Wednesday, January 28, 2015

First Chapters. Argggggh!

We’ve all heard the advice. Don’t obsess too much on the first chapter during your early drafts. Chances are you’ll make massive changes to it (or completely throw it out) before the book is finished. Until we know how the story ends, they tell us, we don’t know how it should begin. All good points.

The trouble is, I just can’t do it.

Perhaps I’ll do better as I gain more experience with writing, but right now, I just can’t move on with a story until I have the first chapter locked down—at least in part.. Knowing that I’ll probably have to rewrite it later doesn’t make any difference. If I don’t have the basic structure of the first chapter down on paper, my muse refuses to move on with the rest of the story. Even if I know where the story is headed next, without that first chapter to keep me anchored, I might as well be typing at random.

I wasted over six months on a MG story because I couldn’t decide how to begin it. I must have gone through a half dozen complete rewrites of that @#Y%^ first chapter, none of which worked the way I wanted. I tried moving on to later chapters, but I kept running into roadblocks that required knowing what had happened at the beginning. Eventually I admitted defeat and moved on to different story.

Fortunately, I had a pretty good idea how the opening scene in this new story (YA paranormal) should go, so progress has been good—at least for a slow writer like me. It’s quite possible I may come back later and totally trash the first chapter, but I don’t care about that now. I’m moving forward and that’s all that counts.

 P.S. This doesn't mean I've given up on the MG story.  Every once in a while, my mind will drift back to it and I’ll think of yet another way to begin the story. All these ideas are safely stored away on my computer for a rainy day.



10 comments:

  1. Hmmm, what if you plotted out what would happen in the first chapter, but didn't actually write it? That way you'll know what's going to happen, but you can spare yourself the months of being stuck!

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    1. Sometimes it's not knowing the details of how things happen in that first chapter that stops me. I think it's because if I don't know the details yet, I don't feel that I really have a good outline yet. I suspect that if I don't really have a good idea how the first chapter should go, I don't really have a handle on the rest of the story. Thanks for the comment.

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  2. I'm like that, too! I need to have a real first chapter in order to write any other chapters afterwards. I guess just jotting something down, even if terrible, works for me, but I'm a pretty decent first chapter writer as it is. At least your new story is working out better in that regard.

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    1. As long as I have the basic outline down, that's generally good enough. Trouble is, as soon as I begin writing, I immediately spot all the problems in the outline and I'm back to where I started.

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  3. Maybe you'll eventually scrap everything and start the concept fresh and new.
    I'm a detailed plotter, so I know everything before I begin. That doesn't work for some people though.

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    1. It's funny, but I'm a detailed plotter too, but once I start putting the words to paper, all sorts of new ideas occur to me and sometimes my original ideas seem to stink. I never know until I begin writing.

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  4. I reworked the first few chapters of Thanmir War several times before finishing. In an earlier version, it started out with Derek in the shower after doing his landscaping. Back then, Tonya was his neighbor instead of his landlady. Even earlier than that, it started with Derek in the mall parking lot, waiting for his girlfriend Britney to get done chatting with her friends, Tonya and Samantha (who got turned into the barista in the final version).

    I totally understand how things can change. :)

    Best of luck with your YA, and I hope you someday figure out your first chapters for your MG.

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  5. I'm going through that right now, too. I've been at this story for years and must MUST get it done, so I may settle. I'm at a point I truly can't tell what's good or bad any more.

    Sigh.

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  6. I am a chronological writer, too. Even though I know my first chapter will almost certainly change -- or be cut -- or be moved to the second chapter -- I cannot move forward in the first draft until I am satisfied with it. I have come to accept that this is just part of my process.

    I also can't write without a title. Even if I know I'm not going to keep the title, I have to have one, or I can't write.

    It's okay. Accept your process. Somewhere in your subconscious, it has a purpose.

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  7. Second try. I got interrupted. Anyway, I know what you mean. It's not just what happens but how it happens that settles my mind enough to go on.

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