Here I've provided an example of how I go through radical revision/rewriting. For this story, I was truly stuck when trying to write the opening chapter, so I started over a couple times. As you read each example, notice how the world I was writing about become more developed with each draft. I started by trying to write about the setting - by the final draft, I was beginning to reveal the essential character details necessary for a good story...
Sample Chapter Openings – Science Fiction Story “Happy Ever After”This story began as an attempt to develop the character Maria Villanueva, an embittered American colonel who has survived the destruction of Earth only to find that the rest of humanity is now being picked off one ship at a time. There's a distinct danger that this story could become a Battlestar Galactica ripoff, but I think Villanueva is angry enough and interesting enough to make this a risk worth taking.
Focus on SettingThe ship had, once, been built for a crew of thirty. Additional berths and life-support had been installed for passengers numbering up to four hundred. When the war began, many of the spaces reserved for extra bunks had been removed to make way for internal plasma cannons. One of the automated soy processors had been removed so the power could be dedicated to manufacturing small arms. The air vents, always a source of dirt and filth, had been retrofitted to cycle enough oxygen for thousands of refugees.
Focus on Setting with some Character DetailsIn her wardroom Colonel Maria Villanueva kept her last American uniform on a hanger. It hung from the waste fluid pipe that crossed the ceiling in parallel with the hot, cold, and nonpotable waters. Unlike military ships, which were generally constructed with the waste pipes running down nonessential deckways, the Icarus had been built to carry tourists. The pipes for water – the kind of pipes which might burst in the event of excess pressure, as might be expected from enemy fire during drawn-out battles in space – had been routed through the crew quarters. In the event that the pipes burst, the technical failure would be contained by the thin steel walls of the rooms with their sealed doors. The paying passengers would never be disturbed.
Focus on Character DetailsShe still considered herself, above all things, an American. She kept her last American uniform under glass in her wardroom. The holes in the arm and chest had been stitched, but the stains of her blood still remained visible as the scars in her skin – they were the faint traces of wounds that ached.
She tried to ignore the pain as she brought up her arms for calisthenics. Her left shoulder, for as many surgeries as she’d had on the rotator, would still rise only so far. The doctor’s the last time had promised her strength and reduced pain, but had said nothing about mobility. “The bullet simply took too much,” one of them had said. It would have been easier, he had explained, if she had lost the whole arm. The doctors had told her about how they could have fit a robotic limb to a stump no problem – replacing the half-dozen tendons and ligaments she’d lost to that bullet, however, was a different story. Strangely, it was the wound that almost killed her that hurt less. Her right lung, once stitched-up and inflated, had healed along with the rib.
Focus on Character Details and PlotThe robot delivered the follow-up to its report halfway through Maria’s calisthenics. She glared up from her pushups and winced. The pain in her shoulder was even worse that yesterday. Finishing her set, she brought up her left foot slowly to stand. Jacek and Alexia had a habit of simply flopping onto the ground and rolling to sit up – Maria couldn’t stand it. But the temptation was there. She moved her left arm in a slow circle while reaching for a towel. One of the doctors had gone so far as to recommend a new arm. “You’ll never get full use of that shoulder,” he’d told her. “With a bit of steel and a power supply, though, you can get a built in defense system.”
Maria brought the towel to her face and wiped the sweat from her forehead with her two all-natural hands. Then she planted her hands on her hips, more to take the weight off her left shoulder than anything else. She looped the thumb into the pocket of her shorts to take the weight. The bullet had taken too many tendons and ligaments, the doctors had said. You’re lucky it missed the nerve, they had told her. You can forget about pushups, that one idiot had added.
“This better be good,” she told the robot. He was the kind of steel the doctors had all admired, those Martian pricks. They’d forgotten that before the robots conquered North America, there’d been a little something called human ingenuity. And Maria did not appreciate interruption to her exercise regimen.
AfterwardUnfortunately, I haven't written the end to the story above, so I can't say how well the final attempt truly worked. But I encourage you to work on your stories and see where they take you. As always, feel free to comment with any questions.