Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Overcoming False Starts on Your First Chapter
It's all too easy to get stuck in chapter one rewrite mode and never get anywhere. You get to the end of that important first chapter, and it just feels wrong. So you go back and rewrite it. And it still feels off. You do it again. And again. Pretty soon, you're questioning your whole novel and if you even have what it takes to write one. You start thinking if you can't get the first chapter right, what hope do you have of crafting a good novel?
That's a lot of pressure. If you find yourself stuck here, try to step back and look at the novel objectively. Ask yourself...
1. Is this the right starting point for the novel?
If you get to the end and can't figure out how to get to the next important event, you might be starting too early. There's nothing driving the story past that opening. If you get to the end and feel like you need to revise and explain more so people get it, you might be starting too late.
2. Is it the right point of view character?
You'll find this more often with multiple POVs, but it's worth looking at even with a single POV. Maybe it's not this person's story after all. Or maybe another character would make a better first impression and get the story rolling faster.
3. Does your POV have a goal?
Lack of narrative drive is a sure fire way to stall any story. Beginnings can be especially tough because the story hasn't technically started yet and you have to introduce the character and idea, while at the same time having a goal to advance the story.
4. Does it cover an event worth reading about?
What's happening goes a long way toward hooking the reader. Are you offering something inherently interesting in some way, or just starting off like any other day in the life? Big or small, it doesn't matter, but find something a reader might care about.
5. Are you being too picky?
Everyone has their own methods, but is it possible you expect perfection on a first draft? Give yourself permission to stink and move on. You can always edit later.
6. Are there things you don't know yet?
This one's a double-edged sword. Sometimes the discovery is part of the process, but other times you need to know something before the story falls into place. Is the missing piece something you can gloss over for now until you figure it out? Can you use a placeholder detail for now? If not, you might need to do a bit more planning before you dive back in.
Sometimes you just need to push past the sticking point and keep the writing momentum going. Try writing a few chapters and see how you feel after that. If it still feels all wrong by the time you get to chapter three, reevaluate your opening again. Maybe you've written enough by then to have a better idea of what needs to be done.
And of course, sometimes you just don't know the beginning until you get to the end. Once you see how a story resolves, you know instantly where it needs to begin.