six or seven drafts, each emphasizing a particular aspect of writing. One for flow, one for vice, one for characters, etc. Anything can be changed during each draft, but that's where my focus is. That way, no draft--except for what I know will be the final--has to be "perfect; just better. Get better often enough and that's about as perfect as it can get.

Annette said...

I hear ya, Paula,

Pat, the middle is done. Well, the first draft of the entire manuscript is done.

But I do like your wisdom, Dana. Look for better, not necessarily perfect.

Thanks, everyone.

Jemi Fraser said...

Yes!! I spend a TON of time of that first sentence/paragraph!