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Author Topic: Rewriting the first chapter.
Member # 8547

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So here's an idea I had that I've been fleshing out when it comes to optimizing my books and presenting good, engaging hooks.

First off, one of the benefits of the first chapter of your story is that it's usually the very first thing you put down for the book. You get all the excitement of the new world you're creating, and you can present it as if you're stepping into it right alongside your reader, because in many ways you are.

That said, your early writing for a book can potentially have a lot of weaknesses. Unless you really think ahead and plan everything compulsively usually you're not going to know everything that's going to happen in the book when you right the first chapter. Your world is still going to be nebulous and unformed, your characters are still strangers, and you'll constantly be adding details as you write.

On top of all this you're (hopefully) going to be improving as a writer the entire time you're working on the book. You'll also be building momentum in a way, because the deeper you immerse yourself in your writing the more you're going to think up awesome scenes and scenarios to put in the story. Then there's the natural momentum that builds up with a good story, carrying the reader to the climax.

So with all of this a lot of the time you're going to see the quality of the book improve the farther you get into it. This is a bit of a problem in a way, because your readers are going to be judging the story based on the first 10 pages, or even the first line. No matter how awesome the writing and story is as it progresses, it doesn't do much good if the reader doesn't stick around for it.

So a technique I'm going to try out is to read through the entire story so it's firmly planted in my head, then go back and rewrite the first chapter. Even if I use the same scene and plot, I think it will vastly improve the quality, making the action more streamlined and the details more solid. Ideally I'll be able to preserve the enthusiasm and excitement of a new world, while showing it and the characters better.

Any thoughts on this? I'm sure other writers have had a similar idea, but I think it could be a good one.

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Member # 8019

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I revise multiple times after finishing a rough draft. Revision time for me averages four times as much as draft writing. First, though, I make a blunt assessment of the draft, determine most of all what's missing, and what is awkward or clumsy or difficult to access. If the narrative concept is clear, though, that's a straightfoward process. More often than not, the concept isn't clear though, to me, and hence nor will it be to readers.

By concept I mean what the story is about, not simply this or that action but a transformative aspect of the human condition. Some would label the concept theme or, as Ayn Rand labels it, theme-conflict. An example of a theme is an individual and nature or, as its thrown out offhandedly, man against nature. Conflict as Rand means is a struggle a theme correlates with, e.g., mortality, the dramatic conflict being life or death stakes and outcomes. I drill deeper than theme-conflict, add dramatic complication: antagonizing want and problem events wanting satsifaction; and what a narrative intendes to express about a human condition.

As Grumpy old guy has noted in other posts, from Lajos Egri, this is the argument a narrative sets out to prove, including a major premise, a minor premise, and the intended proof, syllogism argumentation. Major premise, minor premise; therefore, proof. For example, major premise, a family's traditions exchange throughout the group, minor premise, maturation preparation rituals pass throughout the group; therefore, proof, a family prepares a child for maturation. Not an overly dramatic syllogism, but add in theme, a family bond is the natal one and a reflection of larger-world social bonds, growth and initiation, though aspects of childhood are retained by all of us. Conflict, at least social acceptance or rejection in life within and outside the family. Complication, want for the privileges and rights of adulthood, complicated by immaturity problems and equally important though overlooked duties, responsibilities, and obligations to society.

The story is about a brash brat punk who believes he's invincible and a strutting peacock of the walk. Older male family members remind the boy of his duties to respect his elders and others and act responsibly: men's business. I'm still shy of the crystalizing quality that would carry the narrative over the fray and make it epic, larger than life drama. Though I have strategies for working that out.

More than rewriting the first chapter, rewriting, revising, reworking back and forth multiple times. Though I do need less revision as I learn ever more and writing to strong dramatic effect becomes second nature.

[ July 22, 2014, 10:25 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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natej11, been there, tried it, and ended up in a worse mess than when I started. Not saying this will happen to you, but it didn't work for me.

I have decided to try and alter the manner in which I create stories. I begin with my idea and quickly rough out a plot/storyline with supplementary character notes. I then get to work creating the milieu within which the story will live and this exercise in itself throws up a lot of plot and character ideas. Once I have my milieu pretty well nailed down, I start to develop each of my characters and their wants and desires. It's important to develop milieu before character because personality is hugely impacted on by environment and social pressures. It is only then, when I have the story narrative, the milieu and the characters sketched out that I then consider where to actually start the story. I then 'storyboard' the narrative by reducing it to rough sketches of individual scenes and keep asking myself what is the purpose of this scene, what's it trying to do and how does it move the story forward? I then sit and start writing until I stop.

First Draft.

Once that's written, I then put it aside and start working on other projects. After an indeterminate time I return to the draft and start to consider exactly the premise I'm trying to prove as well as each individual character's own premise that shapes their actions and decisions. Re-think: Have I started the story in the right place? What motives need to be heightened, modified, deleted? I tweak and massage and cajole and bend and twist and, when I'm happy with all of the added complexity and nuance, I sit down and write afresh, again until I stop.

Am I happy with the result? This is a question I'll agonise over in the dark hours before the dawn and I'll be tweaking, re-writing, deleting and adding scenes until I'm happy.

Then I'll start the editing process.

Now you can see why I get Grumpy occasionally.

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Member # 9345

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With me it's as often the last chapter written, or perhaps somewhere in mid-write, because I tend to start the story with some random scene(s) from the middle and work my way fore and aft, leapfrogging unseen scenes to reach those I've already discovered. Eventually I backtrack to the initial scene, and when there is nothing necessary before it, then I know that's where the story starts.

With the first book in my neverending Epic, I backtracked half a dozen times before I reached the beginning. "But wait! there's more!!"

Now that I think about it, of eight books (3 more or less done, 5 in progress), only one did I start writing at the beginning, and it was done as a sort of stream-of-disaster, with the first 10,000 words written in linear order in just 3 days -- not my usual way of working at all. And even then I later realised that I needed a few lines before it as their own scene, to link it back to where it really starts, in a previous book. (Its next part I wrote was the end. Then the middle fifth. The 2nd and 4th fifths remain to be written.)

The truth is I think like a rat's nest.

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