A week ago, I shared an excerpt from the first chapter of Fanged, but I was slightly misleading. The excerpt I shared was from a draft of the novel, not the published version.
The excerpt below made it into the final copy of the book:
It was the last Saturday in October, and I was hungry. Starving, as a matter of fact. I hadn’t eaten in almost twenty-four hours and my gut was growling so furiously that I thought the stomach acid would gnaw through my skin and turn me into a corpse on the sidewalk.
The sidewalk was in Randolph, New Jersey, and I was loitering outside an Italian restaurant called Giotto’s Trattoria. The time was 10 PM, an hour before the restaurant closed. The street was deserted and the front entrance to Giotto’s was near the end of the block, right underneath a flickering lamp.
I leaned against the building and took a tiny puff on the cigarette I was holding. Then I let my arm fall to my side. I never inhaled. Inhaling wasn’t the point. The point was to give my hands and mouth something to do until I finally found my dinner. Whenever I got hungry, my hands got twitchy. I wanted to burst right into Giotto’s Trattoria and devour everything in my path, but I couldn’t. That would be rude of me, and I didn’t want to ruin everyone else’s dinner. I was way too old for that kind of behavior.
A gust of wind breezed by, and suddenly the street went dark. I pulled my leather jacket tighter and looked up at the street lamp watching over me. The flickering light had finally burned out completely. Perfect. Now I could grab my meal under cover of darkness and no one would be the wiser.
The street lamp burning out was a lucky break for me. I hadn’t exactly dressed as someone who was trying not to be noticed. A sixteen-year-old boy doesn’t wear tight jeans, a white T-shirt, and a black leather jacket when he wants to be inconspicuous. He dresses that way when he wants to pick up girls who are really into the 1950s look. I even had a cigarette in my hand.
This was bad. I reached up and tried to flatten my spiked hair. I never should have put gel in it that evening. Come to think of it, I never should have dyed my hair from its natural dark brown to a copper red. My hair looked like a flattened penny with points sticking out of it. Why had they let me come out dressed like this? Did they want me to get into trouble?
The restaurant door swung open and a family of four walked out – a mom, a dad, and two little girls. I quickly took my hand off of my head and took another long drag on the cigarette. This time, I inhaled, and the smoke shot through my lungs and right out of my mouth, burning the back of my throat. I coughed and sputtered, pounding on my chest to force the smoke through. This was why I never inhaled, and I had definitely picked a bad time to start.
The family was only a few feet away. I tried to close my mouth and let the coughs explode in my chest instead. My eyes watered and my throat burned.
As you can see, this version is wildly different from the third draft. The setting, tone, and description have all changed.
I made these changes for a few important reasons.
1. The story needed more action. Opening a novel with a description of a setting isn’t a bad idea in all cases. Sometimes, opening with a description can be quite effective. But the story I chose to tell was a young adult vampire story with suspenseful twists and turns. Action was the first thing a reader needed to see.
2. I wanted the character to be more likable. Sean, my protagonist, is not someone I would describe as being smug or full of himself, but he comes off that way in the third draft of the first chapter, looking down his nose at vampire stereotypes and sounding above it all. This description is completely incongruous with his character in the rest of the story. Now, instead of talking about how different he is from other vampires, Sean is doing everything he can to calm his nerves and look natural while waiting outside a restaurant for dinner.
3. I described the character’s appearance instead of the appearance of his bedroom. Talking about what posters Sean used to have in his bedroom was an interesting idea at first, but then I realized I had a great opportunity to describe what he looks like. It’s not easy to write a first-person narrative where a character organically describes his appearance. Describing Sean’s outfit and hair was a way to kill two birds with one stone. I painted a picture of his look while also emphasizing how awkward he feels.
Getting to this point in the writing wasn’t easy. I labored over that crypt description and wound up throwing most of it away. In the end, the work was worth it, because I ended up with a more engaging opening.