Wednesday, March 2, 2011

In the role of Chapter One? The Devil...

Welcome to another Writerly Wednesday @ The QoP!

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!!

18 comments:

Angela Felsted said...

You hooked me with this post. I don't know if the openings to your novels are this, but I could not stop reading this. Probably because I struggle time with my openings. Great advice, thanks. :)

Meredith said...

I love these! Especially #3 and #7. I'm revising today, and I'll be using this advice!

Donna Weaver said...

Nice recap. My first WIP started out in third person but 12k words into it I knew it wasn't right and changed it to 1st person. With SciFi and MG WIPs I wanted try third person ... and my POVs are all over the place as my critiquers kindly pointed out. It just kinda snuck up on me.

About the setting, Orson Scott Card in his book "Characters and View Point" describes different kinds of stories. There may be a case, as in a milieu, where you'll be giving your setting more attention.

Michael Di Gesu said...

EXCELLENT POST, Donea.

That's putting it in a nutshell. There were some incredible tips...

Thanks.

Carol Riggs said...

I think #3 is the hardest part, and one of the most crucial. Where to start. Not too soon before the action/interest starts, but not too late, either!

Hey, Donea!! you are one of the critique winners on my 200-follower giveaway. Woo!
Artzicarol Ramblings

Jen Daiker said...

Great advice! I loved this post (especially with the adorable little devil, I wanna take him home)!!!

I think these are some very important points to remember. Rules can be broken but more or less these are great things to live by!

Sorry I've been distant! I still whole-heartedly heart you!

Lenny Lee* said...

hi miss donea! wow what a lotta good stuff for getting started. for sure im gonna copy this for my folder. thanks!
...hugs from lenny

J. R. said...

Great advice. I love Writer's Digest.

Becky Wallace said...

Great post. Lucky for me, I love my chapter one. But only because the sixth complete rewrite was actually good.

Thanks for crusading by!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Check on most of that - will work on the rest!

Colene Murphy said...

Ooooh! That's good stuff!!! Going to check out the full entry! Good luck with your devil 1st chapter!

Talli Roland said...

Wow - fantastic tips. Now I just need to apply them. Thanks!

Trisha Leaver said...

I love the name of your blog! Fellow crusader (and now blog followers) saying hello. First chapters are always the worst for me . . . like the whole book rides on those first five pages. I am definitely going to employ some of your suggestions. Great post.

lbdiamond said...

Interesting! Great tips and such great timing as I'm about to revise my first chapter. Thanks!

Kari Marie said...

This is post is so timely. I've been considering how to punch up my first chapter. Thanks for the link and the great summary post.

Akoss said...

I used to be subscriber of the WD, and got the same email. I really like how you broke it down here. :)
Happy Friday.

Elizabeth Sims said...

Hey, Donea, thanks for sharing my article. Very glad your readers found it helpful!

Donea Lee said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! Wow - even had Elizabeth Sims comment! Very honored you stopped by - thank you.

I really do hope this is helpful to all of us that struggle with the first few pages of our stories. Since this is often the ONLY pages some agents see - we really want them to be unique and unforgettable and FULL of voice and character!

Happy writing to you all ~ :)