Ask any novelist, and they’ll likely tell you it’s the first chapter that gives them the most grief. Though it might not be terribly difficult to write the first time around, we tend to agonize over our first chapter in revisions. After all, it’s the part which will make the first impression. Will readers love the book? Hate the book? Stop reading and forget all about it? So much is riding on the beginning of a story.
Needless to say, the first chapter is the one I rewrite the most (maybe with the last chapter coming in a close second). On my current project, Romeo and The Scarlett Letter, I’ve rewritten (or rearranged) the introduction roughly five times at this point. And it’s still not set in stone.
As I prepared for PItchwars this year, I kept coming back to the beginning of my book, trying to decide if I was starting at the right spot. In fact, it was the part I was working on right up until the day I submitted earlier this week. If I don’t get picked by a mentor (there’s something like a 2-3% chance from what I hear), I’ll be seeking beta readers very soon. (Incidentally, this is the first year I’ve subbed a manuscript to Pitchwars without having beta readers first, so you could say I’m a little anxious about the whole thing. . .)
But in honor of this awesome writing contest and all the hard work I’ve put into this book, I thought I’d share my revised (but probably not final) first scene from Romeo and the Scarlett Letter, which, incidentally, involves football. Anyone who knows me personally will probably get a kick out of that. 🙂
Chapter 1 Romeo
Coach Ryce’s whistle blasts in my ears. “Drive those knees! Hustle!”
I shimmy over the agility dummies like my legs are on fire, but I still can’t outrun the name knocking around in my brain. Miriam, Miriam, Miriam. Cheater. Cheater. Cheater. Four months and two hundred miles. I still can’t get her out of my head. The bottom of my cleat catches on the squared off edge of a dummy, and I throw my weight sideways to keep from going down. My jaw clenches. Forget Miriam. Forget all of them! Lily, Tasha, Cassandra. A girlfriend for each year since the eighth grade. All cheaters.
The whistle blows again. “Nice job, Ramirez.” Coach’s words drown out the voices inside my head. “We might make a player out of you yet.”
My chest heaves, breath coming in angry gasps as I suck in the humid, north Texas heat. I didn’t think any place could be hotter than Oklahoma but turns out I was wrong. I move to the back of the line where Marcus smirks and slaps the side of my helmet. “Nice goin’, new kid.”
I can’t tell if he’s being serious or just giving me a hard time so I keep my mouth shut and focus on Cypress, who practically floats through the lateral shuffle drill. How the heck does he make it look so easy?
But then again, I deserve props, too. Almost four weeks of practice and I’m still hangin’ with these guys. Considering I haven’t played football since eighth grade, aka the Lily era, it’s practically a miracle. What’s even more surprising is the fact that they let me walk on the team with nothing but a recommendation letter from my track coach at Jade Springs.
Two more trips over the dummies, and Coach’s whistle blows three times. “Lookin’ good, everyone.”
Back in the locker room, Coach McGee gives us a rundown of what we need to work on before our first game next Friday. Basically, the offense needs to get faster. Defense needs to get tougher. Everyone needs to work harder. We all nod and yessir when we’re supposed to. I take another swig of water and survey the sweaty heads around me. I’m exhausted but hopeful. These are my teammates now. Maybe soon-to-be friends. My first class ticket to a whole new me. Hopefully senior year won’t suck so bad after all. We bring it in with a hearty, “Go Vikings!” and Coach dismisses us to the showers.
“Get some sleep tonight,” he calls. “First day of classes tomorrow and I expect everyone to keep those grades up.”
Grades won’t be a problem for me. My only concern is pulling off this plan I hatched just before moving to Wainswood. When I finally quit sulking about Mom’s failure to apply for our out card and came to the realization that being an army brat actually has an upside. A new school meant a chance to start over. A chance to make better decisions. So I decided to leave pathetic, pining Romeo back in Oklahoma. I don’t need a girlfriend this year.
All I need is football.