Roller Coaster – Before and After the Self-Edit

Karin Kallmaker Craft of Writing, Roller Coaster

Jane Austen's Writing Desk

It’s not uncommon for the beginning of a book to change, especially when I’ve wandered in the woods for a while looking for the best path to get the story off not to just the right start, but the start that sets the right expectation for the rest of the book. This is close to the final draft of the opening page of Roller Coaster:

 Another carload of shrieking riders soared over Laura Izmadi’s head. It took conscious effort not to duck. The falling tone of the screaming was then drowned out by the sharp, metallic roar of the rail. The riders were already at the next turn when the air in their wake sent bits of trash scurrying across the wooden planking of the staging area.

The long, snaking line of raucous, eager riders finally moved out of the sweltering access tunnel. She welcomed the fresh air and clean sea breeze, but she immediately felt the lack of shade. She ran a fingertip over the top of one ear—the tender skin there was already on its way to a sunburn. She tugged her Santa Cruz ball cap down as firmly as she could on her short-cropped black hair, but it still wouldn’t quite cover her ears. She wasn’t giving up now, though. She’d already been in the queue for thirty minutes.

There was no way she wasn’t going to ride The Great Wave today. Today marked the anniversary of the day she’d left New York. A fresh start was what she’d found, back in the town where she’d graduated from high school only a few years ago. She’d ridden this roller coaster so many times during those years. The memory of it was bright and true and uncomplicated. And before…the Big Mistake. Now that her life was firmly back on track, she was getting on a plane for New York tomorrow morning. The day after that she would pick up the remains of her culinary training.

Another coaster load of riders disembarked and the line moved forward. She stepped into the way of the group of teens that had been angling at every possibility to slip in front of her. Sorry, dudes, she thought. Anyone who’d ever ridden the subway in New York knew how to cut off a line jumper. It was all in the elbows.

This is the first draft, which is actually first draft plus three or four quick passes of editing:

 Another carload of shrieking riders soared over Laura Izamdi’s head, sounding so close that she consciously stopped herself from ducking. Just after the falling tone of the screaming came the metallic roar of the rail. The riders were already at the next turn when their wake sent scurrying across the wooden planking of the staging area.

The long line of eager riders finally moved out of the sweltering access tunnel. She welcomed the fresh air . The beach looked cool and welcoming with a clean white line of surf across the sand. She ran a fingertip over the top of one ear—it was already on its way to a sunburn. She tugged her ball cap down as firmly as she could, but it still wouldn’t quite cover her ears. She wasn’t giving up now, though. She’d already been in the queue for thirty minutes.

She was going to ride The Great Wave today. Tomorrow she got on the plane for New York, back to her culinary training after a year off. Today marked the anniversary of the day she’d left New York. A fresh start was what she’d found, back to the town where she’d graduated from high school only a few years earlier. She’d ridden this roller coaster many times during those years. The memory of it was bright and true and uncomplicated. And before…the Big Mistake.

Another coaster load of riders disembarked and the line moved forward. She stepped into the way of the group of teens that had been angling at every possibility to slip in front of her. Anyone who’d ever ridden the New York subway knew how to cut off a line jumper. It was all in the elbows.

Some editors have told me I self-edit too much, and sometimes I do wonder. The subtle differences between the first draft and the final is probably forty to fifty quick to careful studies to improve the impact, structure, backstory revealed and characterization. I do this for nearly every page in the final book, but none more than the opening page.

What the editor will focus on, I hope, is if this scene is where the book should begin. For this book, choosing the opening has been the single most important decision I’ve had to make, and I’ve agonized.

I spent weeks dithering and finally decided to open with a prologue that takes place 23 years earlier. But if my editor thinks I got it wrong and the current day opening is better to hook and hold readers, I’ll be changing it. I’d rather she focused on that question than writing “needs visual” on the opening pages, that’s for sure!

If you have an opinion on the question of self-editing and whether there can ever be too much of it, chime in. Roller Coaster will be out later this year.

Comments 1

  1. I love the scene you show us at the beginning of the post. I feel more alive and part of the story. I'm so glad I found your site. {{HUGS}}

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