As we all know, writing is rewriting. It is with this in mind that I plan on writing several posts here on the topic of revision. When revising we go through and find areas that need cutting or expansion, to tie up loose threads, create setups and payoffs, and any other areas of improvement you can think of. A great resource, though perhaps hard to get through, is the book “Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers,” by David Madden. In Madden’s book, he looks at some famous authors’ early works and compares them to their revised later works. I would like to do the same today, but with my own writing. Furthermore, I would like to focus on openings for today’s post.
The opening of your novel or short story is incredibly important. It says so much about your story, and you as a writer. It should reveal your character, and set up what is to come. And don’t forget to at least hint at the tension.
With that in mind, I have posted my original opening to my novel tentatively titled “Moving On,” and the revised version (yes, it could probably still use some revision, and I am open to feedback). I hope you will see some improvement in the new version.
This is the opening to my novel tentatively titled “Moving On.”
Mohira slid the Uzbek dress from her shoulders and turned from her mother and aunt as she reached for the white wedding dress sprawled out on the bed before her.
The two dresses were so different, the former a pattern of pink with finely stitched white diamonds, the latter everything that Mohira had dreamed of. It was a wedding dress like she had seen in the movies, on classic stars like Audrey Hepburn. Mohira loved the traditional look of it, with puffed sleeves, a conservative collar, and a lovely satin sash that tied around the waste into a rear bow. The lack of an open back and bare shoulders may not have fit modern American tastes, but the dress was the perfect for a western style wedding in the Muslim culture of Kyrgyzstan. Her people, Uzbeks, were especially conservative by nature, and her mother wouldn’t have allowed anything less sophisticated than this. The smooth, silk fabric lined with satin made her feel complete as she slipped it on, as if the world revolved around her on this day. She imagined she could already smell the sugary scent of the wedding cake and feel the warmth of Brandon’s breath against her neck.
And here is the revised version of my opening (I took the liberty to expand it a bit):
Mohira allowed her dress to fall from her shoulders, her eyes staring in excitement at the dreamlike wedding gown laid out on the bed before her. Unlike the Uzbek dress now at her feet, with its pattern of pink with finely stitched white diamonds, this was a gown unlike she had ever seen in person. Sure, she had seen them in the movies on classic stars like Audrey Hepburn, but no one she had ever known had been wed in an American style wedding gown. She was proud to be the first.
The pure white silk felt smooth between her fingers as she picked it up. It smelled of fresh fabric, sewn specifically for today, her wedding day. She took care not to let its hem touch the floor or to wrinkle the satin lining as she put it on, following through on the promise she had made to herself that nothing would go wrong on this day. The big day had finally come and Mohira was going through with it. She was finally marrying Brandon. She imagined she could already smell the sugary scent of the wedding cake and feel the warmth of his breath against her neck.
With a creak the door opened and Mohira quickly zipped the back of her dress before turning to see who had entered her waiting room. Her mom and aunt stood in the doorway and smiled. When Mohira gave them a nod to tell them she was ready, they moved in for the hugs which were followed by the two circling her and telling her how beautiful she was. Her mom smiled as she adjusted the high collar to make sure it was straight, while her aunt attempted to smooth out the puffed arms.
“That’s how they’re supposed to be,” Mohira said in Uzbek.
Her aunt continued with a raised eyebrow and Mohira decided it wasn’t a battle worth fighting.
“You can still change your mind,” her mom said. “In half an hour, that won’t be true.”
Mohira shared her aunt’s look and her mom held her hands up in surrender.
“I just don’t want you moving across the world,” she said.
“I know, Mom.” Mohira stepped away from them to admire the gown in the standing mirror. She almost lost her breath when she saw herself there, like the perfect fairytale princess she had dreamed of becoming for so long. But her mom and aunt were behind her, and she saw the looks of worry in their eyes. Her mom stepped forward and began styling Mohira’s hair.
“This isn’t the place for me,” Mohira said. “I hope you can understand that.”
Her mom said nothing, but continued to fix Mohira’s hair. Mohira thought she saw the glisten of a tear in her mom’s eyes, but when she turned to see, her mom was looking away. Her aunt shook her head. They could never understand how much she wanted this, how long she had craved an escape from the energy outages in cold winters, the mediocre hope for career advancement as an Uzbek, or the racial slurs from the majority Kyrgyz.
“Mom, you—” Mohira began, but her mom held up a hand.
“I know,” her mom finally said. “I love you, and this is your day. Let’s make it count.”
What I attempted to do in the revised version is make it more personal. I attempted to incorporate more movement in my opening, to show the observations through action, and to get closer into Mohira without leaving her. I also tried to incorporate hints about arguments that had gone before regarding this wedding, and her mother’s desire not to lose her daughter to America. I think it is stronger, because I don’t feel like I leave Mohira, and I see the gown and learn about the high collar through the character’s actions rather than through the narrator. I am constantly struggling with how to stay with the character, and I hope I am doing a better job of that in the revision. This and revealing through movement and action would be the lessons I hope to carry over into revising other material.
So now that I have laid out my heart and soul for you to critique, I hope you can apply some of this to revising your own fiction. If nothing else, you have learned how one struggling author doggy-paddles in the great ocean that is fiction writing. Best of luck in your endeavors!