My first novel started out as a short story. Here's how the story started:
Misha’s ice-pale skin wasn’t the first odd thing I noticed about her. Neither were the black mourning ribbons she wore -- not that those were all that odd. Between the war, and the famine, almost everyone at the Southern Conservatory of Music was in mourning. What I did notice, right away, was the candle she was holding.
I kept that more or less intact when I first turned it into a novel, aside from changing the girl's name to Misha. The first version of chapter one started like this:
Mira’s ice-pale skin wasn’t the first odd thing I noticed about her. Neither were the black mourning ribbons she wore -- not that those were all that odd. Between the war, and the famine, almost everyone at the Verdian Conservatory of Music was mourning someone. What I did notice, that first night, was the candle she was holding.
Then I rewrote the beginning pretty thoroughly, and decided that "ice-pale skin" was cliched. Also, if it wasn't unusual for her to be in mourning, why would this even be mentioned in a discussion of odd things about her? That had to go. Rewritten version:
Mira was too pale to have come from a farm. Given the war, and the famine, she was too well-fed to have come from any town in Verdia. She was too old to be just starting at a conservatory -- she looked my age, sixteen -- but her hair was freshly cut, so she couldn’t have transferred from another one. But the really odd thing about Mira, the thing I noticed right away that first night, was the candle she was holding.
That was definitely better. I kept that beginning for a long time. But, then I significantly reworked the beginning. Someone had suggested that I needed to work in more about the really major conflicts of the book into the early parts -- I think Lyda may have said this in her post, that everything should be there on the first page, in some form.
Here's the version that was published:
Mira arrived at the Verdiano Rural Conservatory for the Study of Music the same week that the song did. In retrospect, if either Mira or the song had appeared alone, I might have understood things sooner. But I was distracted from the song by my new roommate, and distracted from Mira by the puzzle of the song, and I didn't learn the truth about either one until it was too late to do anything but try to contain the damage.
It's funny how un-snappy that reads to me now. The song she mentions is one of the things I wove in to foreshadow one of the major conflicts that's otherwise pretty well hidden from the students at the conservatory. The candle still gets mentioned, but what's strange is not the candle itself, so much as the fact that Mira is trying to light it and can't get it to light.
Turning the Storm (the companion book) starts like this:
"Eliana? Eliana!" Givoanni stared down at me, flushed in the late summer heat. I squinted up at him and he sat back, looking relieved. "That was one hell of a fall."
That book definitely starts in the middle of the action, in part because it wasn't initially written as a separate book -- Fires and Turning were a single book that got split in half. I reworked the beginning of Fires a ton of times; I hardly reworked the beginning of Turning at all. In retrospect, it probably could've used some tweaking: that was a good opening for the second half of a book. It's not as good as an opening for a single book.
Having posted this accidentally (gah!) I'll put the rest of my books in a separate post.