Monday, November 4, 2013

Getting Past the Dreaded First Chapter

In my last post, I talked about how I was stuck on my book Voodoo Queen for ages. The first reason was I couldn't decide on a narrator. The second was I couldn't decide on a first chapter. 

The first chapter isn't super important... at first. Once you start revising, it's kind of a super huge deal.

I took the classic advice and wrote everything else I could until the first chapter just came to me. This is good for getting past a hurdle that could prevent you from starting your book. But if you're like me and you wrote 80,000 words and still don't know your first chapter... well, that's a problem.

What's the big deal? Sure, I had a lot of content, but without at least knowing where my novel started, I couldn't build a narrative flow. My hero needs a call to action, plot twists, goals, challenges, etc., and all these things need to happen at the right time and in the right order. If I don't know whether to start the book when my MC is a child, an adult, on her death bed, etc., then I can't properly plan how the book will develop.

Two years ago I wrote a blog post on the secret to knowing where to start your book and where to end it. I compared the story to a rolling rock, and every plot twist changes the direction of the rock. You start your book as late as you can in the story and end it as soon as you can while still making sense (don't write when you know which direction the rock will go). This didn't help me, unfortunately, because I didn't have enough of a foundation to make the rock roll in the first place.

Then I saw this video where an author says to start your book on the day everything changes. It was a light bulb moment for me. The first chapter shouldn't be for the sole purpose of setting the scene, introducing your characters, or showing an example of your MC's everyday life. Don't begin with a character waking up in the morning, brushing his teeth, and driving to work. The first chapter should be the first plot twist.

All I had to do was decide my character's call to action. In order to know that, I had to know 1. the character's main goal, and 2. what inspires that character to attain that goal or what first hinders that goal. Once I figured that out, deciding how to write my first chapter was easy.

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