The student who said there was no tension had been referring to a scene where my character’s grandpa explained why his wife had left him, an important set-up for something that happens later in the book. All of the information contained in the first chapter and the revised version that was four chapters long explained my main character’s motivations. But my story was about what happened to my character when he moved to Chicago, not his childhood. I’d been seduced by the idea of setting-up all the action before it happened in one lump at the beginning of thebook, quite a violation of th eidea of starting a story in media res, in the middle of the action.
In my search for a book similar to the one I wanted to write, I still hadn’t found any that matched. I did like the beginning of The World According to Garp by John Irving. The book was funky like my story and what I’d writte so far sounded a bit like his tone.
Iriving’s book starts with a chapter about his mother so I decided to start at the beginning too. Garp’s mother was an important character in his book and my character’s mother was not. I should have realized that the chronological order wasn’t the main reason he’d started his book with a chapter about her.
I decided to dump the material I’d written that semester. My class was concerned that they’d given me some bad advice, that I should keep the pages. Everyone was worried about how much I’d decided to scrap until they heard that I’d decided to use the material as flashbacks or references throughout the novel, add it graduallly. I only had one main character in my manuscript and hismother wasn’t even one of the important secondary characters. Beginning the novel in the past had been a mistake and was one that I could fix.