Monday, June 7, 2010

The First Chapter

Did I ever explain the origins of my current work in progress?  I didn't?  Oh, you mean you weren't paying attention?  Or you forgot?  So be it.  Pull up a chair.

Some years back I wrote a story about a kid who lives on a pirate ship.  It was a grand adventure set in a world already familiar to our characters, who'd been running around on the high seas for a few years already.  As my first attempt at novel writing, it came in around 100,000 words.  A bit on the high side for middle grade, but what did I know?  I'd written the greatest story ever told.  It had only one weakness.  I didn't like the beginning.  So I went back and tried to re-write it.  It didn't work.  I tried again.  No luck.  I must have tried five or six or a dozen new chapter ones, only to toss them all in the trash.

Then, I wrote one I liked.  It explained the origins of our hero, and how he came to live on a pirate ship.  And then I screwed the whole thing up by jumping ahead a bunch of years to chapter 2 of the already completed story.  That didn't feel right either.  After all, a whole heckuva bunch of stuff happened in those intervening years.  Why not tell those stories?  The whole story.  So, my already written, way too long novel, was set aside while I  wrote the origin story.  Guess what happened?  I became a much better writer along the way, and wrote, what I believe to be a much better story.  After meeting a few other writers and some agents at a conference in January, I decided it needed a re-write.  It was still too long so I set a goal of cutting it down to less than 60,000 words.

Goal accomplished.  It is now complete at a tightly written, 59,909 words.  I will soon send it to beta readers and then off to queryland.

There's just one problem.

I still don't like the first chapter.  Bits of it I like, but I need to rearrange it.  And cut a little more.  You can never cut enough.

Does anyone else suffer extreme disappointment at their opening chapters?  Tell me I'm not alone.


Ted Cross said...

Well, I like my chapters, but I keep tweaking them anyhow just because I keep imagining what agents might think is wrong with them. For instance, today I combined what was an early chapter with a later chapter. I did it so that I wouldn't be introducing too many characters all at once, which my imagination told me was a problem for agents. Heh, I'm probably just messing things up and should have left better off alone.

Kara said...

I still hate my first chapter. I think there's too much pressure for it to be "perfect"- you can't have too much backstory, you need to hook the reader, blah blah blah. I stopped agonizing over mine because all of the feedback I've gotten on it has been conflicted. You can't please everyone when it comes to opening pages.

A.M. said...

To me, it's sort of a complex balance between starting with action and providing enough details to keep the reader from becoming confused. I say, just keep writing and see what happens. Ideas may come to you and you could potentially do some foreshadowing.

KLM said...

I lost count of the number of times I rewrote my opening 3 chapters, but when I finally hit the nail on the head -- or thought I did -- I could tell. Maybe it's not that you don't LIKE it, maybe there's something you sense is still not quite working. Better to think of it that way and believe you'll nail it down eventually. Otherwise you just beat up on yourself.

Of course, there will come a point when you'll have to accept that you can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Good luck with the beta reading! I hope you get some useful feedback.

Southpaw said...

I loved my first chapter, but it turned out it wasn’t the right starting point so I had to rewrite it.

Erica Chapman said...

Totally, I've rewritten mine at least 6-7 times. It's so hard, cause it's the first thing the reader reads. You want it to be sooo good, so there's so much pressure.

Don't worry, I bet it's great ;o)

Matt said...

Thanks everybody. I printed out chapters 1&2 and have them with me on the road for a few days, along with my red pen. We'll see if anything comes of it.

Travener said...

Yes yes yes yes and yes. I have written that mofo so many times that...well, I got no clever metaphor, but suffice to say i'll never be satsified with it.

Natalie said...

I had so much trouble with my first chapters in the first 2 books I wrote. I rewrote the first chapter of my MG novel (the one that eventually got me my agent) about 100 times. No joke. And I still don't LOVE it. But it's been weird because for the last 2 projects I've worked on the first chapters have come easily. It's the endings that have been a pain. So, you never know.

Margo Berendsen said...

Oh yeah I know what you mean. Re wrote it seriously twenty times. Well, I lost count actually. I still hate it.

My most recent attempt: switched the second chapter (which I love) to the first chapter. (it worked because I have two point of view characters I switch back and forth from through the whole book)

Only problem is, I still HATE my second chapter.

But it's progress :)