Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Let's Talk Editing: The First Chapter

   Some people excel at writing beginnings. It comes naturally to them; the words almost write themselves. But others, like me, struggle to nail the perfect first chapter. What should the first line be? Where do you start? I always seem to end on a stronger note in my novels than I start.

   Hopefully by the end of this post, if you're struggling with your first chapter, you'll have a few new ideas or concepts to play around with.

   (Quick side note: this is second post in my new blog series 'Let's Talk Editing' where I'll discuss editing elements as I go through the process of editing my own novel, Draped in Deception. If you'd like to check out my first post, click here.)


   A few weeks ago I was frustrated with how my story started. It seemed far too cliche, dumped a load of back-story, and was disjointed from the rest of the novel. Today, I have a first chapter that I'm satisfied with.

   It didn't come in a burst of epiphany. It came from this:


Trying everything and anything

   What on earth do I mean by this? I mean that I sat down, and wrote all the possible first chapters possible. I switched settings, the time from the inciting incident, how characters were introduced, first lines. Everything.

   This sounds a little overwhelming at first, but I promise you, it will be worth it. If it seems like you have too many options of what could happen, work out your possibilities around these key factors:
  • Introducing the main character/POV
  • Introducing other key characters, and conflict
  • Introducing the antagonist (other writers usually suggest this happens in first three chapters or so)
  • Introducing the setting/storyworld
  • Showing your character's home world 
   Gosh, that's a lot to include, right?

One of my biggest changes was moving the scene to a train and its station rather than a forest, which then influenced everything else
   I want to talk about the last point for a bit. Showing your character's home world is primarily included so a reader can see how the character has developed over the course of the story. But this doesn't necessarily mean that they have to be in their home world.

   For example, in Draped in Deception, one of the POVs Lissaer has just been on a month long journey with her combat trainer into foreign territory. If I was to show her in her home first, there would be an awkward time jump between her home and arriving in the country, as nothing important happens on the trip. 

   So how can you convey the home world without your characters physically being there? Through dialogue, and mentality. If your characters start in their home, great, but if not don't worry. In Draped in Deception Lissaer's conversation with her trainer shows both Lissaer's perception of herself, and other's perception of her.

Lissaer in her disguise

   But enough about my story. My best advice if you're stuck on how to edit your first chapter is to not be afraid. Try it all. It took me drastic setting changes (from a forest to a train), adding and subtracting characters, and writing several versions to get one I was ok with.

   You can do it; I believe in you and your story.

Do you struggle writing first chapters or are they fairly easy for you? Are you editing right now, and if you are, how is it going? 
Let me know in the comments; I love hearing from all of you! <3

15 comments:

  1. Love your idea for editing the beginning. I often have problems with that darned first chapter too. I'll keep that idea in mind.

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    1. Thank Rachel! Yep first chapters can be very tricky, especially since there's so much you need to weave in. Glad it could be helpful. :) Thanks so much for commenting! <3

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  2. WHOA. That idea for writing down all the possible first characters is such an amazing idea. I MUST DO THIS!!

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    1. Thank you! I'm super happy this post could be helpful. XD Thanks so much for commenting!

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  3. Yessss. I didn't even realize this until you put it into words like that! I started my WIP at least nine times. Three of them started in different places, and then the last few happened in the same place, but the events after were in different places and happened differently. It took a lot of tries before I was finally satisfied with my story's opening, and it would have gotten where it is now without it!

    Thank you for this post! <3

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    1. You're very welcome! :) Yep if you don't try everything, how are you going to know which one works the best out of them? That's great that the technique worked for you, and now you've got a first chapter you like! Thank you so much for commenting! <3

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  4. ohh, I totally agree with trying everything! That's the #1 best way to get out of writers block, I think.😂 I actually usually know just where I want to start my story (my guidelines are: start in the action but not in the thick of the action, so it's not disorientating and confusing) but first sentences? HAHAHAH #NOPE. They are my downfall. Trying to get something hooky but that sets the tone of your book?!? So hard. *wails*

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    1. Thanks Cait! XD I wish I knew where to start as well as you do! But ah yes, the dreaded first few lines. How do you set the tone and somehow weave it into the action that's happening?? It's super difficult. Thanks so much for commenting! :D

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  5. I seem to be the opposite, in that I always seem to start on a high note with the beginning, when I'm full of inspiration and passion for the project, and then it all seems to tail off the further into the novel I get as I start to get bored :(
    That's not to say my openings are particularly good, I just find them to be the easiest bit to write whilst the idea is shiny and new and exciting in my head! I do worry a lot of them end up kind of cliched though, and it is such an important part of the book that there always seems like so much pressure to get it right.
    Your advice is definitely good advice, and I think it can be applied to any part of the book that you're struggling with. Trying everything and experimenting with different approaches will surely turn out the right one eventually!
    Great post! :)

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    1. Thank you Laura! :) It seems like writers are either better at beginnings or endings; both of which have pros and cons! I get the being passionate about the shiny new idea at first. It happens to me a lot too except my beginnings are always awful. I definitely don't think all the pressure helps. Yup yup as long as we keep trying different approaches we should get there in the end. :D
      Thanks so much for commenting Laura! <3

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  6. Yes yes yes first chapters are so incredibly hard. You have to convince the reader then and there that your book is worth reading. In my head I want to just say "Oh, just keep reading! It gets better, I promise!" but I know you can't do that.
    Thank you for this post. I definitely need to go back and re-work the first chapter in both my WIP's.
    Jeneca @ Jeniqua Writes

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    1. You're very welcome. :D First chapters are soo difficult, especially with what you mentioned in mind. Trying to grab your reader's attention and lay foreshadowing and introduce everything and just...it's so much! Good luck editing, and thanks so much for commenting Jeneca! <3

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  7. I've always found the first chapter easiest for me to write, because the idea is always fresh in my head. However, by the time I get to the end, the story's drooping quite a bit! Love hearing more about your book! <3

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    1. Thanks Grace! <3 You're lucky then; we seem to be the opposite! My beginnings tend to sag and I end my novels on a high note. :) Thank you so much for commenting!

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