Vote Best Beginning – The evolution of a Novel

by | Jan 26, 2011 | England, inspirational fiction | 12 comments

I’ve been working on a historical romance for 10 years.

That’s right. TEN!

Not to say I’ve been writing it for ten consecutive years, but the story idea started 10 years ago in my preschool office in Charlotte, NC. Since then, I’ve rewritten the entire novel three times, rewritten the first six chapters five times, and rewritten the first chapter (counting today) EIGHT times.

Rewritten, not edited. I can’t even recall how many times I’ve edited the thing.

When I look at my very first page from 10 years ago, I laugh (and cringe). Oh dear, I’ve come a long way….but so has the story.

I’m going to show the evolution of my novel, The Thornbearer, by showing the beginning paragraph of each rewrite (or the latest five rewrites). You vote. Which one do you like the best and why. I’d LOVE your opinion.

Do you have a similar story, where your novel has grown over time?

FIRST VERSION (actually third, because the first version was written on a typewriter. LOL)

Who would ever want to be married in the rain? Ashleigh Kavanaugh tucked the last few garments into her trunk and snapped the lid into place, distracting her heart with thoughts of her trip. England.

            The rustling of her skirts blended with the pelting rain against the window and she almost smiled. Rain today, of all days, made her feel better…less regretful. She glanced at her bedside clock, an ornate little thing passed down from her ornate big sister.

Half past nine. Right on schedule.

Her gaze flickered to the window and her body followed, drawn by the consistent drumming of cool April rain to steady her heart. Her weary heart.


The Lusitania’s four massive funnels loomed over Ashleigh Dougall, piercing into Manhattan’s morning mist like charcoal pillars of an enormous coliseum. A surge of energy flickered in the center of her chest. Soon she’d be free of America and all its hateful memories. She leaned against the window of the hired Model T, barely waiting for it to roll to a stop before she bolted out the door, her boots clinking a staccato rhythm against the pier.

The Lusitania’s advertisement did not do this “palace of the seas” justice. It towered overhead, a mammoth of black paint and billowing smoke, lined with hundreds of people bidding their farewells. She held the top of her hat to scan the ship, a cool spray of salty air sprinkling over her cheeks and promising freedom.


 She desperately needed to run away.

            Ashleigh Dougall leaned out of the hired Model-T to catch a glimpse of the famed Lusitania, her very own agent of rescue. Salty sea air misted her face as the massive liner came into view, a goliath among the crowded piers of New York’s harbor. Its four funnels loomed overhead and pierced into Manhattan’s morning mist like charcoal pillars of an enormous coliseum. She clamped down on the top of her hat, craning her neck as far as the auto car’s window would allow. A smile stretched across her face. If this couldn’t get her across the Atlantic at record speeds, nothing could. The ‘Palace of the Seas’ it was called, a stronghold of black paint and billowing smoke to wisp her back to England and away from memories.


Ashleigh Dougall stepped from the hired Model T to catch a glimpse of her rescuer. The Lusitania. Its massive funnels pierced into Manhatten’s morning mist like charcoal pillars of an enormous coliseum.  She steadied her broad-rimmed hat and craned her neck to view this ‘Palace of the Seas’, a looming goliath above Cunard’s dock offices.

“It’s huge.” Sam, her closest friend and escort, stepped to her side. “I had no idea it’d be so big.”

 Few men secured her complete confidence, but few men were as constant and genuine as Samuel Turner – even if he treated her like a perpetual twelve year old. “I had no idea it’d be so big.”

“We Brits are keen on making a good first impression, you know.”

“So that’s a fancy way of saying you’re show offs?” He crooked a bro and the wave of warmth his smile produced in her heart.


There is a distinct difference between marrying a man you don’t love, and knowing you’ll never marry the man you truly do. As Ashleigh Dougall looked across Manhatten’s crowded dock into Sam Turner’s familiar face, the sting of that truth stripped her of any doubt. She had to run away.

If she’d known all along she was in love with the wrong brother, she’d never agreed to marry Michael. Never subjected her heart to his ruthless betrayal.  Youthful blindness was her only excuse, and perhaps the fact Sam only saw her as Catherine’s little sister.  Dear Sam, ever-faithful, and forever Catherine’s. Her sister didn’t deserve his affections.

Ashleigh looked away from him, as he approached. The glint in his eyes warming much more than a smile on her face. His tender way of breaking down her defenses and striking a place in her heart held a surgeon’s precision. Some inexplicable connection existed between them– a beautiful friendship, and one she wouldn’t sacrifice to an impossible romantic fancy. He loved her sister. Heat drained from her face. Or the woman he thought her sister was.

Personally, I’m having a hard time choosing between version 3 and 5. What’s your opinion?


Above photos courtesy of:


  1. Sherrinda

    FIVE FIVE FIVE FIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I really love number five. It has more emotion in it and sucks me in fast! LOVE it!

  2. pepperbasham

    Can I hire you as a personal encourager?
    It was great chatting with you this morning, btw

    • Sherrinda

      I loved talking to you! Squeeling together is such fun! 🙂

  3. Keli Gwyn

    Five! In three short paragraphs, I get a good feel for the POV character and understand her relationship to the three other major players in the story. And, wow, is there ever a set up for emotional and relational conflict. Well done!

    • pepperbasham

      Oh thanks, Keli. I do so love the conflict in this story. Kind of mirrors the sinking of a great ship.
      How’s that for foreshadowing 😉

  4. Tina Radcliffe

    Version two for me.

    It sucks me right in!!

    • Pepper

      Really? Wow! When I finally got rid of 5 chapters of backstory, version 2 was my starting point.
      Thanks for stopping by, Tina!
      You are awesome

  5. Edwina Cowgill

    I LOVE # 5. You start with a great conflict and these opening paragraphs would definitely keep me reading!

    • Pepper

      Oh Edwina, thank you!

  6. Susan Mason


    I know # 5 is the logical choice, but personally I loved number 1. Something about the rain and her packing to leave pulled me right in. Maybe you could combine #1 and #5? Just a thought. Sounds like a great story!


    • Pepper

      I’m sure there are all sorts of combinations. AND there is probably more than one right answer.
      I guess I just need to figure out the ‘best’ answer. 🙂

  7. Ruthy

    The opening line of five is delightfully Austen-like and drew me instantly. Five is my opening of choice, but I’d trim things below slightly, in your own way. And yes, I’m cheeky enough to say this in this delightful surrounded-by-pals public forum. (anyone here who is NOT A PAL should feel included, because we gals love good opinions…)

    The Pepster version: As Ashleigh Dougall looked across Manhatten’s crowded dock into Sam Turner’s familiar face, the sting of that truth stripped her of any doubt. She had to run away.

    Trimmed by Ruthinator version: As Ashleigh Dougall locked eyes with Sam Turner, the sting of that truth stripped all doubt. She had to run away.

    And then you can mention the dock, the boat, whatever, but I’d keep that look sacred. Tight. Taut. Drive the reader’s emotion instantly.

    And I’d trim words around any mention of Catherine, keeping it short. Crisp. Disapproving. That heightens her ‘witchiness’ for the reader and set’s the tone for their inner disapproval.

    So maybe instead of “Her sister didn’t deserve his affections.” I might skip a line at the end of the paragraph to give the mention its own paragraph and simply say:

    Catherine didn’t deserve him.

    And it’s not that any of these openings aren’t good, because they are. It’s a question of gaining a spot on an editor’s desk AND that editor’s approval, some of which goes to preference, right?

    I’m a big fan of ‘pimping’ contest entries, though, to edge out the competition. You only get a finite number of chances to win a desk spot, and it’s okay to work the openings to achieve that. That’s why it’s a contest, right???

    Although I do play nice. Mostly. I think. 😉


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