The other day my husband asked why I wasn’t working on one of my many novel ideas because it’s one of his favorites. I tried using facts: I don’t have an outline for it, I’ve only written one scene so far (the one that made it one of his favorites), and pointed out that I’m already working on three other novels right now. Finally I thought: fine, I’ll read him the first chapter of one of the in progress novels and he’ll realize it’s just as good of a story. I’d already read the first chapter of the pond book to him (he refers to that as the “watery tart” book), and since I want to rework some things in the first chapter of the crystal ball book that left the selkie/faerie book.
This seemed like a great idea. I wrote the first chapter in the selkie book a few years ago. (Yes, I know I write too slowly … I’ve recently switched day jobs and have more writing time, so I’m getting faster. And my “no more novels until you finish these three” rule is firmly in place. Now.) I love the opening. In it one of the main characters, Mark the selkie, discovers that the woman he’s been seeing – and who he was about to leave – has stolen his sealskin.
Selkies are mythological creatures who live in seal form, but if they choose to take off their sealskin they take on human form. The myths are from Ireland and Scotland; according to Wikipedia there are similar legends in Faroese and Icelandic mythology. The stories usually go something like this: a young selkie maiden comes to shore. She takes off her sealskin and frolics on the beach. Meanwhile, a dastardly fisherman, who apparently wasn’t able to get a wife any other way, steals her sealskin, putting her in his power. The selkie is forced to marry him, and usually bears his children. Then one day she finds her sealskin, puts it on, and returns to the sea, leaving the husband and her children behind.
Male selkies were always handsome, and had great powers of seduction. I can only assume that the human women they seduced already had fisherman husbands and packs of screaming urchins, because they never seemed interested in stealing the male selkies’ sealskins, just in having a good time. So I decided to write a story in which a male selkie’s sealskin was stolen.
The first scene in the book is Mark going to look for his sealskin, then realizing it’s gone. He doesn’t know who did it, and of course hopes it wasn’t his girlfriend. But ha! It was! Here are the last two lines of the opening.
That evening over dinner he said, “I’ve lost something in the house, a — a kind of coat.”
And Katy smiled and said: “I know.”
I love this opening, so when I pulled it out to read to my husband I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I was thinking things like: I’m a writer. I wrote a really cool opening. It’s so awesome he’ll stop talking about the novel that’s #4 or 5 on the list and start asking when I’m going to finish this one!
And then I glanced at it before starting to read it to him.
The opening scene is 996 words long. The extent of the sensory details I provide are two references to sounds (both in the same short paragraph) and one to smell. Seriously? Only three sensory details in about 1,000 words – and only three in the opening of the novel???
I was horrified.
After recovering from the shock, I read him the short story I wrote last week. (He liked it. Especially when I told him the main character in the short story is going to pop up in the novel he wants me to write … but that novel is still #4 or 5 on the list.)
In my memory, that scene is fantastic. And it still is good – it’s just not as rich and vibrant as it could be. In addition to being way short on sensory details, it’s a little short on setting details as well – although it’s pretty close there. I realized that I’ve learned a lot over the past two years – a lot more than I’d thought. Which is actually pretty cool. I want to continue to learn and grow as a writer, and this showed me that I really have been improving. So … yay!!!
And now I’m off to apply the writing knowledge I didn’t realize I’d learned.