Sunday, March 8, 2015

Write Your Novel Now! Week 2 Activities: First Chapters & Character-Driven Story

What do we expect from the first few chapters?
A great first line? Establishing the tone of the book and a character that readers care about? Some sort of conflict or trouble?
Do we get hooked into stories the same way each time? Image: Local Studies NSW
Some people think that the central conflict must be apparent of the first page. Others say that may be more about your style, your story, and your genre. Some think hinting at that conflict may be enough in the beginning and simply creating a question in the readers' minds can intrigue them into reading on.

What do you need in the first chapters of a book?
If you look online, you'll find all kinds of things that different people say you need to do in the first chapter of a novel. Just skim these:
     Nailing Your Novel's First Chapter
     10 Things Your Opening Chapter Should Do
     The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel
     The Dos and Don'ts of Writing a Compelling First Chapter

If you took all this advice to heart and tried to keep it in mind, you'd probably never get past a first chapter. Even if you did, it would probably feel wooden.

The question should be more about what you need, as a reader, when you pick up a book and read a first chapter. What makes you read on?

This week, I'm suggesting that we all take advice from the novels we love. Let's just look at those books and what they do.

Then we'll get started on making our protagonist drive the story.

For this week:

1. Complete reading the book you started last week: What keeps you in suspense? What unanswered questions keep you turning pages? Note when you you lose interest or skip portions.

2. Now go back to the beginning of that novel and reread the first chapter.  For each and every scene, write out a separate note card, number it, and take note on the card of the following:
  • Who is in it (Who is the point of view character and who is she is interacting with?)
  • What happens (Just a couple sentences.)
  • Where it happens 
  • Why (What is the purpose of each scene in the overall narrative? What is the author trying to do?)
  • If there’s scene summary but no dramatization, note it on the card. If it’s thinking, or a dream, or description, make note of that too. 
**This is the first step in what is going to be one of the mainstays of the 13 week novel process. It's a modified version of Cathy Day's Reverse Storyboarding

Next, ask How does that chapter fulfill your expectations of a first chapter? 

Then take a look at the first chapters of the other books you identified last week as similar to yours. What do you notice about those first chapters? How do they fulfill what we say is needed in first chapters? There are infinite possibilities here, depending on the books you choose to look at. It depends on genre, general plot ideas, and your personal taste.

3. Take 30 minutes to prepare your brain for the main storyline:
This is a fantastic exercise that can help create a character-driven plot. Just freewrite for 3 minutes to answer each of these questions. So useful.

4. Write 2500 words of your novel. It's just 10 pages.

And write it by March 15th, when Week 3 begins.

Have fun writing!

Coming in a little late? Find out about the 13 week challenge here. And see the first week's activities here.

Subscribe to get posts directly, or check back on March 15th for the next installment. 

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