First, may I ask a question? Is there a brutal murder of chapter one in your foreseeable future? Do you want to hit it with a hammer? Stake it through the heart, maybe? Gunshot to that first word? String up the ending and just let it hang?
I was thinking ice pick, but heck. I'm no Sharon Stone. It's more likely I'll need to call a priest, because I'm not dealing with plain ol' maniacal chapters here. My first chapter is THE DEVIL!!
|Yeah...not really as cute as he looks...|
Luckily (and since I really abhor violence of any kind...) the wonderful random e-mail subscription jockey at Writer's Digest sent me the following: 8 Ways to Write a 5-Star Chapter One!
Because I know people stopping by appreciate brevity, I'm going to give you the condensed version of this wonderful advice. But, if you'd also like to read the meatier version by Elizabeth Sims over at Writer's Digest, you can find it HERE.
#1: Resist Terror. My first thought, "So, nothing scary up front, eh?" *le sigh* It's been one of those days, you know? Basically - don't work yourself into a terror. Don't let all those "don't"s floating around in writer-advice land keep you from writing something unique, honest, real and ALL you. Relax. Let it flow. Remember who you are and why you're writing your book. Ms. Sims also suggests that even the most basic of outlines can help. If you know where the story is going, you can relax and let your inner genius run with it.
#2: Decide on Tense and POV. So important! I got creamed in a few critiques for switching tenses and telling the story in a POV that didn't suit the reader's taste. Obviously, you want to pick a tense and stick with it. First time writers might want to go the universal route - 1st person, past tense. Remember you can always change it later! Elizabeth suggests playing with a few different povs and tenses, write a paragraph in each and see which seems the most natural for you. Or look at some of your favorite novels and how their authors approached it.
#3: Choose a Natural Starting Point. To quote: "Think about real life. Any significant episode in your own life did not spring whole from nothing; things happened beforehand that shaped it, and things happened afterward as a result of it. Think about your novel in this same way." No, this doesn't mean you want to hit us with a lot of backstory and consequences. You just need to think about it organically, logically - and start where it feels right.
#4: Present a Strong Character Right Away. A given, right? But, an intro up front to your strongest central character is really key. Consider what they know already. What they might learn as they move through your story. What their world means to them. People (readers) want to connect to people (main characters) after all.
#5: Be Sparing of Setting. Of course you want to ground your reader in your world, but I think we've all heard that paragraphs of detailed setting are a big, bad "NO!" Elizabeth gave some examples of stories that made it work, like Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath", but said you should consider how the setting was used in a story like that. For starters, give a tid-bit to give the reader an idea about where the story takes place. You can always expound on setting later.
#6: Use Carefully Chosen Details to Create Immediacy. Basically, if a detail serves the story - run with it. It's those extraneous details you want to steer clear of. And if you're an expert on something, all the better! Use what you know, providing it serves the story and use it economically. Great examples of this given in the longer article.
#7: Give it a Mini Plot. Ok, this is a tip I've always heard and I think it's a great one. Every chapter should really have its own beginning, middle, and end. Elizabeth suggests some ways to accomplish this: make trouble (always want conflict!), focus on action, be decisive and end with a bit of closure.
#8: Be Bold! Put your best stuff out there, right out of the shoot! Be bold, be audacious, don't hold back.
She likened chapter 1 to an appetizer (yay, food!), which I really loved. If your first chapter is delicious in just one quick bite - the reader is going to stay and relish the whole meal/story and will stick around for dessert and a night cap to boot.
I don't know about you, but I'm feeling less and less of the evil-eye from my chapter one after reading these tips. There's a white light there now. So, I'm off to tackle it - in a violence-free way, of course. How about you? Does this help? Do you agree, disagree? Anything you'd like to add?
And as always, Happy Writing out there today!!