Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Dear Fellow Sleuths,

We all know that even the most accomplished authors don’t always get it right the first time. We asked Jennifer Holm if she would be willing to share with us a sample of something she revised--sort of a before and after shot from her wonderful novel Turtle in Paradise. We were expecting some random paragraph from deep within the novel, and look what we got! Jennifer shared with us an early stab at the book’s opening paragraph. How cool is that?

Ladies and gentlemen, here for your viewing pleasure, the birth of an opening paragraph!

Jennifer Holm:

So, Turtle In Paradise is a book I worked on, literally, for years. I started it back in 2005. I can’t even find some of my really early drafts because the original laptop I wrote them on was fried when my husband spilled a cup of coffee on the keyboard. (Yes, we are still married.)

I should point out that I am a somewhat strange writer in that I love revising. (Probably to a fault if you ask my editor.) And Turtle went through a lot of revisions.

This is the opening scene from an early draft I found that was written in July 2006. At the time, the working title of the book was Turtle and the Conchs.

DRAFT July 2006

I’ve got my eyes closed. I’m pretending to be asleep.

Not that it stops Uncle Lyle from talking. Smokey’s been meowing the whole time, and even she can’t get a word in edgewise.

Uncle Lyle likes to talk. And talk. And he’s got an opinion on everything. He talks about how folks in the Dust Bowl wouldn’t be having so much trouble if they’d just move near some water. He talks about how he doesn’t trust President Roosevelt to get us out of this depression and that if you give someone money for not working why would they ever bother to get a job? But mostly he talks about how he can’t wait to get to Key West so he can hurry up and get back home to New Jersey.

Looking back, the problem with this version was that it was more about Uncle Lyle than Turtle. I loved the character of Lyle (let’s just say I’ve known a few Lyle-types in my life) and he really took over the early first drafts of chapter one. This ended up being more of a hindrance because Lyle was pretty tangential to the action in the book.

Final version:

Everyone thinks children are sweet as Necco Wafers, but I’ve lived long enough to know the truth: kids are rotten. The only difference between grown-ups and kids is that grown-ups go to jail for murder. Kids get away with it.

I stare out the window as Mr. Edgit’s Ford Model A rumbles along the road, kicking up clouds of dust. It’s so hot that the backs of my legs feel like melted gum, only stickier. We’re been driving for days now; it feels like eternity.

In front of us is a rusty pickup truck with a gang of dirty-looking kids in the back sandwiched between furniture—an iron bed, a rocking chair, battered pots—all tied up with little bits of fraying rope like a spiderweb. A girl my age is holding a baby that’s got a pair of ladies’ bloomers tied on its head to keep the sun out of its eyes. The boy sitting next to her has a gap between his two front teeth. Not that this stops him from blowing spitballs at us through a straw. We’ve been stuck behind this truck for the last few miles, and our windshield is covered with wadded bits of wet newspaper.

StorySleuths Tip #96: Don’t let your main character get sidelined! And when it comes to revision, remember that it sometimes takes huge changes to get the story where it needs to go. Instead of rewriting the same paragraph over and over—try something new.

Post #6: Rooting for a Prickly Character

Posted by Allyson Valentine Schrier