May 24, 2012

Solving the First Chapter

I've been busy writing (and, okay, also baking cookies), and the beginning of the final storyline is going well. For this part of the revision, I'm dealing with a plot that will stay about the same while a great many of the details change.

One of the things I find fun about revision is that when I'm working on the first chapter, I already know what will be important in the rest of the story. During a first draft, I may have some idea of what will come, but I never really understand a story until I've written it. Knowing the whole story means that I can fill the first chapter with references and hints to everything that lies ahead.

In the first chapter, I like to establish all the character traits that will be relevant to the plot. As much as possible, I have the characters talk or think about the issues that will contribute to the major conflicts of the story. I also consider how much the reader needs to know at the start about the backstory. Then I have to figure out how to work this all in while also creating a first chapter that makes the reader interested to read on. It's like solving a puzzle, and it might be my favorite part of writing a novel.

Apparently I like it so much that I wrote a post on exactly this topic when I started the second storyline. So you can go read that, and I'm going to get back to fitting the pieces together.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Mark Athitakis contemplates how fiction is represented by keywords in the Library of Congress catalog and New Yorker tags: "If you studied English in high school, you know this story: 'Lots; Mob Violence; Small Towns; Stoning'. You probably know this one too: 'Adolescence; Bathing Suits; New England; Supermarkets'." (Thanks, The Millions!)

→ Graphic designer Matt Roeser reads books and then designs new jackets for them at New Cover. (Thanks, Books on the Nightstand!)


Christopher Gronlund said...

There was a time I dreaded rewrites. I wanted everything to be a draft, a polish, and done. And...I was able to pull that off. At least until tackling bigger things.

A friend is reading the last novel I finished, and he's chatting about things as he goes along. He's far enough along where I've been able to talk about the story in greater depth, and what happened in earlier drafts. It's a totally different story than earlier drafts.

We've chatted about outlines in the past, and I've come to realize my outline is a first draft these days. As you point out, once you have that, you can go back and connect things and, hopefully, people will be like, "You're a genius at foreshadowing!" and you can wave it off like, "Oh, no...I'm just lucky..." and act all humble. But in reality, you put a lot of effort into those following drafts until it all comes together into -- hopefully -- the novel you wanted to write all along.

Glad you're at that point!

Lisa Eckstein said...

Christopher, I think this is a great description of how gaining an appreciation of major revision is part of growing as a writer. We get it now!

Anna Scott Graham said...

This so relates to my latest project; it's a wonderful feeling to go back to earlier chapters adding nuggets. I really liked this post!

Lisa Eckstein said...

Anna, I'm glad this subject resonated with you. Good luck with your own revision!

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