Sunday, August 7, 2016

How to: Write the First Chapter of Your Book

I'd say Writer's Digest article on first chapters says it quite nicely and if I may I would like to add a few points from my own experience and talk a bit about what worked for me and give some comments and stuff.

Comments on number one: Resist the fear you feel from those agents, editors...
or even workshop acquaintances. I have been to writers' workshops in writing classes. Let me tell ya, for those who have never been in one,
people can sure find flaw with something you think is absolutely perfect. They also tell you to edit in ways you never thought was even remotely possible in the entire universe. They tell you to put chapter five as chapter one and chapter four as chapter three and put that sentence at the very end in the very beginning and basically turn everything upside down and downside up and squeeze it and mix it and mash it and twist it...

Keep in mind they mean well and all you need to do is try it and see. I have found that, experienced writers who are experienced editors can sometimes have a pretty good point. Sometimes it actually works. Sometimes you took too long to get to the climax and just shoving it up to chapter one was actually the best decision ever. BUT, you don't have to take every single point they say. It is your writing after all.

Comments on number two: What tense or POV shall I use...hmm
Actually before you even write the first chapter, I think you should decide this :/ You CAN experiment but fixing ALL the tenses after you've written almost a whole chapter is...OMG so tedious :0 I haven't done it but I HAVE had to change the name of the journeying group from Eastseekers to East Seekers to make it more...fantasy like, and, it looks better as a title :)

Comments on number three: Choose a natural starting point.
Natural. Look, there is nothing that is "natural" but as long as it's not like suddenly you're talking about some tribe the villagers met in the middle of the forest and introduce ten different characters at once like...don't do that. Don't introduce the reader to ten different characters at once before they get used to the MC.

Here's the way I decided on my current first chapter, which I rewrote last week and mashed the prologue into it:

If you haven't read my other posts you probably don't know my fantasy/adventure novel started out with an old man character and a forty-something guy character. I had two MCs. I started out with introducing the old man character and his philosophical views on his life and the village.


So then I had something like,

Sandals shuffled across the dirt path. A hand rubbed the nose as a sneeze refused to come.

And made it very general and focused on body parts and slowly introduced the old man and then brought his attention to the sounds of the village around him and people selling things and closing up for the day. Kind of like the beginning sequence in a movie.

Then I cut to the sounds of the village:

"Leather! Get your fine-made leather here!"

"Come and look at these marvelous glass pieces, how 'bout one for the family?"

Like that. So maybe the reader will get that sort of lively, evening-in-the-village vibe. But then I thought, no, no, that's not it so I cut that out and messed around with it quite a bit with the old man in the first scene.

Until I discovered that the forty-something guy was the real MC and then I had to come up with a clever way to introduce the reader into his life. He became younger and then I gave him stuff to worry about. He has a fight with his brother over who gets the main job of the family business. Traditionally it is the older brother and not the MC. OH TENSION!

I had some prologue of a back story leading up to why they weren't talking to each other much but then I watched "Alice and the Looking Glass", you know, the 2016 one with Johnny Depp and I realized that no story is truly interesting unless the MC goes through some crisis.

Now my first chapter starts out when they were kids and being apprentices at their father's shop and how the tension first started.

You know, I'll probably end up changing it again until I feel like it feels right. But for now, I FEEL like there is an element in which the reader will think, "Ah! This happened. And OH! That happened. And then what?"

Comments on number four: Present a strong character right away.
Is my character strong? Idk. I just started crafting him better because until the winter or so of 2015, I had two MCs. So I need to give him more meat. Fill him up. What's his family like, what kinds of friends does he hang out with? Does he have a crush? What is his personality like? What are his good traits and his bad traits?

A strong character certainly is important. But may I mention a bunch of times I have seen a sort-of strong character come through the first chapter as just vaguely interesting. You're like "huh, I wonder why" and that little wonderment (is that even a word?) is enough. Well, for me. I would just give it a chance. BUT AGENTS. I'm pretty sure it's GREAT to have a GREAT STRONG CHARACTER but I HAVE seen books where the MC is only slightly interesting but the storyline is a little intriguing so you continue on.

Comments on number five: Not too much a good idea. I was introducing the WHOLE ENTIRE village life in one chapter...just too much info...way too much. The reader will be super confused and the little map in the beginning of the book will make them even more confused.

I remember the first few scenes of "Warrior Cats", the very very first book. The MC is having a dream of hunting a mouse in the forest. Then he wakes up before he catches that mouse yet he has never ventured outside of his home grounds. That is very sparse setting.

Keep your first scenes simple. Yet eyecatching.

Comments on number six: Choose what details to put in the first chapter. OF COURSE it helps if you're an expert on it but if you're not, then you need to do a bit of research.

My MC makes glass. Now, I'm no expert on the craft so I need to do a bit of research. But this detail is important in the story, because, he has a natural talent for it and his brother doesn't unless he has intense practice.

Keeping first scenes simple is good BUT adding some significant detail is good, too. A bit contradictory, aren't we? :P

But you want your reader to think, huh, that's interesting, too, right? Even something like your MC has this makeup routine that they copied from some celebrity. You'll think, huh, interesting.

LET ME be honest here. Number five and six are contradictory, do what you have to do to grab your reader by the collar and pull them into the story. You can listen to five or six or both.

Comments on number seven: A plot for a chapter.
True. Each chapter is like a mini story. It has a beginning, middle, and end, most of the time. Make things happen, too.

For the longest time I was essentially writing about nothing. I realized it when I wrote every title of every chapter down and jotted a short, "what happened in this chapter" sentence. It was horrendous.

I can't remember clearly but it was something like this:

Chapter one: MC 1's philosophical introduction to village, strange traveler comes, decide to send people to futuristic city.

Chapter two: MC 2's POV he is told to go. leaves. walks through forest for first time. futuristic boat and tent introduced. WOW.

Chapter three: MC 1's POV wakes up in tent. leaves. trouble with stubborn traveler

Chapter four: MC 2's POV oh so hungry. strange creature tries to kill them but is killed by tribe of women with spears. welcomed to tribe.

Chapter five: MC 1's POV leave tribe.

Chapter six: MC 2's POV go through forest, meet traveler's fiance, and arrive at futuristic city gates. TADAA!

The End

Essentially, nothing happened in any of the chapters, not even the most important Chapter One. When I realized that, it was so...gutting. None of them told their own mini stories! :0 And I thought I had created a masterpiece and I was already taking on and finishing an equally simple Book Two, darn it.

You should do this, too. Like me, write out every name of your chapter and write down BASICALLY what happens just as you wrote it in each chapter. It can make you realize horrendous things earlier than having finished two whole books before realizing it.

Comments on number eight: Be bold. Own your story. No holding back allowed, guys.

Happy writing, and I wish you the best of luck! :D

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