With my cursor at the beginning of Chapter 1 of my WWII historical fiction novel, I hit Ctrl+Enter and sighed. Beginning a book all over again isn’t pleasant sometimes. I loved this chapter. I mean, really liked it, even though I knew all along something wasn’t quite right about it. For several months, I struggled to figure out why it didn’t work as the beginning for my novel. But now, I needed to start over and create a new Chapter 1.
A few contests, a writing conference, and two agents later, my intuition had solidified into a clear direction of where this novel needed to go. None of the critics’ comments were overly negative, and most of them enjoyed the few chapters I had submitted. But the first chapter lacked … heart, GMC (goal, motivation, conflict), and simple background for why things were happening the way they were at the moment the story opened up.
Who are these people and why do you want me to care for them??
I can honestly say I’ve always been a writer who struggled to write beginnings. I’m sure I’m not the only one – and there are those writers who dislike middles and endings, too.
Here are a few things I learned about my now Chapter 2 (the Chapter 1 that everyone liked but couldn’t connect with):
- Always introduce your characters early enough in the first page that gives the reader reason to continue to the second page and the third page and eventually the last page in as few sittings as possible. Maybe your character is afraid to drive over a bridge or wants to capture a rattlesnake. You want that first page to pop! off the page.
- Give your characters interesting, lively dialogue . You want to make your readers laugh and relate to the story, even if in a small way.
- Engage your readers. Don’t make them ask the kind of questions that drive them to set your story down and go do something that they had been putting off (like washing laundry or bathing the dog).
- Don’t overwrite. Simple is always best. Make Strunk and White proud of you!
(This is hard for me because I like to describe things; but too much is not good and actually hurts your writing and may frustrate your readers. I love Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books, but I had a hard time staying engaged with the verbose descriptions; in Ms. Montgomery’s defense, readers during her time enjoyed the lengthy descriptions, but in today’s society, readers want a quick read that they can still enjoy.)
- Choose the right word. The right word can endear your readers or make your readers run. What did Mark Twain say? It’s the difference between lightening and the lightning bug?
Taking an honest look at my first chapter, and based on my family’s and friends’ and judges’/agents’ comments, I’m glad I’m starting over. Last week, I spent four days pounding out a new Chapter 1 – a rough draft right now, but in two weeks’ time, I’m hoping to share a portion of it with you.
Now, excuse me while I read over this post and check to see that I’ve engaged you, helped you relate to it, caused you to want to read it, and that I’ve used the right words. 🙂
Check back next week for a special guest post – I’m super excited! – and in two weeks for a sneak peak of the new first chapter!