The Hook: Seriously Wicked by Tina Connolly

seriously-wicked

The Hook

I was mucking out the dragon’s garage when the witch’s text popped up on my phone.

BRING ME A BIRD

“Ugh,” I said to Moonfire. “Here we go again.”

Tina Connolly writes:

Seriously Wicked is a lighthearted YA novel about a girl who lives with a “seriously wicked” witch. Cam’s voice just popped into my head one day and the whole novel spilled out.

Now, there was lots of rewriting, of course! I wrote the first draft of this book before Ironskin. Seriously Wicked was my fifth completed novel, and the first what I thought of as a “really-truly” novel, a full-length novel I believed in and loved. Still, Seriously Wicked was my fifth novel, and Silverblind (my most recently-written novel, that came out Oct 2014) was my tenth. So, I like to think I’ve learned a little bit.

And one thing that happened with Seriously Wicked is that I rewrote the beginning. Again and again. Oh, right, and did I say again? Yes. Again. I kept coming back to this book between later novels and rewriting the whole novel, but particularly the beginning, because as we all know, your opening has to work very very hard to set the stage and tone and characters and hook the reader and everything else.

For fun, I thought I’d show you how much better the beginning got over time:

Draft 1. Book title: HOW I STOPPED THE WITCH WHO ATE MANHATTAN

Chapter One: Introduction To Me, aka CASH

Look. Say you’re a girl. And say someday you grow up and decide to be preggers. When you’re carrying around an innocent little baby with blue eyes and a kinda smooshed nose that everyone says someday she’ll grow into, then for the love of pete, do not under any circumstances say you just gotta have pickles dipped in chocolate.

Note: This is a terrible opening. I have no idea who CASH is. Also, as a reader, I don’t want to be accused of being A) a girl, B) preggers, and C) liking pickles and chocolate. The only thing good I can say about this opening is that putting these words down on the page made all the other words follow in a flood.

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Draft 2. Book title: WITCH GIRL HEARTS DEMON BOY

Chapter One: Hot Seat

If you think your life stinks because you have to take out the recycling or vacuum your room or something normal like that, then listen up.

Every morning before school I got to start by collecting the dragon’s milk and mucking out her living quarters. There aren’t many dragons left, if any, but there’s one for sure living out back in the detached RV garage, big and warm and smelling of regret. The witch says one girl dragon doesn’t make any more noise than a chicken, and those are legal in the city, so so far she’s gotten away with it.

Note: Significantly better, but the opening sentence is still a bit aggressive (READER LET ME MAKE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT YOU), and then we talk about dragons for awhile and I’m starting to wonder how long this is going on. (Note: It goes on for PAGES. Cam tells you about EVERY SINGLE ONE OF HER MORNING CHORES.)

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Draft 78 (approximately). Book title: SERIOUSLY WICKED

Chapter One: Girl on Fire

If you think your life stinks because your musical mom makes you practice violin three hours a day even though you’re tone deaf, or your athletic dad makes you stay on the high school diving team even though your best dive is a bellyflop, then listen up.

Here’s what it’s like to live with a witch.

Every morning at 4:55 AM I drag my weary butt out of bed and head straight for the choreboard. The choreboard is a shiny list of magical tasks the witch wants me to do to “understand true witchery” or something, and if I haven’t done every one by the time I leave for school, it magically slices my thumbs with papercuts.

Note: Not really better. Going backwards, I think. Ever heard the advice not to start with your character waking up? Okay then.

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Draft 233 (approximately). Book title: SERIOUSLY WICKED

Chapter One: Girl on Fire

4:55 in the horrible, horrible A.M., and once again I was staring at a whiteboard framed in gilded wood carved with toothy serpents. A peeling office label on the bottom proclaimed: Chores by Which One Must Understand True Witchery.

The toothbrush dangled from my mouth while I pressed the label back down, picked up the dry-erase marker, and marked off, “Werewolf pup—feed and take outside” with a big red X.

Then yelped as the choreboard gave me a papercut on my thumb.

Note: I rather like this setting, but it brings up weird questions (how does a choreboard give you a papercut? It’s magical, okay? GO WITH IT) and you don’t want the reader having weird papercut-related questions on the first page. Also, she’s still basically just waking up and going through her chores. I do like the juxtaposition between the whiteboard/office labels and witchy things.

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And then finally (FINALLY!) we get to the real one. The final one.

SERIOUSLY WICKED

Chapter One: TRUE WITCHERY

I was mucking out the dragon’s garage when the witch’s text popped up on my phone.

BRING ME A BIRD

“Ugh,” I said to Moonfire. “Here we go again.”

Note: I kept the most important chore (mucking out the dragon’s RV garage) and then we jump RIGHT TO THE CONFLICT WITH THE WITCH. No detailed explanation of every single one of Cam’s magical chores. No weird musings about papercuts or pickles. It still establishes the humor in the story, which partly comes from the juxtaposition of magic and mundanity: dragons living in garages, a wicked witch who sends her demands by text (the witch is a big texter.) It still establishes that Cam has to work. A lot. And then: Cam brings the witch a bird and the witch tells her she’s planning to take over the world. Just a normal Tuesday.

Buy Seriously Wicked on Amazon

About the author:

Tina Connolly is the Nebula-nominated author of the Ironskin trilogy from Tor Books. Her next book, Seriously Wicked, comes out May 5th from Tor Teen. Her stories have appeared in Women Destroy SF, Lightspeed, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, UFO 3, and many more. Her narrations have appeared in podcasts including Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and she recently recorded the audiobook for Alex Shvartsman’s Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma, which is available on Amazon. She runs the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake.

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