Monday, January 25, 2010

Ask LiLa: First Chapter-itis

This week we've got a question from crafty Kerri at CK Farm:


Ok here is my question Lisa and Laura. Are you ready? You threatened it out of me, lol!


Topic: First chapter woes


I have done my first chapter over several times and was wondering if this tells me something about my story or am I just obsessing to get that hook, line, and sinker. Any advice to get that first chapter perfected would be nice! I hate to think it would send me into a bag of twizzlers stress eating!


Warmest regards,
Kerri C at CK Farm AKA Kerri C at the funny farm!


Oh Kerri, we have been there, my friend. I can't even tell you how many times we've rewritten the first chapter of Pemberly Brown. In fact, we've rewritten the first chapter of all of our manuscripts approximately a bazillion times.


First chapters are critical because agents, editors and readers decide whether or not to read the entire manuscript within a few paragraphs. No pressure or anything.


But don't panic because we have a full proof system for perfect first chapters:


1. Avoid cliches. Confirm that you aren't opening your manuscript with one of these tired cliches. Sure writers get away with this stuff all the time, but why risk it?


2. Conflict is key. One of the easiest ways to engage your reader is to make sure the central conflict of the manuscript is clearly described within the first chapter. It's really hard to hook your reader without conflict.


3. Start at the beginning. Um, duh. This seems kind of obvious, but make sure your first chapter starts where your story actually begins. Don't start with an infodump or backstory.


4. Get a second opinion. And a third, and a fourth and a fifth, uh yeah, you get the idea. The more people you have read your first chapter, the better. Brave enough to hear the answer to "Are you hooked?" Then enter one of MSFV's Secret Agent contests. This is a great way to get feedback from other talented writers and a literary agent.


5. Take the leap. Eventually you're going to have to take a leap of faith and send out your manuscript. Whether you're sending queries to agents or sending a new manuscript to your editor it can be hard to let go and stop tinkering. But in the words of the immortal Demi Moore in the cinematic masterpiece Indecent Proposal, when you love something you've got to set it free. Well, something like that anyways.


Hope this helps a little bit Kerri. First pages are a bitch!


XOXO,
L&L

40 comments:

Elana Johnson said...

Great advice! Sometimes, I start AFTER the story begins and that way, I don't have a lag in the beginning. Of course, sometimes that changes.

Sometimes? Okay all the time.

But still. It helps me move forward.

Laura Pauling said...

Great advice. First chapters are crazy crazy to get perfect.

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

Yes they are!!! My advice for first chapters is always have the MC doing something that shows who they are as a person

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Excellent post! This is valuable advice for all of us. :-)

Hardygirl said...

I always overwrite my first chapters because I go back and look at them so many times. It's tricky to keep those first few pages fresh.

sf

Natalie said...

I am so with you on this one. I've rewritten my first pages many, many times, and I'm still not sure they are exactly right. But writing isn't supposed to be "exactly" anything, right?

Lori W. said...

Great advice here and in the comments (thanks Frankie). The part about having a conflict is good to remember. I write my first chapters again and again and again!

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Excellent advice! You guys are like the Dear Abby of the writing world now, except, you know, way funnier and cuter.

By the way, left a little award for you at my blog ;) Just for fun.

http://carol-in-print.blogspot.com/2010/01/in-mood.html

Corey Schwartz said...

Okay, never written a chapter, but I have seen friends in CRIT groups spend like a YEAR writing and rewriting their first chapters. I'll be sure to send them this link :)

Marsha Sigman said...

Ok, on number 2...what if you introduce some conflict and set up part of the plot but cannot completely reveal it all until later?

That's ok, don't you think?

Dominique said...

I just edited the first page of my WIP. That thing is bleeding blue ink. First pages are definitely the one of the hardest parts.

Jackee said...

Awesome advice. I would only add to #2: Conflict AND TENSION are key.

And I always have to remind myself rules are meant to be broken... by established writers. I'm new, I should stick to tried and true writing formulas for now.

Thanks for posting this.

Christina Lee said...

Wow-- totally on the same wave length today. Currently obsessing over this. Great advice LiLa..

Patti said...

First chapters are really hard. I've rewritten mine dozens or more times, plus started in all different spots. Hopefully I finally have it right.

Sarah said...

Great advice! First chapters scare me.

Kimberly Franklin said...

Such great advice! I'm having this very problem right now.

Happy Monday!

Simon C. Larter said...

Hey, can I nitpick about #3 there? You don't always have to start at the beginning, y'know. You could start at the end and work back up to it, like, flashback-style. Sure, something should be happening right at the beginning, but the start of the book isn't always the start of the story arc, right?

Okay, nitpicking done. And since I feel a teeny bit guilty for disagreeing with you (what can I say? I'm a pleaser...), here's a little ditty just for fun.

This blog is by Lisa and Laura.
It's quite a nice place, really, for a
Good joke about Spanx,
Or 'bout Twizzlers, Thanks!
I'll be sure and stop by here tomorra.

Mariah Irvin said...

Yay for advice!

I'm a media res person myself. Get to the action!

Crystal said...

Yes, first chapters are definitely CRAZY HARD to get just right, and even then you start to wonder. And I have to second Lisa and Laura on advice #4 MSFV's Secret Agent contest. I've entered at least 3 times, because it's one of the few places where you can get pretty much a totally unbiased opinion on the beginning of your first chapter. If you have a thick skin, I wholeheartedly recommend entering it at least once. The majority of the critters won't know you (& your story is only identified by a number) and will basically give it to you straight about why (or why not) your story hooks them. It's really invaluable in revisions! :)

Stephanie Thornton said...

This is such great advice! I thought I was going crazy- I'm on full edit 6 (or 7), but I must have revised Chapter 1 at least 20 times. Probably more.

But you know what? I'd rather write Chapter 1 than a synopsis any day.

So here's a question for you ladies- what part of the novel writing process do you absolutely loathe? I'm talking the loathing that comes when you'd rather be scrubbing toilets. :)

Erica said...

Great question and answer! I always have trouble with the first chapter! I need to decide when I want the story to start - then maybe I can come up with a beginning - I think I'm close ;o)

Great advice as always ladies :o)

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Great advice Lisa and Laura! Thanks for taking the time to answer my question!

I like your advice on setting it free! Nicely said! But I still might throw myself at a bag of twizzlers just because they are yummy lol!

Back to working on the first chapter....

Brigitte said...

thanks for the much-appreciated advice! A lot of us will need to read this more than once.
*coughmecough*

xoxoxo

Tamika: said...

Thanks for the advice, I'm knee deep in first chapter blues.

I'm checking out the link!a

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Thanks for the advice. I recently read online a couple of opening pages that rocked, and left me looking at my efforts and going waaaa! Anyway, I'm off to one of my crit groups with the first chapter of this new novel they haven't heard. Yikes.

Robin said...

Yes! I'm an obsessive chapter one re-writer. Great advice!!!

Carolyn V. said...

Great advice! I love it. My first chapter has been done over and over so many times that I think it's ready to go. It's the other ones I'm worried about. =)

Tere Kirkland said...

Ugh. First chapters are the worst. I swear sometimes I spend more time rewriting the opening than I spent writing the entire rest of the book.

Sigh.

I usually like to start with an active scene that shows us something important about the mc.

ChristaCarol said...

Well said, ladies!

Cheree said...

Great advice. I think I've reworked my first chapter too many times that now I need to spend more time fixing up the rest of the story

Jemi Fraser said...

The ms I'm currently working on is the first one I've written with the thought of one day trying to publish it. I did a much better job of "finding" the beginning this time. My last one started about 30 pages in :)

storyqueen said...

The last thing I wrote I didn't even start at the beginning, since I have such a hard time changing the beginning once it's written down.

So, I started in the middle. Remains to be seen if I will add a beginning, or if the middle will, in fact, become the beginning.

(And no, I've not had any wine this evening. This is just how my brain works.)

Melissa said...

Fabulous advice! I couldn't agree with you more. And imsn't it funny that you can usually find the flaws in someone else's first chapter, but it's so hard to figure out the problems with your own?

jessjordan said...

First chapters ... ack. I struggle not to edit mine every time I open my Word doc. Spectacular advice, team LiLa. You'd think you girls were writers or something ...

Little Ms J said...

Good advice, chicklets.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

This is great advice! That's exactly what I tried to do this last time when I rewrote my first chapter. The story is so much better now!

Heidi Willis said...

Nicely said!!

Kitty Moore said...

Wonderful advice ladies!

Kitty x

Jeannie Lin said...

Always good tips to remember! I'm getting ready to edit that first chapter -- for the third time. Third time's the charm, right?

Solvang Sherrie said...

Good advice! I just did a Secret Agent thingie at MSFV and was a runner up :)