All the writing advice says your first chapter has to be perfect. It has to draw the reader in from the first line, introduce the main character and antagonist, give a feeling of the story setting and tone, give the main character’s goal, and ignite some conflict. And while you’re doing all that, you better not bore the reader for even a second or they’ll put your book down and never discover that twist you put in chapter 10 that would have showed them what a brilliant writer you are.
Whew, sounds like a lot doesn’t it? That’s because it is a lot. So much rides on the first chapter that it makes us freak out when we go to write it.
We spend forty minutes trying to make that first line perfect. By the time we’re done with that, we’re ready to quit (especially if we are writing during NaNoWriMo and have a daily word-count goal to meet). We’re having trouble writing one line. How are we going to write a whole chapter and after that a whole book?
The beauty of NaNo is that it forces you to keep writing even if your writing is crappy. There’s just too much to cram into a first chapter for you to get everything on the checklist the first time around. That’s what the second and third drafts are for.
The challenge is remembering that as you write that first draft of the beginning chapter. Especially if you’ve written a book before.
Why? Wouldn’t writing a book before make it easier to start another one?
You would think so, but I actually found it harder to be satisfied with the beginning of my story this time around than when I was writing The Hashna Stone this time last year. Maybe it was because I’d spent a lot more time discovering the world and characters of my first story so it was easier to get into it from the first chapter. Maybe it was because it’s been a whole year since I’ve written a first chapter and I’ve forgotten how messy they can be.
It probably had something to do with the fact that I decided to write a fantasy romance and am completely out of my element. 😉
Whatever the reason, I couldn’t get the chapter to come together at all. The whole thing ended up being a list of everything a first chapter shouldn’t have. I didn’t describe what the main character looked like. I spent paragraphs describing her sisters. There wasn’t much actually happening in the chapter. A good 2,000 to 3,000 words (which was half the chapter) was the main character’s thoughts. And I did a lot of telling when I should have been showing.
But guess what? I’m glad I did it.
Yep, you heard me right. My first chapter was a total disaster and I don’t regret it at all.
Once the first chapter was out of the way, I could get on with the rest of the story (which I like to think is better than the first chapter). And once I got on with the rest of the story, I could discover things about it that I would need to foreshadow in the first chapter.
The thing is, I could have rewritten the first chapter 7 times and never gotten it to the point it needed to be if I never wrote to the end. I don’t know if this is a writing rule, but it’s nice when the beginning of a story foreshadows the end or having the end in someway mirror the beginning.
A simple example of this is in a short story (more like flash fiction I guess) that I wrote a few years ago very creatively called Red.
The first lines:
Red–the color of roses, the color of love. It was also the color of danger. I didn’t see the danger though.
The last lines:
Red is the color of roses. It is also the color of lies. My color is no longer red.
For a novel-length story, you might not want to have such blatant foreshadowing of what would happen in the story or such exact mirroring in the first and last lines, but you get my meaning.
Sometimes you can’t write the first chapter until you’ve written the last. And to get to the end, you have to write the beginning. Even if it’s terrible.
Next week we’ll be talking about slow writers. Last week was about skipping scenes, and if you haven’t read it already, you should. It was a pretty good post if I do say so myself. 😛
What do find to be the hardest part of your story to write? Beginning, middle, or end? In my first draft, it’s always the end. I never really know what’s going to happen. 😀