For months I was working on this WW2 novel. I was typing on fast, almost with my eyes closed, leaving all the editing till later. I wanted to write something epic; something huge; something fussy. Something like GWTW. (Snort. I thought I could do that.) I made my heroine swoon and I made her do things that they made heroines do in those old movies. (You know, exclaiming 'oh's' and 'ah's'. I know. It's ridiculous.)
And then, when I was about half-way, I re-read it all.
And some bits were AWFUL.
Some bits were mighty good - I was still in love with my characters - I was still super proud of my plot. So I didn't want to quit it once and for all - t'was too precious to quit. So I left it at rest for quite a few weeks and then decided to start all afresh. I read some Lynn Austin treats of books and got inspired to write in a style which is slightly more pleasing to the ear than my attempt to make a Vintage-sounding novel.
And then - which was, heh, yesterday - I rewrote the first chapter. And now it's so much better; I flatter myself. I'm going to show you the before and after's.
These are some paragraphs in chapter one of the original version. CRINGE. I can't believe I'm showing you this. I can't believe I actually wrote it, hehh. (These aren't actually the absolute first paragraphs of the first chapter - just some of the worst ones. :-P)
Harper bit her dry, wind-blown lips so hard that they started to bleed. She wasn’t allowed to cry. She had to be like the ten-year-old girl and go around to cheer up all the little children. Harper felt so guilty again, thinking about not doing anything but complaining while a seven-year-old girl was smiling to everyone in a thin shackle dress. Harper felt guilty about her own dress – a beige dress; ugly, but warm – about just minding her own business, about sitting when there were about ten toddlers who didn’t have a place to sit, about everything! She was such a horrible person, and the war was making her realise it every day, more and more. Oh, if only there wasn’t a war!
Then suddenly an image came into Harper’s head, which promptly made her burst into tears. She thought of her mother, going back to their little house, alone, after standing on the quarry of Dover, gazing at the ship carrying her only child until it was only a dot on the horizontal sea-line in the far back. She was probably crying right now, about everything that had ever happened in her life – about her darling husband who had died one month after their marriage, about her daughter who hated her for sending her away, about being all alone on the tattered mustard sofa without her daughter under her arm. Oh, Harper couldn’t bear the thought of her mother being so unhappy, she just couldn’t bear it!
Oh my goodness.
I apologise for that. :-P See why I thought it was awful? All the Oh's and the exclamation marks and the bursting into tears. It's so weird and... blehh. Also, it's not a relaxing read. The paragraphs are too long and wrong. Blehhhhhh. My first draft is driving me nuts.
So I closed the file and re-wrote it. And these are the first few paragraphs of the re-written chapter:
I wasn’t scared, like some children; I was one hundred percent upset.
Don’t cry, Harper. You’ll see me again. The words of my mother rang in my ears, but they were of no comfort to me. I was upset, and I had to cry. That was how it worked in my young fourteen-year-old emotional self, and I must have cried more than any of the other children on board, which made me even more miserable and ashamed because I was definitely one of the older ones.
Think of it as an adventure, dear. Look at the ocean you’ll be travelling on and get excited. You’ve always wanted to travel, Harper; please be happy. I looked down at the waves stretching all around me, but the wind only stung deeper into my eyes, making my eyes water in pain.
I turned around, sniffing like a horse. “Yes?”
It was a girl – about ten years old. Her clothes were too small for her and skin-tight, and she wore a straw-hat that looked like it had been nibbled by mice. “Please don’t cry.”
“What do you mean, Please don’t cry?"
The girl shrugged. “I don’t like it when people cry.”
“Well, do you think I enjoy crying?” I stared in unbelief. Then I realised that the girl must be scared or upset as well, and I sniffed resolutely. “Okay, I’ll try to stop.”
“Why are you sad?”
“Same reason as everyone.” I found a handkerchief and began to blow my nose and wipe my eyes like a mother on her daughter’s wedding day. I hoped the girl would leave – I felt very silly talking to her.
“I suppose you mean you’re sad because you’re leaving your family?”
I gave a sigh and a fake smile. “Yes, that’s the reason. I will miss my mother, and my friends, and loads of other things.”
“I’m not sad about leaving my mum,” the girl said unexpectedly. “I’m really glad. My mum is always cross with me.” The girl held up her arm and peeled off the fabric off her sleeves. She showed a pink bruise that looked like it had once been nasty. “See? She did this to me. I’m glad I’m going to America. I’ve heard it’s absolutely gorgeous and beautiful.”
My smile was more genuine the second time. “I hope you land in a lovely family. I’m so sorry about your mum.”
“It’s okay. I hit her back.”
I almost laughed aloud. “You did?”
What do you think?
It still needs some tweaking - for example, the 'my mother's words rung in my ears, but they were of no comfort to me' is a bit cliché and over-done - but I think it's much better than the original style. I hope this is a more fresh and comfortable read. (Also, I've learnt that I'm better at first-person writing than third-person.)
I'd love your feedback.
Also, wish me luck on the complete re-write! It's gonna be a long journey.