Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Beginning Again (or Chapter 1! We can have so much fun.*)

*With apologies to New Kids on the Block

Tip of the Day: Want to laugh? Read WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green (of course, the master of dialog hilarity) & David Levithan.

I recently rewrote Chapter 1 of my WIP after spot-on feedback from my crit group (who shall now be referred to as The Helper Monkeys).
(Photo from
I started again on a brand new page with a brand new setting and brand new characterizations. This was after I'd written about 60 pages of the book.

I think part of the problem with my initial Chapter 1 (and my C1s in other works before Helper Monkey interventions) is that us writers hear that we need to start "in the middle of the action." So I jump into the main conflict/action too soon -- before readers get to know the characters in their regular lives. In order to relate to characters, to sympathize with their situations, readers like to see characters in their "regular" environments first so we can then compare how the main conflict changes them when it happens.

Really what the "in the middle of the action" advice means is that the character should be doing something -- not waking up in the morning and thinking about the day ahead, not driving alone down a lonely road contemplating life; she should be arguing with a boyfriend, burning the breakfast for her parents anniversary meal, some action. A mini-action, if you will, before the inciting bigger incident that sets off the plot of the book.

If readers hadn't seen Harry Potter living under the stairs and instead the book started with him being sent immediately to wizard school, we'd lose a lot of sympathy for and understanding of Harry.

In my case, I switched my WIP from opening right at the fire that burns down the diner to the MC and her boyfriend at his house having a slight disagreement before heading out to see the fire.

In my MG on submission, I switched from opening right at tennis tryouts to the MC arguing with her dad at the bakery about being allowed to go to tennis tryouts.

So this is all what I will keep in mind when write future Chapter 1s. And when I inevitably rewrite them.

Deena, Miss Subbing for Pubbing


Kate Fall said...

I like this post a lot. We readers want to see what your character's life is like. We know the first chapter is going to be about that. We don't want your character to be boring, but she doesn't have to be in the midst of an unexplained three state killing spree either. Take a minute to explain life before the killing spree first in a witty way. This opinion brought to you by a humble helper monkey.

Andrea Mack said...

I like this perspective. I think that sometimes stories try to rush too fast into the action, before we have a chance to care about who it's happening to.

Lisa Schroeder said...

It's SO true. I mean, Harry Potter is the PERFECT example. J.K. did a brilliant set up, as far as I'm concerned. My heart ached for poor Harry. And I wanted big things for him, big wonderful things, and was ready to follow him anywhere.

Good luck with your new project!

Carmella Van Vleet said...

Very true. It's a tough balance. I find it's much easier to write (well, rewrite) the first chapter after I've gotten a ways into the book.

And I just wanted to say that "helper monkeys" cracked me up. Sounds like a bad, band name! LOL