Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Getting Past the First Chapter

By Julie Wright
We all know that the first line of the book has to be awesome. It has to earn you the right to the second line which has to earn you the right to the first page, which has to earn you the right to the first chapter. The first chapter is the thing that paves the way for the rest of the book. Sometimes it's all anyone will ever see of your book.

But writing a first chapter is HARD. It takes time--which is the number one reason people never get past the first chapter. I tweeted this the other day: My best writing advice to new writers? Time is made not found. If you love it, you will do it. We always *make* time for what we love.

Don't tell me you're too busy. If you loved writing like I love writing, then you will MAKE the time. Heck, even if you only sorta liked writing a tenth of the way I love it, then you'd make the time.

But it's still HARD. After all what if you write it all down and it's lame, lame, lame? Fear is another reason people don't write. In Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, he talks of Hitler's talent as an artist, then made the claim that it was easier for Hitler to start WWII than it was for him to face a blank canvas. That line stayed with me. Am I driving my own artistic life off course in order to avoid the blank page? I'm not saying fear of failure isn't real. I'm not saying that the blank page isn't terrifying. Of course it is. But it's also exciting, filled with possibility and adventure. The blank page can be anything you want. Embrace the page and write. So what if it's lame? I maintain my firm belief that a lame page is easier to fix than a blank page.

So where do you start?
I start with the character.
Then I put the character in a  situation that feels interesting to me. I have them act on that situation and speak to those people populating that situation.
You might be a setting starter.
You might be a plot starter.
You might be a late starter and need to turn the engine over and over and over until it finally engages (which means you'll have to delete the first few pages, but so what? They helped you get the engine going).

There is no right or wrong place to start. The point is to start at a place that is interesting to YOU. In my latest novel, Capes and Curls, the story opens with Red killing a rabbit in front of her sister who hates the killing even though they're starving. I opened showing the differences between the sisters, the sacrifices each were willing to take for the other. I wanted to show that even with all their differences, they stood together  in all things. Did I know I wanted to show all that with my beginning? Absolutely not. I started there because it was interesting to me. Admittedly, I had a couple of other false starts before I got to the scene with the girls and the rabbit, but those were the cranking-the-engine pages and were all deleted.

The first chapter is do vital because it sets the tone and mood of the whole book. Should the reader be afraid? Should they be cautious? Should they want to laugh?  All of that is revealed in the beginning of every book, so you should know ahead of time whet kind of book you're writing. Is it romance? And if it is romance, is it funny, tragic, steamy? You need to know going in so that your tone stays consistent. You don't want to start out with a deep, soulful, naval-gazing talk about the weather when you want the book to be an action-packed, hard core science fiction novel.

So have an idea of what you want to write, forget fear, make the time, and sit your butt in a chair. You might have to rewrite but that's okay. Why? Because it's easier to fix lame than blank.

 

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