I’m up at my writing retreat in northern Minnesota this week working hard on the final edits and proofing a book due Friday. (It’s book #5 in my Montana Rescue series. Book #3—A Matter of Trust hits the shelves in a week!)
The first thing I always do in my final pass is make sure the first chapter has done its work. Writing a first chapter is soooo challenging because it must do the work of launching your external plot, creating a connection between your reader and your character, attracting the attention of the reader, igniting the internal plot and wooing the reader with your voice. (and, you must make the reader worry enough about the problem raised in chapter one to turn to chapter two!)
That’s a TON of work for poor chapter one. But if you do it right, you’ll create a book that keeps readers up all night.
Unfortunately, we often write chapter one first—before we really know our character, our plot, and before our voice has had a chance to warm up. That’s why I always go back and rewrite it last, after the book is finished. It might end up very much the same as when I started…or I might scrap it and rewrite it knowing what I know now.
Last week, and for the next two weeks, we’re taking first scenes in our weekly Novel.Academy peptalk. We’re going through a series entitled Extreme Book Makeover, where we learn how to root out problems, and then learn tools to fix them. We then follow up with a couple weeks of feedback on submitted scenes.
What are some symptoms of weak first scenes?
- The scene doesn’t raise interest…there’s no danger or intrigue that arrests our emotional interest or adrenaline)
- The lead character isn’t likable—meaning he/she isn’t heroic or sympathetic
- There is no hint at long term trouble, and therefore, no reason to keep reading (in other words; Stakes)
- We don’t know where we are…lack of storyworld (really, this is important!)
- Too much pipe…Meaning, we are taking WAY too long to get into the scene (this is usually a backstory dump problem).
I find it easier, as I’m editing, and rewriting, to start by asking myself big questions. I’ll dig down into the words later. Here are some of the questions I ask myself:
- Does my first line pique a reader’s interest?
- Do I have a mental picture of the character and what he/she does?
- Would I want to spend time with this person, or at least learn more about them?
- Can I relate to their current problem?
- Do I know where I am? (and when?)
- Do I have enough dialogue for my character to come to life for the reader?
- Am I worried about my character when the scene ends?
Are you working on first scene today? Remember, how well our reader connects with and cares about your character determines the success of a story.
Your story matters. Go! Write something brilliant.
P.S If you’re struggling with how to overhaul your story, you might want to check out our Extreme Book Makeover series in Novel.Academy. Along with overhauling your plot, characters and scenes, we also have classes on how to get that book published (along with over a 100 hours of classes on craft, industry, indie publishing and much much more.) Learn more at Novel.Academy.