Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Chapter One

by Annette Dashofy

Pat’s blog yesterday was the perfect prelude to what I planned to write about today. Which is this:

I hate first chapters.

Except I don’t mean READING them. I mean WRITING them.

This spring I finally completed the first draft of the manuscript I’d been working on for almost three years. What a joy to type those sweet two little words THE END. Then I worked on drafts two and three until it was ready to be sent out into the cold, cruel publishing world. Or as ready as I could make it. (Who am I kidding? I’m still making notes about things I want to change before my next round of queries.)

If THE END are my two favorite words to write, I have to confess my least favorite two words are CHAPTER ONE.

This week I started my next novel. I love the idea I have in my head for how the story begins. But somehow it hasn’t translated to the page. Pat pointed out the importance of those first five lines. I already knew that, but having her stress them as I’m facing the stark white computer screen was perfect timing. Or not.

Which brings me to the only reason I can deal at all with the dreaded first chapter…namely the shitty first draft. Thank you, Anne Lamont, for giving me that term as well as the permission to write crap.

Because that is exactly what I think of my first chapter so far. To be honest, I rather like my first sentence. But it falls apart after that. I reread what I’ve written and gnash my teeth. Then Anne Lamont comes to mind, and I keep going.

Yesterday I eked out four measly pages. Today, I’ll probably delete about half of it. With any luck I’ll end up with something resembling a complete chapter by Friday when my critique group meets. Then I’ll probably delete most of it again.

I should mention writing Chapters Two and Three isn’t much better. Usually by the fourth chapter, I get into a groove and the story starts to take over. Unfortunately, I have to scratch and claw my way through those opening lines and pages and chapters to get there.

So I want to thank Pat (and everyone who commented, confirming the importance of the first few lines). No stress.

What I’d like to know is does everyone struggle to get started? Or do you blow out of the gates in full stride? Are middles harder for you to write? Or do you dread the big conclusion?


Martha Reed said...

Hi, Annette. Love Anne Lamott! My copy of Bird by Bird is held together with scotch tape I've read it so often!

I don't stress out over openings because I've trimmed too many of them. I try to just get the story down and then go back and edit - and that's usually when I found out where the story actually starts. Once I get that far, I usually know the tone or voice and I can go back to the beginning and noodle around with my opening then.

Good luck with the new work! Write on.

Ramona said...

Annette, it's always good to love your first sentence. But I agree with Martha--I've trash so many of my early version of stories, I no longer get too attached. Lots of times, you don't discover the real beginning until chapter 3, so this might be warm-up.

Four pages a day is good is a good start. Good luck!

Laurissa said...

Good luck Annette with your new WIP!

I also loved Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird!

Annette said...

Thanks for reminding me about not stressing or getting attached. It has occurred to me that I'm still in "edit mode" with the last manuscript, and I haven't truly switched off that part of my brain.

First drafts are definitely different creatures than second or third (or fifteenth) drafts.

Jenna said...

Oh God. I LOVE Chapter 1. LOVE. IT. That's when I'm all excited about the new idea and can't wait to get going on the story. I shoot out of the starting gate like a thoroughbred. My problems start on page 100. Sometimes 90, sometimes 112. That's when the brilliant idea is down on paper, and I'm looking at the saggy middle, with no idea where to take things.

It always works out, though, and it will for you too. Write the shitty first draft and fix it. If there's nothing on the page, there's nothing to fix, so you're better off having something. Writing is rewriting.

Gina said...

By the time I start writing chapter one, I've usually been thinking about the story for awhile, throwing it around in my mind, so I hit the ground running. There's always time later to go back and try to make it perfect.

Joyce Tremel said...

Like Jennie, I run into trouble in the middle of the book. The first 100 pages go quickly. The middle is sheer torture. The last 100 are the most fun for me.

Of course, when I go back and read the first chapter, I usually hate it. But that's what rewrites are for.

Annette said...

I don't have much trouble with the middle. Or maybe I've just blocked it out and will remember when I get there, "Oh, yeah. I don't like the middle much either."

Usually, though, I have a plot point already in mind for the mid point, and that twist tends to keep me focused and interested in what I'm doing.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Funny how we're all different. I love beginings. Starting something new is easy, I find writing the ending the most difficult.

For me it's much easier writing a a good begining than writing that really satisfying ending.

Someone said, The first sentence sells that book, the last sentence sells the next one.

Patg said...

I'm sure I've said this several times, but it doesn't go down on paper until I have an interesting opening AND something of an ending.
A few pages for each, but have to have that ending to aim for. Then when I see what I have, I try to set up some scenes. Even though I hate doing it, I am always adding to the first chapter. Sentence or paragraph after sentence and paragraph because I'm sure it needs to be there. I never take anything out until I'm finished with the first draft. That's why the first draft has 100 pages in chapter one and 5 to 10 for the other 52 chapters.