Does my first chapter pop?

Posted: September 26, 2011 in process, thoughts
Tags: , , , ,

There are numerous websites (and books, of course) telling us how to make sure the opening chapter of our book shines/jumps out/pops/enthralls/grabs, and all the rest of it. And naturally, I wouldn’t want mine to fail.

I went away at the weekend and achieved my 3,000 words, although they consisted of 1,500 written twice: once in third person and again in first person. The latter is not an exact translation of the former but contains most of the same material. So I now have two versions. And I’ll deal with that later. And only half a chapter. I’ll deal with that later, too!

The most important thing for now is to measure the success of the 1,500 words as a beginning for YA readers. Otherwise, it’s pointless going on. Readers won’t dally over a poor beginning.

Darcy Pattison, on his website, lists some main points (I don’t know Darcy but I picked his webste at random to help me think) and this is the gist of his main points – do go look:

1 Grab the reader – in my story, this is probably mood and action combined. My lead female clearly has too much to deal with and is unable to make decisions for reasons that become clear pretty soon. Hopefully the reader will align with this character’s frustration at and reaction to this state of affairs in the first paragraph.

2 When and where – ah, well. When is current and she’s in Year 11, though the date isn’t too clear (but it’s clearly modern), and where is her bedroom, which she marches out of to do something important at that minute, also upstairs, having managed finally to make one small decision.

3 Intriguing character – plus make sure there’s lots of stuff the reader now knows about them. Right, let’s count… okay, 17 facts so far in the half-chapter. Is that too many things? Or does it allow the reader to get involved in 1,500 words?

4 Something to solve or worry about – yes: the reason why her brother is not there is not explained yet, but it clearly affects her. And why she pushes the thoughts of another girl away is also left hanging at this point. This will work so long as my reader is interested enough to worry!

5 Start with a scene – if that means with an event, a conflict, and not achieving the goal, I guess this is where she does what she does to try and rescue her “real” self from the mess she is in mentally and physically, and it doesn’t succeed, only makes matters worse. Not sure if this is strong enough yet.

6 No back story – oops, I have allowed her to remember an event earlier with her brother, but it’s shown as an event with enough interest and relevance that I think it will be okay. But I do take note on this point. I certainly haven’t told any backstory. Maybe that’s why I’m writing in the first person on the second try, because this way her thoughts are in her voice, alive and vivid. (No explaining, because that would be her explaining what she already knows, which even I can see is ridiculous!)

Well, thank you, Darcy Pattison, that’s really helpful and fuels my next move.

And when I’ve had a rethink, I’ll pop off to the the inimicable Nicola Morgan’s blog and study this post hard. Because, actually, she says it all really well. And then I’ll just get on with it. Right to the end. Before I have another fit of doubts.


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