Why Chapter One Had to Go!

If you are interested in writing, you no doubt have heard the old saying “writing is rewriting.” Nothing gets published without editing, revising, editing some more, revising some more and then starting the process all over again.

Sometimes those changes are minor, such as when you realize that you forgot punctuation or that a sentence doesn’t have the impact you hoped it would have.

In the case of the fourth book in my Achdus Club series, The Wedding Dance, this process actually led me to delete the entire original first chapter of the book. In my original draft, Tova Green, one of the main characters in the series, is shown at a physical therapy appointment with therapist Jill after being in a car accident in book three.

Here’s a snippet from that original opener:

“How’s my favorite fourth-grader doing today?” Jill asked Tova as she came over with a HEAT wrap that she put around Tova’s arm.

Tova shrugged and said, “Okay.”

“Just okay?” Jill asked. “Is your arm giving you trouble? Do you want to show me where it’s hurting?”

“It’s not my arm,” Tova said with a sigh as Jill checked the bandage around Tova’s injury.

“Well what then? It must be something,” said Jill. “You’re like my ray of sunshine client. I don’t have many of those, and if you’re down about something it must be super serious. So come on, girl, spill. Maybe I can help.”

Tova glanced over at her mother and saw she was concentrating on her book. She didn’t seem at all interested in what Tova was saying so Tova decided to share her thoughts. Well, not the ones about not wanting to come to physical therapy anymore, that she’d keep to herself. There was no reason not to tell Jill what else was on her mind.

“See, I have this new teacher,” Tova began, talking as fast as she could, “well substitute teacher, at least I think she is, or maybe she’s not.” Tova shook her head. “I’m not sure. Anyways, she’s not like my other teacher, my old teacher, who isn’t old at all, that’s just how long she’s been my teacher.”

I liked that the scene wasn’t something you’d ordinarily expect to find in the series, but there were several problems with this scene as a whole:

The character of Jill, Tova’s physical therapist, is introduced at the beginning of the book making readers think she will be important and return later. Turns out she did not get another scene. This was it.

2. More medical stuff … I wasn’t sure that the reader would enjoy seeing Tova in therapy.

3. Much of the scene is simply Tova talking to Jill and rehashing things for new readers.

4. There’s no real “Achdus Club” feel to the opener.

In an effort to address all these concerns, I tried crafting a few other scenes. Here’s part of the opening that eventually made it into the book:

Hili Rosen pulled open the door to the bakery as wide as she could as she waited for her best friend Tova Green to catch up. Tova wasn’t so much walking as she was hobbling, given that she was using crutches to get around. It was an improvement, though, over the wheelchair, and a sign that her friend was getting back to health, slowly, after having been hit by a car a few weeks earlier.

“Honestly, this is ridiculous,” said Tova with a huff as she entered the bakery. “Whoever came up with these things was just plain mean. I mean, my arms hurt, my hands hurt, and my leg is just plain annoying me.”

“That’s the Tova Green I know and love,” Hili joked as she closed the door behind them.

They made their way up to the counter, where rows of frosting-covered cupcakes, sprinkle cookies, and a wide array of fancy cakes beckoned. Tova’s mother had given them enough money to pick up a loaf of bread and some cookies. There were two women ahead of them in the store, so they waited as patiently as they could.

“I dare you to try these things, Hili,” Tova said. “I mean, they’re like…like…”

Crutches?” Hili said. “At least you’re getting better. That’s something. Before you know it, you’ll be back to normal.”

“You sound like my physical therapist,” said Tova. “Every time I have a session with her, she says, ‘It’s one more step to you getting back to normal.’ Really, I think I’m done wishing things would change. I just want them all to go back to the way they were.”

“You mean to normal?”

Ha! By the way, that includes Morah Steiner coming back and being our teacher again.”

Then there was this exchange to end of the scene:

I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Hili said, as she noticed that the two women in front of them kept looking back at them and whispering.

They’re talking about me,” Tova said, her voice just above a whisper.

Hili couldn’t disagree. It was rude and she wished she knew what to say to the grown-ups. If only they knew how upset Tova got by all the attention. So she was on crutches? Big deal. Yes, she’d been in an accident. Yes, it hurt. Yes, she occasionally still had some pain. That didn’t mean that Tova wanted to be the topic of conversation.

The first woman on line took her bag from the cashier and turned to leave. She stopped in front of Tova. “Oh, you poor dear,” she said. “I heard about your horrible accident. We were all praying for you and, well, it’s good to see you out and about.”

Tova shrank back as the woman pat her on the shoulder. Hili thought her friend looked like she was going to be sick.

As the woman walked out of the store, Hili whispered to Tova, “Are you all right?”

Tova shook her head. “Let’s just go, okay?”

By putting Hili into this scene, I have already brought the Achdus Club into the start of the book. Also, readers know the friendship between Hili and Tova, which adds a bit of familiarity and investment into this scene. This scene also shows a vulnerability in Tova that we don’t ordinarily see. Usually, when something is bothering Tova she’ll come up with a wisecrack or talk super fast, which is what happened in the original book opener. Here, we see Tova’s pain and feel it, deeply.

The original first chapter would have worked, but by changing the scene, the characters featured and showing a side to Tova that we don’t regularly see, I think makes this a much more powerful opener.

READERS: What do you think? Have you ever had to scrap an entire scene or chapter? Was the end result was worth it?

4 thoughts on “Why Chapter One Had to Go!

    1. Hi Mirka,

      Thanks for posting. I like the idea of starting on chapter three, I’ve never heard that one before.

    1. Thanks Sue! Initially I had planned for the character to show up again and for Tova to once again confide in her, but then I realized I’d be losing the interaction between the girls in the series and that’s what the readers most want.

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