Saturday, February 05, 2011

Golden Advice: Create a Great Start to Your Novel

Hi Folks, I've been running a series of writing advice every February for the last few years, and I've thought to continue it. To start out I'm going to offer tips to create your strongest first chapter.

The first big step is determining if you have the right start. You need some spare eyes for this one. Find a trusted reader or two and ask them to read until they are interested in your story. This reader needs to be coming cold to your work for good feedback. Another thing to do: look at or write chapter titles for the first five chapters. Which one jumps out to you? That might be chapter one. You need to have moxie. I just tossed the first five chapters of a work because I asked myself where did I get interested in my story and that was chapter six. Pull some bold out of your pocket and begin your story in the right spot.

Next up, is get rid of the chump stuff. No waking up in the morning, getting out of bed, getting on school buses, getting ready for work, nothing mundane here. Think about the normal world of your character. Say the character plays baseball, the oboe, is a talented gymnast, etc, etc. -- get inside one of those activites. The gist here is to start out in the middle of an interesting action in your character's normal world. This move garners reader interest and brings a sense of originality to your character. (Remember any advice here is just a guideline; sometimes there is a reason to start in the mundane -- usually in comic novels trying set a dead-pan tone.)

A good start is important. Consider trying to murder or murdering someone in your first chapter. Murder can be a great way to start a story. Neil Gaiman did it in THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. E.B. White did it in CHARLOTTE'S WEB. UH, BAMBI, Libby Bray's GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY, the list goes on and one. Murder really is a strong way to begin and lots of folks use it. Action starts are good too -- throw your main character out of airplane, into shark infested water or into the middle of a battlefield. This will grab readers attention. Embarrassment can be good -- a character could pee in their pants, vomit on the cute guy, run naked across the high school campus. This offers good interest to plumb off of. Some character blather on about how they feel and this can be a strong start, but this one is tough. Your character must be powerfully charismatic; you need to really have a good handle on this if you want it to work.

Another job of the first chapter is to make sure your main character pops off the page. This is about digging into the soul of your character and making sure their soul is on the page. You need to understand fully how they feel about everything from the get go. A good way to know if you are getting to the heart of this one is if you've had some sleepless nights struggling to understand what motivates your character. If the exploration into the motivation of your main character has become excruciatingly painful, you are on the right track.

You can capture readers with high concepts. You might want to rewrite the rules of the world to give rise to possibilities. Here are some examples: the atom bomb has wasted the planet and your main character is left alone, the aliens have arrived and made us all slaves, space travel is possible and you're on the wagon train to the stars , vampires lurk everywhere (don't do it - spoiler - over saturated market!). Do you need to shift the paradigm of your book to make it come alive?

Yes, writing is hard work. Good luck on your journey to an awesome first chapter. Happy work! See you next week!

This week's doodle is called: "Pondering."

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, Begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it, Begin it now.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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