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Author Topic: first chapters
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Tweet from Sarah LaPolla, an agent with the Bradford Literary Agency, whom I follow on Twitter:

quote:
Most common questions I'm asking while critiquing 1st chapters: "Why are you beginning the story here? Why do we need *these* details now?"
I've shared this because I think it's a very important question to consider with all story beginnings.

One of the commenters on this tweet suggested that the second chapter often turns out to be a better first chapter.

[ February 10, 2014, 11:44 AM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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babooher
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I've heard something very similar to "the second chapter often turns out to be a better first chapter." A friend of mine said a writing professor of his said many times you could delete the first paragraph or even page of a short story from beginning writers to figure out where the real beginning was.

As I'm finally feeling ready to tackle a novel, I am definitely keeping this in mind. Thanks for the tip.

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Meredith
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Sometimes it's necessary to write that first chapter in order to get to the second. Doesn't mean it shouldn't be cut in the revisions.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
quote:
Most common questions I'm asking while critiquing 1st chapters: "Why are you beginning the story here? Why do we need *these* details now?"
I've shared this because I think it's a very important question to consider with all story beginnings.
"Why begin a story here?" An answer I've heard or repeated in about every in-person writing workshop has been: "365 days in a year, the one that's dramatically different is where a story begins." That dramatic difference for me is one of an appreciable life complication that upsets character emotional equilibrium and through that phenomenon upsets participating readers' emotional equilbrium.

The question of "Why do we need these details now?" for me is one I strive to avoid raising in readers' minds. I think the question presupposes the answer, meaning these details are likely untimely, injudiciously, and artlessly deployed. Maybe the details matter at the moment, or not; developing their significance of the moment so they do matter obviates the question.

Engaging even screening readers in the illusion of reality participation mystique, the reading spell, obviates many shortcomings. I believe the only questions readers should raise are those implied dramatic questions about what will happen to an empathy-worthy character; in other words, arousing readers care and curiousity about a character's life-complicating events.

The first chapter shortcoming or first few pages of a short story, also first serial or series saga installment, is often what my writing mentors label "pump priming," "wool gathering," "warm up," "recipe preparation"; leftover research and development artifacts to my thinking.

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Denevius
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Warm up writing. That's the phrasing I use that I picked up from a professor when I was doing my bachelors. Usually openings, whether for a short story or a novel, are a writers way of working through the narrative in their head. So often times it's too condensed, or filled with too much backstory or world building. Usually I suggest omitting some of it, and moving the rest of it to different places in the story as extended scenes/chapters.

At the same time, perhaps it's subjective. This has come up several times on this site with people preferring, or at least having patience for, or professing to have patience or preference for, a story whose beginning slowly builds, without anything of particular interest happening. I think, as unestablished writers, this is probably an unwise route to take, as readers have less patience for your writing when they don't know anything about you. An author with a couple of noteworthy publications under their belt can take a risk with a slow start that we probably can't, I think.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by Meredith:
Sometimes it's necessary to write that first chapter in order to get to the second. Doesn't mean it shouldn't be cut in the revisions.

Amen!
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Reziac
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"Why do we need *these* details now?"

It's rather like the prologue problem. I've come to a rule of thumb:

Prologues should only exist when after you've finished writing the rest of the story, there remains material that does not belong therein but that the reader still needs to know, or at least is better if they know (for the prologue-skippers out there).

Similarly, perhaps first chapters are best written as a point you back up to in your quest for where the story begins, rather than as a place where you started writing.

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Robert Nowall
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You gotta start somewhere...if you decide you started in the wrong place, you can always find some other place to start when you revise.
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Reziac
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Yeah, that's why I said "back up to". Or maybe go forward to, as the case may be. Rinse and repeat until you arrive.

In my case it's invariably stuff that needs to be added. In my first book, I had to back up about four times to reach the real beginning, and needed one leap forward at the end to reach the proper stopping point. In the second book, just one such backtrack, tho fairly major. In Books 3-4-5, the proper start point came to me right off (tho 5's proper endpoint took two major leaps to get to).

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Owasm
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Since I write adventure fiction, my first chapter typically has the initiating action in it. I can't trim it off, even if I wanted to. If you follow that rule, then your first chapter always belongs. That's also the case for the first 13. If you want to get right into the story, then start with the initiating action. Put the MC in jeopardy or pose a problem that he/she will have to grapple with in the story.
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Robert Nowall
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Didn't cite my own example...probably have, several times, 'round here, but what the heck...I've gone deep into novels three times, including my current one, where I've written more than a dozen chapters that I discarded on further revision. (One of them I never finished, though...I'm afraid that fate awaits for my current one, too.) Some of the material I'd incorporate into later scenes, but most of it wound up back in my files.
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rysalo4ka
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I have a book that had 5 first chapters [Smile]
The latest version is combining 3 chapters (with cutting of course) in one chapter. I struggled with it too, not knowing if it is a good start. I am glad to read the two questions: "Why are you beginning the story here? Why do we need *these* details now?" because i think finally i can stop fixing this chapter and go to the next one...

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