A Scribbled Draft: The Pain-in-the-Fingers That is Chapter One

I started a new project, Sleeping in Cyberspace, and this is the only first draft I’ve attempted to really write in about a year.  I’ve learned so much about my writing style since then, this draft is both trying new things and exploring old things.  Since it’s guaranteed to be a whole new learning experience, I’m going to blog through every step of it.

The other day, I shared my first chapter, and if I’m totally honest, I’m pretty proud of that chapter, for a couple of different reasons.  Mostly, it feels like a stronger beginning than most of my beginnings do, although it probably needs work (it is a first draft after all).

I know from other things I’ve read and some Writing Excuses episodes that one of the biggest things first chapters need to do is, well, introduce the story.  Not just be a beginning (although obviously they do that, too), but let the reader know exactly what kind of story they’re reading.  What genre is the story?  What is the tone?  Is it dark?  Is it humorous?  Is it lighthearted and cheery?

It’s like a promise.  You’re promising the reader what kind of story it’ll be, based on what they read here.  If your first chapter is funny, you’re basically promising the entire story will be funny.

Another thing that first chapters should do is, well, interest the readers and make them read chapter two.

When I was writing the chapter, I knew I was writing sci-fi, and I knew the plot was a heist.  I knew that a big part of the story is the relationship between my three main characters.  I also knew that I was more or less following the three act structure, and like the first part of that is “ordinary world”.  In other words, I have to show the readers what “normal” is for them, because in the next few chapters, I’m going to totally wreck the mundane.  (Even if it’s a heist, I am following some of the Hero’s Journey structure, and so yeah, they do basically get their whole world wrecked.)

So from there, I had to figure out what I wanted to start the story with that would let the reader know all of this, right from the start.  I had the idea that the first chapter needed to be a mini-heist—hence promising more heist later on—and also starting the story off with action, thus fulfilling the “in late, out early” idea.  At the same time, it shows what’s “normal”—Ceveth knows exactly what he’s doing and never once is he uncertain about it—and yet he’s nervous about being caught by his older brother, even as his sister tries to pressure him into being faster, which introduces both the characters and the relationships they have with each other.

Keeping the right tone was fairly easily, although that’s mostly because pretty much every single piece of my writing has a similar tone.  I haven’t figured out how to explore with different tones yet.

There are a couple of things I didn’t introduce here. For example, I don’t know that anybody could guess this was a Sleeping Beauty retelling simply by the chapter alone.  And then, there are a few things, such as Izioth, that I mentioned, but didn’t describe—and other things I didn’t mention at all.  There’s another important character, but she won’t even be introduced until chapter three or four, I think.

Not everything needs to be introduced in chapter one.  Not even the inciting incident necessarily has to happen in chapter one.  (Mine happens probably in chapter four.)  Of course, ‘in late, out early’ might disagree with me, but how “late” a story is started I think depends on the individual story (and probably who’s writing it).  Although it’s certainly possible that maybe further along the lines, I’ll decide I started the story too early and I need to cut the first few chapters, right now, I don’t think I did.  I think this is where the story needed to start.  Because it introduces just enough for the reader to know what the story is about, without info dumping with too much.

I think that’s what a first chapter is all about.  Get me interested, and tell me just enough that I’m not lost and that I’ll keep reading and go to chapter two.  And be aware that chapter one sets up expectations—those are the promises—that have to be fulfilled, or else readers’ll be disappointed.


New Project: The Prewriting

In June of 2014 (or maybe it was July, I don’t really remember), I had decided to start planning my novel for NaNoWriMo ’14, and so I gathered up a plot bunny I’d had a while back, combined it with a different idea, and started developing it.  When NaNo came around, I had semi-developed characters, the vaguest hint of a world, a bit of a beginning, and zero plot.  When November ended, I had 100k of flat characters, broken plot, and non-existent world building.

It was awesome.  Staring 2015, I started editing.  And world building.  And…more world building.  And…oh yeah, I did world building, did I mention that part yet?  Plus some world building.  And then when I thought maybe I’d done enough of world building, I edited some more.

I finished draft two on Halloween.  Then for NaNoWriMo ’15, I wrote assorted scenes for the sequels.  By the time this November ended, I decided I was sick of this world, this story, these characters.

Don’t get me wrong.  I adore them.  I love working with these ones, and even though draft three is going to be a huge, time-consuming process that will probably take almost as long as draft two did (which was ten months, roughly…maybe nine, because I don’t remember if I started in January or February), I am so looking forward to it.

But first, I really would like to explore a different story.  Something totally new, totally different, totally unrelated.

And that’s what I’m doing now!

I mentioned in a previous post that this story is basically sci-fi Sleeping Beauty meets a heist.  It’s going to be awesome.  (It had better be, anyway.)

I discovered recently that I’m actually more of an outliner than a discovery writer, so the first step was to, well, plan.

This is how I planned.


That is my bedroom wall.

The bottom right corner is a timeline.  The story is set in America at 2137AD, so I wanted to figure out some of the important things that happened between now and then.  Like world war three.  It’s not very detailed, and I probably don’t have as much information as I could have, but it works for now.

The other white papers were originally a to-do list for what I needed for world building and stuff.  On the left is world building, and the purple sticky notes taped there are related to world building.  I assigned each sticky note to a particular part of it.  (I tried to write small, and I didn’t get very detailed, so yeah, only one sticky note for each thing.)  In the middle is character related stuffs.  Personality, backstories, and other stuff.  (Strangely enough, I never actually figured out what my characters look like.)  The right ones are just random things I wanted to make sure I figured out.

Below that is my outline.  At the bottom of the white pieces of paper, I noted parts of the Three Act Structure, and then way below that, the salmon-pink pieces of paper are character arc events relating to the three act structure that I recently learned about in this cool post.  In between those, the purple sticky notes are events relating to the plot, while the other colors are each associated with a character, and so the events written on those are related to that particular character.

I don’t know if any of that makes any sense to anybody besides myself, but that’s what I have.  I considered a few months ago trying to get Aeon Timeline because it sounds awesome and it syncs with Scrivener, but then there was just too much to put in when I messed with the trial.  I think I like this, though.  Sticky notes on my wall.

The only downfall is I think I’m going to run out of sticky notes.

That’s basically the extent of my prewriting.  I rambled a bunch at my other writing friends, especially about the worldbuilding, but then as soon as I figured it out, I wrote a condensed, focused version on a sticky note and taped it to the wall.

Also, fun fact: sticky notes don’t seem to stick to the wall very well.  So I had to use my masking tape.

So that’s what I’ve got.  How do the rest of you prefer to keep track of your prewriting and notes?

On Beginnings and Being Late

Sometimes, I really despise beginnings. They’re so hard, and yet, in my four years of writing, I’ve written about a dozen times more beginnings than I even have written middles. I should be an expert by now.

I’ve been trying to edit my beginning for a few weeks ago, and I’ve been so stuck. I edited my prologue, and I’m immensely happy with it. It might be a little confusing, because I did kind of introduce some concepts of my world-building and then not explain it all (but my one beta-reader didn’t say anything about being confused, so maybe not), but then I got to chapter one, and I’m just like… “Aggghhhh!”

I know what happens in the chapter. Or what needs to happen. But everything I read says, “In late, out early.” Well, how late is that supposed to be? If I start the chapter right when the action starts, then that’s all fine and dandy, but I feel like then I have no introduction of the character, and so this plot-twist-like thing that happens in the chapter doesn’t feel real surprising, because the reader doesn’t know who my protagonist is before this reveal. Or maybe I’ve just got the wrong perspective, because I keep thinking of this thing as a plot twist, even though, technically it isn’t, because it’s not twisting the plot, because there is no plot in chapter one, so what this is is actually my inciting incident! It’s what gets the plot going somewhere, at least for this one character.

I considered trying starting it before the plot twist, but I’m afraid that’ll be boring and it might make this chapter too long. Heh. Plus, I have to figure out how to introduce this other character and some more world-building concepts, and it all kind of gets overwhelming.

I think what I’ve decided to actually do is start the chapter after I reveal the plot twist, because then I can still start with action and I can start with my protagonist’s emotion and his feelings about the whole thing (which I feel might be a better, more interesting way of introducing his character).

Still, it’ll be hard to balance, what with me still having to introduce…everything else.  I was told that I’m somewhat decent at giving out information without info0dumping, though, so I’m hoping that that one time I did it right wasn’t a fluke or something, hehe.

Anyway, yeah.  Beginnings are hard to write.  And apparently…rewriting them is not any easier.  We’ll see how editing them goes when I get to draft three (because I really hope I won’t be rewriting it again then).

Day Three!

And, here comes day three, with a brand new beginning.  So far, it’s turning out even better than yesterday.  I’ve already made my goal of 1,130 words, and it’s only ten in the morning.  Saying that, of course, immediately reminds me of a line from Tangled.  Boy.  I really do watch too many movies, I think, and too often.  Oh well.

Anyway.  I think today might be busy like yesterday kinda was, but at least I’ve gotten my writing done first, unlike yesterday, where I didn’t quite make my goal, and most of what was written was done right before bed.

I’ve also changed the URL of my blog….which, now that I think about it, might cause problems.  But the numbers were annoying me, so I got rid of them.  Hmph.

Ready, Set….Go!

Here we are! March 1st, unless you’re Kiwi, in which case…I think it might be the 2nd. Maybe, maybe not. The time zones can still be rather confusing. Anyhow, it’s the first here! So, I’m starting the mini-Nano now!

So, how exactly do you start this off? Step one is…..well, step one is to open up your notebook and grab a pencil, or open up the document and put your hands on the keyboard. Then, step two, start writing!

See? That’s even easier than 1-2-3. Because there’s only two steps, instead of three! ….I’m absolutely hilarious, aren’t I? No, don’t answer that. I’ll probably only hear some very loud eye-rolling and snorts. On that note, how do eye-rolls have sound?

I am getting off topic. There is a bit of a 1-2-3 step to this, but it’s not something that’s necessary. It’s just the way I, Ann, personally go about this.

Now, I’m going to push all of the preparation into one step. Get some water, use the restroom, get everything you need, be it a pencil or your mouse, turn off the internet or at least close the web-browser, grab your iPod, and, lastly, sit down.

There. Now onto step two. This one would seem to be kind of obvious—start writing. But the question is, write what? Do I start at the beginning, and write the book beginning to end? Yes and no. As a general rule, when you’re free-writing, you want to write from beginning to end. But—and this is a big but—you need to write what you have inspiration for.

So, in the very beginnings, I like to write whatever scenes I’ve been thinking about. If I have an idea on how to end the book, then I write that. If I have an idea for a certain character interaction, an introduction of a character, a certain scene, I write that. The thing that gets us through the real NaNoWriMo, and even little mini ones like this one, is the inspiration.

So at the beginning, I write what I’m inspired for. If there’s enough inspiration, then I usually write it fast, and it adds to my word-count—at least for now. Plus, if I get enough of it down, it gives me productive start, and then I feel encouraged. After that, I start at the beginning.

See? Simple as that. Now, get off this blog and go write something! (Whether you’re participating in the mini-Nano or not.)

The Adventure Began… Where?

So, I haven’t posted anything in like…. I’m too lazy to go check how long it’s actually been, so I’m gonna say it’s been something like a week. Or more. Probably more.

Anyways, though, I have a reason to be gone! I’ve been writing! Or, rather, re-writing. I’ve been working on the novel I wrote outside of NaNoWriMo—half of it was written in October, the other half in December. My NaNo novel itself is getting itself ready for a total re-write, probably for NaNo next year.

But what exactly have I been doing? Rewriting my beginning. And since I haven’t posted anything in forever, I thought that would make a nice discussion—what makes a good beginning? Let’s start with figuring out what a beginning is. The dictionary states it as:

    The event consisting of the start of something.

But the thing with stories, is there’s two beginnings. The beginning of the story, and the beginning of the book. What’s the difference? The beginning of the story is, well, kind of self explanatory. It’s where this whole thing starts—something happens, and it sets off a chain of events that is the story.

The beginning of the book on the other hand, is where Chapter One starts off. Some writers start the book right before this event that starts the story, so that we have a chance to get to know the characters and world. Some authors start us off right when this happens. And some authors use the In Late, Out Early method, and start right in the middle or right after, so that we start off with some action.

So, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get back to what makes a good beginning. Let’s try a checklist.

A good beginning…

  • catches the interest in the reader and makes them want to keep reading,
  • represents the story,
  • and makes a promise to the reader.

What do these mean?

A good beginning catches the interest in the reader and makes them want to keep reading. This is kind of self-explanatory. You’ve probably learned all about “hooks” in school, and how important it is to have a good first sentence, first paragraph, first chapter. You’ve probably even picked books up to read them and then put them back onto the shelf because they weren’t interesting enough. So, find something interesting to start it off with. Think—if you found this book in the library, would you want to keep reading after glancing at the first page? If yes, then you’re probably on the right track. If not… try again.

A good beginning represents the story. Now what does this mean? Let me reword this. The beginning needs to set the tone of the story. It hints to the reader what will happen in the story and what kind of story they will be reading. If you’re going to have a bouncy, goofy make-fun story, then your beginning needs to reflect that. If you’re going to have a serious story, the beginning needs to be serious. (Want to know more? Listen to this.)

And, a good beginning needs to make a promise to the readers. There are several ways of going about this, but they all make the reader want to keep reading. The first way is to build on the last point I made. Set a tone and show me characters that are fascinating, that I want to keep reading about.
Another thing is to, well, make a promise. Sometimes you do this through the character—the character vows that she’ll find her brother after he was kidnapped, and I’ll keep reading to see this promise fulfilled—to see her rescue her brother.
A third way is to make the reader ask a question. “How does this work?” “Why did he do that?” “What happened to her?” Make me ask questions that I can only find the answer to by reading. The key to this is that the reader has to ask the question. If you put the question in there, and I, reading this, agree, then it won’t be quite so important. But if I ask it to begin with, then you know for certain I want to know the answer—and I’ll keep reading to do so.

And you know what? You can use these techniques for more than just the beginning of a book. Use it at the beginning of a chapter. The beginning of a scene.

Another thing to keep in mind—a good beginning can improve your ending. If you end the book by fulfilling that promise you made at the beginning, then your ending seems more satisfying. Some authors like to end books in cliffhangers, to make the reader want to read the next book. The thing you have to do here is, don’t leave the promise unfulfilled. Complete it. Keep your word. But give me a new promise, a new question to ask. Then I’m satisfied, but wanting more at the same time.