Tuesday, July 26, 2011

International Sh*tty First Draft Week—Day 2

Today, International Sh*tty First Draft Week continues with a guest post by Sarah Pinneo, whose forthcoming novel Julia's Child takes a humorous look at the organic food movement. Like that complicated recipe for arugula-flax chips, novels don't always work out on the first try...(OK, INTERN is about the cheesiest/worst MC ever. Stepping out of the way now.)

The Dog Should Eat My Homework by Sarah Pinneo

My comic novel, Julia’s Child, incorporates some themes which are both fun and dear to me. Julia, the main character, is deeply involved with the organic food movement. (So deeply, in fact, that she’s a bit neurotic about it.)

So in love was I with the milieu of farmers, foodies and obsessive sustainability that I put all of it into the book. I put it in often. Early readers said “I love it, but there’s too much about the business in there.” So I parted with a few lines and called it even. My agent said “I love it, but the book shows its homework too much.” So I cut out more. I cut out plenty. I was sure of it.
Guess what my editor said? Yes—you win! She said the same darned thing.

Here is a before and after bit from Julia’s Child:

Chapter 4 Opener, Take I:

Fashion had never been my thing. One might argue that I’d gone out of my way to avoid it. Even though I lived in a city where fashion designers outnumber yellow cabs, I often managed to dress like a scarecrow. My long, straight hair had been cut the same way since I was a teenager. And with cooking and toddlers, my wash and wear uniform was essential, if uninspired.

My lifestyle, however, had lately become quite fashionable. Suddenly it was hip to be a “greenie weenie” like me. It was cool to reuse your shopping bags. It was cutting edge to carry around a water bottle, and refill it straight from the tap.

In fact, Green was suddenly so cool that cliques had formed, each with its own brand of righteousness. There were the “locavores” for example—people who wouldn’t eat anything grown further than a hundred miles from home. Then there were the “freegans,” who wouldn’t buy anything new. They get by with clothing and house wares rescued from the landfill. It’s dumpster diving for the new millennium.

But being hyper conscious of the environment wasn’t easy. Checking up on the sources for everything you buy, and going out of your way to find local products took a lot of effort. And it was often a thankless task. The earth never sent Thank You notes. In that way, it was a lot like parenting. (Chapter Continues.)

Chapter 4 Opener, Take II:

“Get this. The new toothpaste I bought you has a childproof top.”

“Groovy,” Luke answered. He hit the car’s turn signal and steered us toward the exit off the interstate.

“I also bought you a different shampoo,” I told Luke. “This one is organic and not tested on animals.”

“I’m fine with that,” Luke said. “Just as long as you don’t make me smell like a woman.”

“I promise if anyone at work asks to borrow your perfume, you can switch back to the old one.”

“But seriously—just don’t switch the toilet paper,” he warned. “First of all, I don’t like the idea of recycled toilet paper.”
“They don’t mean recycled from toilet paper.”

He just shook his head. “Even so. I try to be ‘green’ too, Julia. I’ll plant some extra trees in Vermont if you want. But I’m not using sandpaper in the bathroom.”


The first version is essentially a lecture by the main character. Who wants a lecture? The second version features the main character’s same personality traits, but done in (what I hope is) a more interesting way.

I’d like to say that this will never happen to me again, that I’ll never fail to hear the obvious truth when a string of readers repeats the same bit of critique. But alas, (nerd) love is blind.


Sarah Pinneo is a food writer and the coauthor of The Ski House Cookbook. Her first novel, Julia’s Child, will be published by Plume in 2012. If you ask her whether it was easy or difficult to make the leap from published non-fiction writer to published novelist, she will laugh and point out the fact that her two books have publication dates which are more than four years apart. Sarah also edits Blurb is a Verb, a blog entirely devoted to book publicity.


  1. Great post, it's the perfect example of show don't tell. thanks for sharing :)

  2. It's interesting how you came from non-fiction, 'cause that's exactly how the first version reads. It's great, but if it's a novel? Yep, the sandpaper version by far.

    When I try the same trick, I get the same lecture, only with quotation marks. It takes another few drafts to bury the research and work in an actual conversation.

  3. The second draft offers insight into two characters, rather than simply the foodie culture, which is a plus.

    I think it's a shame to lose the "freegans" and "locavores" from the original draft, but I figure if you really like the details, they slip into the novel some other way. :-)

  4. The man's dialogue makes me chuckle and keeps my attention much better than the prose in Take I.

    I'll definitely be on the lookout for places in my own work where I'm lecturing instead of showing my point through my characters.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thanks, guys! I rewrote this chapter opener a dozen times. And then finally made peace with it.