Monday, July 21, 2014

The Agonizing First Chapter

Why in the world is it so hard to write the first chapter of a book when it's the initial reason for our motivation?

That's the thing. It's not hard to write the first chapter of a book. It's hard to get it right.



The biggest mistake writers make is starting the book in the wrong place. It's so innate for us to stick with the first thing we put down and call it golden. But it's that first chapter, first five pages, first sentence, that pulls the reader in, and if we're starting in the wrong spot, we're getting absolutely no where.

Fact: agents don't want to read through the first few thousand words to find your 'true' beginning. (That's paraphrased, of course, but I read that in Carly Watter's book, Getting Published in the 21st Century.)

Now, you might be asking, "How the heck do I get it right?" First, I'll admit. I don't know everything (I'm actually glad that I don't,) but here's how I got my first chapter in tip-top shape.

The first thing I did was research. I read a million blogs--especially those of agents. At this point, I'd already had a critique reader go over the entire manuscript. Though she liked my first chapter a lot, I didn't. It felt wrong to me, so I started chopping out bits and pieces that I didn't feel comfortable with. Which leads me to my next point, trust your gut.The reason why I didn't like my first chapter was because it had too much back story. Not only that, but it was starting in the wrong place, and I wasn't sure how to fix it.

It wasn't until I had one of my good friends from AQC look at it, when I changed it to my liking. She pointed out where the high point of the story really was. And once she did that, I began to soar to new heights.

After I changed it, I read a few more blogs posts and did more editing. Then, I had three people look it over--including the one who'd been really pleased with the original version. And after their approval and suggestions, I did more edits. (See, the editing never ends, ya'll.)

Long story short: I added a hook. 
Why didn't I have a hook in the first place? I don't know. But it consists of three simple words, and it carries the theme throughout the chapter.
And Lastly, I made the reader feel for my MC by adding more stakes, and starting the story at a pivotal moment in her life.

And that's it, folks. Seriously. After endless editing, I like my first chapter a lot. Maybe it's not perfect--there's a chance it could change after I get an agent--But I like it, and I don't have anxiety over it anymore.

*Long sigh.....I need a glass of iced tea.

Below are a few links and blogs that have helped me with my first chapter.

Suzie Townsend--agent at NewLeaf
Carly Watters--agent at P.S Literary
http://writersrelief.com/
And, oddly enough, Twitter--not kidding. I follow a handful of agents and writers who tweet links to helpful websites and blogs all the time.

Good luck! I hope this helps!

Till next time blog world!

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