Tag Archives: first chapters

It’s been too long

I got to the writing cabin relatively early this morning. Lisa Burton met me at the door. She wore a tight knee-length khaki dress and a matching envelope cap.

“What’s with the outfit,” I asked.

“Veteran’s Day is next on the calendar. Things are still kind of boring out there, so I try to celebrate everything at home. You haven’t been out here in a while. What’s the occasion?”

“Nothing special. Just trying to keep the boredom away. I’ve been doing some storyboarding and looking for graphics. I have a lot of cool poster ideas for you as I write the next few books.”

“I’d love to go over your ideas. Maybe I can get some outfits ordered.”

I headed toward my office and turned on the lights. Lisa had placed sheets over everything, so I pulled them away and piled them in the corner. “Problem is that all the cool ideas are several books away from the ones I’m writing next. Things will have to come to me as I write those.”

“I’m sure you’ll come up with something. Maybe I can help.”

I walked down the hall to the paranormal office and threw the switch. A spark and hum revealed the same slip covers over all the furniture.

I thought as I pulled them all back. “I might be able to use that garrison cap in a story. Hang on to it.”

“For the hat?” she asked.

“Yeah, why not. I have a mission in a future story that will require him to be flat. Lizzie might come up with a performance outfit using it, too.”

“That seems worthy. I’ll keep it within easy reach. What are you working on today?”

“Nothing in particular, but I’m getting close.”

Lisa pushed me back to the main office and my desk chair. She moved the iPad in front of me. “I’ll get you some coffee. Maybe just relax and enjoy a fresh cup. See where it takes you.”

I sipped my coffee, then opened a new folder, created a blank document. A little copy and paste, and I’d created a title page and copyright data. I wrote one sentence, then another.

I knew in broad strokes what has to happen, but didn’t really plan a way to execute that. I worked on some dialog and it led toward the planned event. Might as well execute the plan and see what happens.

I dabbled, and backspaced my way along, not really expecting much. When I glanced down at the bottom of my document I’d written 3000 words. My jaw fell open.

Lisa had her own cup of coffee. She held it toward me. “Take all you can…”

I clinked her cup. “Give nothing back.”

Lisa snapped an open palm salute. “I I I I.”


Filed under Muse, Writing

Trying to get something done

I’ve had a lot of time to myself, but not a ton of motivation. That isn’t quite right either, I desired to work on some writing related projects, I just didn’t feel like it. Today seemed like a day to accomplish a bit more.

My daughter happened to be home again today. This means she talks my ear off. I’m pretty patient about such things, because I know there will come a time when she has better things to do. For the last three days, I’ve learned how to load a pit on an airplane, how bags get broken by falling off the conveyor belt, how some people try to sneak pets on the plane without paying for them, etc. Today I learned all about the color wheel and how to apply eye makeup. At some point my ears started to get tired.

After my makeup tutorial, I told her I needed some quiet time to get some things done. She decided today was a good time to run some errands downtown. It feels kind of mean, but she is an adult and I need my time too.

My partner and I went to work on projects.

I opened my art program and did what I could to decorate for Christmas on my blog. Could be better, could be worse. It was time to retire the time machines and move ahead. It may seem like a tiny effort, but I’m counting updating the site as an accomplishment.

My app added some cool new brushes to the mix. Now it does things like add falling snow with one swipe. There is even one for a corrugated tin wall. Don’t know how I’ll use those just yet, but they’re cool.

I finished up a small guest post I committed to and sent it off. Nothing like waiting until the last minute, but it’s all delivered.

I lengthened my manuscript out to the end of a short chapter one. Two thirds of my characters are on the page, they have a problem, and a dream for the future. What they don’t have is personality. The damned thing reads like deadpan facts. I need to work on it, and have a few physical hand brushes and such that can add something to their relationship. Rather than just grabbing a quick bite before they head for the shelter they could feed each other. Little flourishes, but I’ll work on it.

Chapter one ends with a scream, and chapter two will introduce my antagonist. (There are only three characters in the story, plus a few news reports and such.)

I’m going to claim daily blog updates as an accomplishment too.

I fiddled around with Pinterest, which is a great time waster. One of my folders is called Loose Collections, and it’s getting too big. There are some things I can break into their own folders, and should do that. I have a lot of classic cars, some pinup art, that kind of thing. I also need to revisit the board for Estivation. I’m writing it now, so there some inspiration and a few reminders are stored there. Moving things around is kind of a pain from what I can tell. First I have to make the new board, then re-pin everything I want in it, then delete the pin from Loose Collections. They really need a way to mass select and move the pins.

On the spinal front, I managed a tiny pop yesterday, and it felt a bit better. The pain has virtually gone from my left leg. I started waddling up and down the sidewalk out front. Just short stretches, multiple times. I feel like I need to move around.

Yesterday I was limping on two legs, today it’s just one. I didn’t feel like I was getting a full stride, if that makes any sense. I leaned against a post, and just swung my leg. It may have looked like a kick, but it was more of a dead-weight type thing. My back popped again. I felt even better.

Everything is improving at the speed of a glacier, but it is improving. I’m determined to go into the office tomorrow. It all depends on how hard it is to get out of bed, and get socks on my feet. I’ve been sleeping in a chair, and I’m trying the bed again tonight.

I already told my boss I would try. I also told her I might not last all day. That all depends upon how my desk chair treats me. It’s pretty hard, but it’s uber adjustable too. She has no problem with me staying home, but I’m dedicated.


Filed under Uncategorized, Writing

Whiny Baby and First Chapters

Oh my God. Critique group was brutal tonight. This was the first time anyone has seen part of Will ‘O the Wisp. I learned some things, and most of it is easily corrected. My first chapters are always like that, and I should be used to it by now.

I may have made a research error, and that bothers me. I do a ton of research, and never mess up like that. I’ll be on it later with my favorite researcher, George Dickel.

The crowd was split pretty evenly. The two who write stuff similar to mine, liked it. The other two didn’t. In fact one of them really didn’t like it and had nothing nice to say about it.

I can live with that, I just wished there were more suggestions to improve it. The best writer we have was on the didn’t like it side, and I know it needs improvement.

The two who liked it weren’t overly jazzed about it. This creates a consensus of sorts. I’ll talk about that down the page a bit.

Like I said, first chapters are a bitch. Here are the goals I always try to meet in the first chapter:

  • There is a person.
  • The person is in a place.
  • The person has a problem. (Or two, or three.)
Let’s start with the person. This has to be much more than a name and physical description. It has to involve what kind of friends she has. Patty is part of the outcast group. What is her career? Patty is going to high school. What hopes and dreams does she have? Patty is infatuated with the space program. The person has to have a personality. Patty is dealing with a lot of problems, but she’s got some spunk even if she mopes a bit.

There has to be a place. Patty lives in Virginia, but this isn’t enough. It’s 1974, and this tone has to be set early. (Readers will be confused if this doesn’t come in fast.) She’s just outside a small town, and is a farmer’s step daughter. It’s early Fall, her home is surrounded by fields, and backs up to the forest. This is a first chapter, and place gets fleshed out much more as the story goes on. To do this, Patty has to move around. This can’t all come at once.
There are problems. Patty has to wear corrective leg braces. High school is a cruel place without this problem, her problems are bigger. Her father’s dead, but her mother remarried. She fights with her mom. She has a huge assignment to do, and there’s a ton of pressure here. Then she’s a witness to an event that seriously hurts someone. In later chapters it will get much more personal.
All of this gets on the page pretty quickly. Here’s where it doesn’t work:
  • She’s too whiny for my critique group.
  • My descriptions may tell more than show.
  • The first paragraph doesn’t grab the reader.
Patty has to be a little bit whiny. She’s a teenage girl, for crying out loud. This will also be part of her character growth. The question is how much is too much. From a marketing standpoint, readers have to care enough about her to turn the page. She’s also a pretty good manipulator. I think the first chapter needs work here.
I will always struggle with showing vs. telling. I’m on record in an old blog for saying it’s a pretty bad name for a pretty important topic. I don’t know how to introduce a sign, other than to have a character read it. I can’t figure out how to detect a smell, other than having a character smell it. I need to work on this, but I’m open to suggestions. Seriously, I’m open to suggestions. I’ve cut out all the instances of “he saw”, “she heard”, and such. Now it just happens in character view. When the kids get on the bus, it’s nothing new for them. Readers are seeing the small town for the first time. I feel the need to show them a bit of it.
The first paragraph doesn’t grab the reader. I agree. In fact the important part drops in paragraph 3. They’re short paragraphs, but it needs some work. I need to get Patty, in a place pretty quick or it’s just a white page. I did this, but it still doesn’t grab a reader. I have a few ideas here. I’m pretty sure I can do better. One of her problems has to come sooner.
Critique groups seem to work this way. There is a concensus on some of the problems. These must be taken seriously. There’s a split on some problems. These also must be taken seriously, it usually indicates I’m on the right track, but could present the issue better. Then there are issues that only one person brings up. Pay attention to these, but many times they don’t have to be addressed. Consider who pointed the issue out, and what others thought here.
I also like to get my genre out there fast. This is a paranormal piece, and that element comes in at the end of chapter one. I want readers to meet Patty, her friends, and her situation before this can happen. Other genres, it can go on the first page. Dwarves can get the genre established in the first few words. Robots are the same way. Paranormal comes more at a simmer.
I’m going to make this work. I’m too invested already not to. It’s part of being a writer.
What problems do the other writers have with first chapters? I’d also like your hints on showing vs. telling. Maybe I need to find that blogger who does First Page Friday.


Filed under Writing

Novel Beginnings

Every reader is different. I can only speak for myself, but I like to get to know a character before I invest 100,000 words with him or her. Buy me a drink before you try taking me to bed.

Today, there is a tendency to begin with action. The problem I have is not knowing who to cheer for. When someone is being chased by exploding pitbulls (EPB), I might want to see what happens if they catch her. I don’t know her, and maybe EPBs are cool.

Once upon a time, beginnings were longer. If you don’t believe me, go back and reread The Hobbit, or Lord of the Rings. It takes forever to leave the Shire.

I try to write with a happy medium. I want readers to learn a bit about my character before I start torturing him. I’m not going to drag it out for several chapters though.

I don’t think it’s necessary to explain all the physical features, and traits a character has. If I’m detailing physical features, they ought to go in PDQ. The traits can trickle in later.

It really isn’t necessary to detail physical features. Readers will form an image as they read. It’s alright to give a few helping hints, but detail isn’t needed. I really don’t want to bog down a story opening with paragraphs of curly red hair. I’ll only do this if the curly red hair is important to the story.

Whatever you do, don’t detail physical features after a reader is already into the story. Their image of a thin brunette gets marred by my description of a chubby redhead three chapters in. It pulls the reader out of the story.

Traits are easier, and I like a little bit up front. “Excuse me, you dropped this dollar.” I can afford six words to let readers know this is a good person. This works for evil characters too. “He’s not an EPB, he’s a service dog.”

I’d love to see some thoughts from readers. What kind of introduction do you like?

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Filed under Uncategorized, Writing