December 15, 2013 by Ifeoma Dennis
I think this merits a post simply because I’ve written my first chapter about thirty times. Or forty. Or sixty. I’m sure they’d make a YA novel when compiled together, since most of them run between 2K-3k words.
Today, yes today, after re-writing my first chapter AGAIN, something I never thought I’d do again (because hello, it’s my second draft and I’ve rewritten this sucker ten million times already), I decided to post on the breakdown of my chapters and why they weren’t working.
I went through some of my first chapters right from the very beginning (February, 2013). I won’t bore you with all the minute details of every first chapter I’ve written, just the broad view. Since some of them were alliterations of their predecessor.
Usually, it was their first pages that plagued me, but the disease already seeped in to ruin the rest of the chapter since they follow the events on the first page.
Here we go:
1st ever try:
MC is at dinner with other characters, and the supporting character/LI is looking at her. (Oh hey I also found what they looked like just last night and pinned them here). This opening didn’t work for me because it was in first person present and I didn’t feel the POV was working for this novel. I’d written my first novel (December 2012) in first person present.
Same scene but close 3rd POV. Didn’t work because oh, many characters! And the decision they made at the table which was supposed to lead to inciting incident didn’t sit right with me. Took me a few more tries to discover this had to be changed, and a MAJOR plot overhaul needed to happen to make it possible.
Revamped plot. MC is now in a bus and sees something odd. Scraped it, bus openings were cliché. But of course, didn’t realize this until I’d tried different versions of what happens in the bus. Matter of fact, I think it was my first CP, Stephanie that pointed out nothing was happening.
MC is now running, trying to catch up with a friend that was acting odd. Also didn’t realize how cliché this was until I’d written it in different versions. Versions like:
- The bus stops, MC leaves to follow odd-acting friend and find what’s wrong, her other friends call her back.
- Bus is parked, and MC is running after her friend. Her friends don’t even notice she’s gone.
- MC has caught up with her friend and now they’re staring at a mad man across the road. ETC ETC.
MC and odd-acting friend PLUS LI/Supporting character are standing on a deserted street. Mad man goes in and blows up a house. This one had many versions than I can possibly count. SCRAPED it because a baby died and it was my MC connecting to the baby that drove the plot. I wasn’t comfortable with it. I did talk about it here.
Took my three opening-page characters off the street and back to the sitting room. Then they go to the street where a couple dies. Felt a bit slow.
Opens straight in the street where the couple shoot themselves, instead of starting in the sitting room. Tried to have this one work but again, Stephanie said she wasn’t connecting with the emotions inspiring the inciting incident.
Reworked street scene to try to show more emotions on the part of MC. Yael said it was too info-dumpey. I agreed. So I dumped the whole scene instead.
Finished first draft. Let it sit for a while, then a major plot overhaul happened. Like MAJOR. Moved the inciting incident totally from the first universe to the second universe. This time around, it started with a prologue. Or a sort of prologue. MY MC’s mom was seeing her off. Cat liked it, but I had a problem with it being a prologue. Also, it felt like her mom was piling up the rules for her (and hence, the reader).
Started more in media res, this time my characters are playing a sort of game in the sitting room. Cat loved this so much even more than the 9th, and Yael did too (but she had issues with the particular game they were playing). So I scraped it after I realized working on it only made it get worse.
11th major try:
MC and friends are in the forest. I didn’t realize how common this opening was. Scraped again. Showed no one.
MC and friends moved back to the terrace where something odd happens. Scraped it TODAY after holding on to it since the start of Nano. There are just too many characters (five!) and I felt I was trying to load too much information on the reader just so they could get the stakes. Spike read this, said it wasn’t info-dumpey but said I had a problem with REPETITION.
Worked on that, but after the muse for tying up plot ends struck me last week, I realized the reason for having five characters in the scene was no longer necessary. I’d try to intersperse them within the first three chapters, and hopefully the message would come across.
13th try (today):
MC and original odd-acting friend are out when something happens. I know. This might change again. We’ll see how this works. Keep your fingers crossed for me. Like seriously.
How many times have you written your first chapter? Why weren’t they working for you? Did you struggle with clichés?