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The enigma of the first three chapters

With the Winchester writers’ festival just around the corner it’s time I got my house in order, so to speak. And nothing requires more maintenance than my submission material: the first three chapters of my novel.

We all know submissions have to sparkle, that the first chapters have to be perfect to hook that vital agent. But what is perfect? I read this blog by Evie Gaughan last week, perfectly highlighting just how confusing it can be and how, above all else, you have to maintain your own voice and style. You have to believe in yourself, whilst being open to changing the work you believe in. It’s tough.

I revisit my submission material every couple of weeks. Sometimes I change just one word, sometimes I re-sculpt paragraphs or (deep breath) delete sentences completely (though I write the really good ones down. I might need them again one day, for another book.)

One of the trickiest parts is nailing the pace. High paced without being confusing or melodramatic, enough action to reel the reader in without giving too much away. My old nemesis foreshadowing has been very useful in these first few chapters; the promise of something good to come without actually telling them what’s coming.

And what about exposition? No one, repeat NO ONE, likes an exposition dump. I’ve replaced all exposition with action/dialogue or deleted it completely. No “Bob likes cheese but has a nasty temper” from me, oh no no no. Instead you’ll see a sneering Bob chomping his brie with one hand whilst the other reflexes into a fist.

But the hardest bit by far? Having the confidence to know that the elements I’m changing are the right ones, that this beautiful sentence does need to go, that this paragraph needs to there and this one needs to go here and the work will be better for it.

It is better. It is much better. I am much better and my submission is good enough

I just have to keep telling myself that for the next seven weeks!

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