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:~: Monday, August 28, 2006 :~:

Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down

It's not raining. Yet. That's supposed to happen here tomorrow. But it is Monday. And as such, it's hit me in the face, just as it always does.

I got up this morning and, after feeding the Gremlins, grabbed a cup of coffee and sat to check my email. When that was done, I popped over to a couple of blogs I occasionally read, then hit RWKF to see if Joan had posted yet today. Since she hadn't, I smiled and thought, "Gee, she's slow. Wonder what she'll post about today?"

Duh, Elisabeth. Today is your day!

To say I've been distracted is an understatement. My critique partners are tired of hearing me grumble about this, but I've been immersed in the WIP - not necessarily making forward progress - but writing and rewriting that dreaded first chapter.

Dreaded, you ask? Yes. Dreaded.

I don't know why I have such trouble with this concept of story beginnings. I think maybe it's because - for me - knowing where to start a book is the hardest part of writing. It's really a skill that takes time to learn. How much info is too much? How much is not enough? Once I get about three chapters in, everything clicks and away I go. But that initial set-up, that hook that draws the reader in is the hardest thing for me to master. And I'm still mastering it.

My current WIP (and source of long hours of agony) starts with a bang - literally - in the prologue. But in chapter one I have my protagonists meeting. No bang here. Not really. There's a glimpse of the "ordinary world" as Vogler puts it, and then a hint of the initial conflict, there's also a little suspense at the end of the chapter. But it's not action-packed, and for someone who likes lots of action, I think that's what I'm having trouble with.

For some of you, first chapters might be no-brainers. But when I talk about that story start, I'm not talking about those first lines or even the first few pages. That initial hook is all about word choice and voice, and initially I think you're either drawn in by a writer's voice and style or you aren't. What I'm stressing over here is the entire first chapter, the meat of the set-up, the situation that keeps the reader reading past those first few pages.

What hooks you? Is it action? Do you like to be dropped right into the middle of a situation and hit the ground running? Do you prefer a slower build - where you meet the characters, maybe get a glimpse of who they are and what they think before that big bang? Do you like first chapters full of introspection and descriptions? Or ones where the protagonist is immediately running for her life?

I once had a critique partner - ahem, still have that wonderful CP - who, upon reading the beginning of one of my manuscripts, asked me, "Are you sure this is where your story starts?" I didn't like the question, not because she was necessarily wrong to ask it, but because she made me think long and hard about where the beginning should really be. Since then, I've asked myself that question on every manuscript I've started. And sometimes, like now, I over-ask it.

Regardless of the answer, instinctively I know that as long as I'm still asking myself that same question, it means something I'm doing isn't right. And until I figure it out, I won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

So excuse me while I go think about chapter one . . . again.


Blogger Theresa said...

Do you think it would help if you left the chapter the way it is and just go on? Maybe by the end of the book you'll have a better idea of where you want to start it.

In my first book I originally opened it much later than where I ended up opening it. But I didn't realize until I finished a couple of drafts why the opening was bugging me-- and the contest judges--so much.

It might just be that you need to let it sit and perculate for a while and then when you go back to it, you'll know exactly where it needs to open.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Good suggestion, Theresa. Unfortunately, I think my ocd mind has trouble letting things go. I'm a "revise as you go" type writer. It bugs me to no end to know there are things behind me I need to fix.

Having said that though, I did push through and started working on chpt two, and there I realized my big problem wasn't that chapter one was the issue so much as where I was headed in chapter two. So I took a long hot bath last night and just thought - and I had an epiphany. And then I got out and wrote eight pages before bed. I *think* (hope) I've figured out what I need to to do fix this whole thing. And you know what? I actually like it now!

12:38 PM  
Blogger Paty Jager said...

Some times it isn't what you've written but what you had planned that doesn't work. And a hot bath or something else relaxing can usually trigger it - or some mindless labor intensive thing where your mind is wandering as you to the same monotonous thing over and over again! LOL

Glad you figured out your problem and moved on! Always a good feeling when things click!

2:35 PM  

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