Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Chapter One

Typing those two words opens up Pandora's Box. They signify that a whole new adventure is about to begin. I'm excited about what's to come. I’m not afraid of the 200+ pages to go after Chapter One; I’m enough of a plotter to have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen when (but too much of a pantser to actually go and outline the thing). Places to go; people to manipulate in god-like ways. Ahh, what a rush.

But that little blinking cursor waiting on the line below the words can terrify me as well. Chapter One is the first step on the journey, and it’s one heck of a doozie. Let’s consult the list of all we must do in the first chapter, shall we?

1). Hook the reader (preferably in the first few lines).
2). Introduce the main characters.
3). Give enough information to make the characters seem rounded and interesting while avoiding the dreaded “info dump.”
4). Give the reader an idea of the conflicts—internal and external—that will drive the story.
5) Make the reader care about what’s about to happen over the next 250+ pages.

Five things? That’s not much of a list! My to-do lists routinely run to multiple pages, so five measly things can’t be too hard. I can normally cross five things off my to-do list before lunch.

But those five things on the list are loaded…I might as well add “Create World Peace” and “Cure Cancer” to that list while I’m at it. Sheesh, who would’ve thought five little items could cause so much angst.

I feel sorry for what my CP is about to go through. It will take many, many trips through Chapter One to get it right. But Chapter One is where you make it or break it with a reader. Chapter One has to be good. Your reader will never see Chapter Two if it’s not. I’m about ten pages into Chapter One, and I’ve already re-written each of them. (Yes, I know I really should be farther along, but, hey, life happens.) At this pace, it may be a while before my CP gets to read it. It takes me a while to get to Chapter Two, but I know it will be a bit easier going from there.

For you writers out there, what’s the hardest part of Chapter One for you? But I’d really like to hear from the readers on this one as well—what makes it or breaks it for you in Chapter One?

(who really needs to be writing today, but will probably be packing for the upcoming Odessey…)


Smarty Pants said...

My first chapter is usually itching so badly to get out of me, I'm on chapter 3 before I come up for air. Does it accomplish items 1 - 5? Probably not on the first run, but that's what revisions are for. The words I dread are:

Chapter 9 - Chapter 14.

I always have a good idea where my story starts and where it finishes, but the details of how you get from A to B... sketchy. That's why I have come to rely on Gayle Wilson and Roxanne St. Claire's storyboard.


Linda Winstead Jones said...

I'm with smarty pants on this one. I breeze through Chapter One the first time around, and spend a lot of time fixing it after I know more about the story and the characters. Yeah, I'm a pantster. Now, I think about Chapter One for a long while before I ever type a word, because it can't come from nothing. It is tough to get started. Even though I always go back and revise heavily, I can't start with stick figures. The characters jave to be real to me before I write a word. The story can change, but the characters have to be there.


Maven Linda Howard said...

PC, you're thinking too much about how someone told you it SHOULD be done, and too little about the story. Close your eyes, picture the story beginning where it has the most punch for you, and there you go. Maybe the two main characters don't meet in the first chapter. Maybe they meet at the beginning of the second chapter. Remember, I'm the woman whose characters in Son of the Morning didn't meet for two-thirds of the book! I think the book did okay.

Forget the rules. Write the story. Then, if you have to, look at the rules and see if you really need them.

Instigator said...

My first chapter usually comes rather quickly. i'm with SP, it's 7 through 12 that I have a problem with.


Playground Monitor said...

Just starting is the hardest part for me. I have a stack of ideas for short stories but can't decide which to pursue next. And once I decide, I'll start angsting all over the place until I finally give myself permission to just write and then worry later. I did that with my last short story and it was a marvelous feeling. The words just flew and I actually ended up writing too much. I had to cut about 3 pages.

I think with the current tight writing market today we tend to worry about producing the perfect story in hopes that it won't get the dreaded "R" in the mail. Not a healthy environment but...