Friday, July 30, 2010

First Chapter Hokey Pokey

'You put your one sentence in.  You take your one sentence out.  You put another sentence in and you shake it all about.'

K, enough singing.  After lots of thought, daydreaming, scheming and planning-  I finally got down to business and began work on my third writing project.  The outline is finished and I sat down at my computer yesterday, cracked my knuckles, and started typing.

Getting through the first chapter of my manuscript takes me a LONG time. 

 I don’t know these people (my characters) very well yet.  For the moment, they’re functional.  They are there to move my story where it needs to go. 

It’s not until I’m about a third of the way through the book that I find my ‘groove’- I get to know my characters in and out and their words and actions flow freely. 

I’ve got a long way to go, though, before I arrive at that point.  Right now I write a paragraph or two.  I stop and think.  I write a little more.  Stop.  Go back and reread.  Write a little more. 
I struggle to push it forward, through the doubt and lack of ideas until the point where things seem to take on a life of their own.

I’m five pages in and there’s already an important character who just popped up out of nowhere.  No idea who she is.  I look at my outline.  Is she in there? Nope.

This is my first time writing first person AND present tense.  And the story is from a boy’s point of view.  I hadn’t planned on him having a girlfriend right at the beginning.  But here she is just the same, helping me to move my story along and now that I take the time to think about it- she will also add so much more tension and drama to the situations to come.

 I wish I could take credit, but when I’m writing, things come as a complete surprise to me.  Most of the time it doesn’t even feel like they’re my words or ideas.   I know all you other fellow writer skitzos will understand what I’m talking about.

So tell me, how you do get through your first chapter?  Do you stop and analyze every little thing until you've got the perfect platform?  or do you just write whatever comes to mind and figure you’ll straighten it out at editing time?  

36 comments:

Vicki Rocho said...

I don't wanna say the first chapter is easy, cuz it's not. But I usually hold off on writing until I can't take the pressure anymore and it all just bursts forth in one large gush. It's the rest of the chapters that stall for me...I wonder if I can make the dam burst twice?

word verification: krati (karate for bad spellers)

Piedmont Writer said...

I love that Hokey Pokey song! I once stared at a comma for 2 hours. yeah well.

First chapters are sort of easy for me because I know I'll eventually have to take them out. I always begin my story at the beginning but in today's market, that's not where they begin but with the action. (Who knew?)

So I don't care what I write down as long as it's down. I can add and modify as I go along knowing it won't stay there.

Tom M Franklin said...

I made the mistake of thinking my MG stories would be in a collection of stories instead of being queried separately. (I know, delusional... what can I say)

I had a 20 page "introduction" story to explain how the characters met, how weird assumptions were made and to provide a bit of background. Then I realized it needed to be a separate story on its own and needed to be split into two chapters and...

I still stare at the first page
(much less the first paragraph) knowing something just isn't right.

*sigh*

...

salarsenッ said...

You sound a lot like me. I think we have a similar approach. Don't edit now--IMHO. Let this unexpected character take you where you might not have gone without her.

I'm in the process of doing the same thing: outlining my third project. I despise outlining. Any advice in that arena?

Summer said...

I very much go with my gut in all my chapters, not just the first. :) It almost always works out, though. The deep, dark recesses of my brain know what they're doing, I suppose.

Laura Pauling said...

I don't fuss too much on the first draft first chapter because I know it will change numerous times before querying! Or maybe I should say hundreds of times. :)

Jaydee Morgan said...

I used to spend far too much time getting my first chapter just right until I realized it was not worth it. By the time editing comes around, the entire thing changes a lot. Now, I just try to write and worry about fixing it later.

Old Kitty said...

Awwww good for you for allowing your characters to develop and take you along for the ride! I think that's such a brilliant thing to happen because you so know the story is getting made and told when your characters begin to be separate entities! So yay for you!

Oh I start editing the moment I start writing! I can't move on until I'm happy with the preceding paragraph. It makes for very very snail like and almost zen progress for me! LOL!

Good luck with this writing project! Take care
x

LTM said...

I'm so jealous! I can't wait to sit down and get back to my WiPs...

As for your Q--I do a little of both. First I sit down and just start typing typing typing. I don't even make chapter breaks. Then when I've got the initial rush out, I start outlining where I imagine it's going, how it'll end.

But I LOVE surprise characters. That's always a great sign, IMO...

Happy writing! :o)

Meredith said...

I love the surprise characters and plot twists that come when you're writing! For my first chapter, I tend to just focus on getting it written. I often have to scrap all of it later because my protagonist's voice changes or the plot starts at a different place, but it's a great exercise for getting to know my characters and what style I'll use in the novel.

Ellie said...

I love your description of the fits and starts. This seems to be my way of doing any writing, blogging,etc.

I haven't written a full story, I have 3 WIP. I need to go back and rework them. I am doing other projects now, mixed media art. I'm considering sending some submissions in. Writing for me, will be easier, when school starts again and the routine is back. Sorta, kinda....lol!

I love the surprise character popping up and I can relate to the words flowing from my fingertips and not knowing how they arrived there. It seems like some alter being comes out. When I start an idea and see where it may lead,I think of it as painting with words.
When you paint, you may choose another color or decide to make your back ground richer, more details...or start over. It is just like another other creative endeavor, trying to get the idea out. I wish there was a magic formula...maybe there is for some.
Me, I need quiet and I prefer to be alone. Then I like to back away from my project and see what ideas pop up later as I am doing other activities. Walking helps a lot...when torn or you have reached a fork in the road! xXx

Dianne K. Salerni said...

OH, I love those characters that come out of nowhere! I am thinking of one in particular who popped up 2/3 of the way through the manuscript and then became essential. In fact, when I get around to revising that manuscript, I might bring him in earlier.

As for first chapters, I have learned to just plow through them, knowing that I will probably re-write them later. It's possible I might even decide to start the story in a different place.

My current philosophy is: get the draft down. You know it's going to change -- you don't know how many times -- but you can't revise until you have a draft!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

*waves from LA while waiting to go to SCBWI conference* :)

You write exactly like me, though I do complete a detailed characterization of my characters first. But new characters have a habit of popping in, and I skip on their characterizations only to have to go back because they end up being nothing more than pieces of cardboard. :(

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

I'm like you. I fret and fret and fret over it until ... well, just until. I think my writing tactic change all the time, though. It depends on my writing mojo at the time too! I also start off really slow, and don't get my groove until at LEAST 30,000 words. Then I have to go back and apply my revelations!

Dawn said...

So now I'm singing that song...sigh. I LOVE writing the first three chapters of any new project. In fact, I have about 75 "first three chapter" projects in my desk. I'm not a plotter so if I can't get past the first three, it sits. Typically, when I think of a new idea, I NEED the first chapter to get anywhere. I don't need it to be perfect - yet. However, I've also learned that the intended first chapter does always end up as the final first chapter...so best not to fret TOO much over making it flawless.

February Grace said...

Oh, I completely get this! this is why my blog has the tag line it does LOL.

I just power through the beginning-usually I start typing dialog that comes to me and then I 'meet' the characters as I go. One of them is always kind enough to stand up, tap me on the shoulder (or in the case of one or to hit me upside the head with a baseball bat) and say "I'm in control, puny human, you will listen to ME!"

and I do- and it tends to work...I think.

Revision is the nightmare that haunts me...don't ask me how it's going...please just don't ask me...I'm almost ready to dive back in...

Hope you have a great weekend, CQG!!!

bru

Bluestocking said...

I used to start with Chapt 1 and revise countless times before I could move on. But that's really not realistic. So now I tend to push through even though I know I will be changing things up in another pass. There's always a bit of resistance - that's the perfectionist in me - but I find doing the first draft of the novel first than revising everything start to finish is more effective. For me. Best of luck with the WIP!

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

First person, Present tense...me too!
I find I just type when I write the first chapter. I figure I can always go back and edit the rubbish out later. lol.
Although sometimes I write things that really suprise me, take the plot in a different direction and have to hit delete. That's when I edit as I write. :)

Candyland said...

Yeah I'm the same way. It takes me forever to get past the first part because I want to make sure I'm kicking things off "right."

Shannon O'Donnell said...

First chapters are hard. I get through them slowly, because I do exactly what you said - play the hokey pokey! LOL.

Pop over and enter my contest giveaway today. :-)

Melissa said...

Ahh, I totally understand the not being able to take credit thing. I never plotted anything, never created any characters, never built my world. Seriously. It was ALL already there - one day they just started talking to me and....well that was that. Sometimes, like when someone says they think an idea is cool... I cringe because I feel like I can't take credit. It was all my subconscious, my conscious mind has nothing to do with it.

I'm a mix of everything and it doesn't matter where I am in the story. Sometimes it flows like crazy, others - while my characters are brimming with words - I just can't seem to write.

Matthew Rush said...

Well I don't really have that first chapter problem, but only because inspiration only hits me rarely but when it does it hits me hard and I usually have way more then enough ideas about whats going to go on in a story ... hence the 350,000 words or so too many.

Damned if you do and damned if you don't kind of thing I guess.

Today's guest blogger is Rose Cooper!

Carolyn V. said...

I actually love the first chapter. There are so fun, but I have to know where the rest of the story is headed.

Way to go on present tense!!! I finished Hunger Games and was so impressed with the writing (but I accidentally started putting the present tense in my ms and had to take a breather). Good luck with that chapter!

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Susan Fields said...

I just write whatever comes to mind, no matter how bad it is, and worry about fixing it at editing time. Otherwise, I'd probably never get through a first draft. Plus, chances are I'm going to toss that first chapter anyway, like I just did with my current wip. It was painful, but it made the start so much better.

Kathryn said...

I feel your pain. Try writing a scene that's sticking out in your mind and just go from there. Most of the times, my first chapters come late into the writing stage. I find myself piecing together scenes more often than writing in chronological order.

Maybe I should have been a quilter.

Quiltess? Whatever.

Aubrie said...

I keep reading my first chapter over and over again as I write the book. It's in constant flux.

Natalie said...

I love those surprise characters! They make it fun. I rewrite my first chapters about 100 times so I don't worry too much about them during the first round. I'm with you, it takes about 1/3 of the book to really get a feel for who everyone is and how to write them. Then I go back and fix the beginning.

DL Hammons said...

I'd have to say that the first chapter takes the longest for me to write. It's like I'm getting used to the process of creating again...and I'm unsure of my footing. It takes the longest time to trust myself again.

Jeff Hirsch said...

Yeah, with the book i'm working on now I spent a loooong time working on the first chapter. There's alot of value in just motoring on ahead but sometimes I do feel like I need a solid foundation before I can do that. It's like if I don't believe in chapter 1 I can't write chapter 2.

Great that you had that surprise character pop in! So often those ideas that just leap out from your subconscious are the best ones.

VICTORIA SAAVEDRA said...

I day dream about my story all day
(not even kidding),so I feel like I know my characters pretty well.

The first chapter is the easiest for me. The middle is where the trickiness begins.

Jen said...

I write. I come up with an idea and I let it marinate for a period of time, most of them are about a month or two and then I open up the laptop and write.

It feels good to finish, however when it's time to edit it's a whole new ball game, chapters must then be created, typos corrected, it can be a nightmare!

notesfromnadir said...

You have a challenge on your hands. But that's what'll really make your writing stand out. My advice to you is not to rush this book. Get it finished & then really go back & look at it like you're a stranger & this is an anonymous author's work.

Be patient & know that the 1st chapter is going to capture someone's attention if it's compelling. You want to get the reader's attention by setting up the story as if you're letting them in on a secret. Most of us don't mind hearing or reading about secrets, right? So you want to create this intimacy between you & your reader.

Angela M. said...

I just go, go, go, but then editing time rolls around and it's hard, hard, hard to clean up my mess. I normally know my characters pretty well. My problem lies in transitions between major scenes or plot points. Kills me. So that's when I go back and read the WIP from page one and do some minor edits while I mull over the options. Or I blog :)

Got somethin' for you here, a well-deserved award!

Stephanie Thornton said...

I usually end up cutting the first chunk of what I write- I look at it as introduction time for my characters. The part that's the hardest for me to write in my first draft is the middle. And the hardest part in revisions is the ending.

At least they all take their turns!

Nicole L Rivera said...

I like to think of the first draft as a TV set ... one that you have to crank to keep it going. I crank and watch as it plays. My characters drag my fingers across the keys and I watch as they make their lives happen. Then I go back and revise, edit, rip the seams here, stitch them there, until I've got something sustainable in my hands. Then of course the querying commences. Ugh.

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