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Monday, 23 July 2012

If It Ain't Working - Fix It!

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Sometimes we want to pull our hair out when the story we've slaved over with such enthusiasm stalls and stops working. That's where I'm at today. I'm stuck! I've read the first draft of my novel back several times, and realise its not doing what I want it to do.

Its the first chapter. If I'm honest, I've known all along, but while I was in the zone I ignored it, in favour of ploughing through to the end. I wrote the novel in just one month, and it is rough, I refer to it as getting the story out on the page.

I believe first draft should be renamed 'rough draft' and second draft is really the beginning of a long and labour intensive journey, to producing a readable manuscript, which I hope would be good enough then, that someone would want to read it, and perhaps publish it.

Its been drilled into me how important first chapters are, and to make matters worse, I'm mad with myself. Angry I suppose. Why anger? Frustration - I can't find a way forward, and its blocking me from  continuing with the second draft. I've tried skipping it, and continuing with the following chapters, and its not working.  Its nagging away at me, festering, and I've even considered dumping the whole project! Madness I know, but I'm being truthful.

Help! Throw me a lifeline. Someone. Please.

How do I fix it? In my head, the chapter has to be slow, and 'appear' ordinary, apart from the fact the protagonist is sneaking out of a house in the early hours, there isn't much happening. Its really a record of her surroundings, and what she thinks she sees as she leaves behind the life she knows, for something else.

I wrote it to allow the reader to think there isn't much happening, but by the time they reach the end of the novel they'll see all the clues were dripped into the story from the very first page. And all will be revealed.

Now I'm thinking its all wrong.

Rant over. Back to work. It'll come to me.

18 comments:

  1. Tough one, Maria as we are certainly encouraged to make the first chapter even the first few lines wow the reader. One suggestion I could offer would be to consider a Prologue. Maybe giving a sneak preview of the excitment to come. It could even be written from a secondary character viewpoint. Good luck and I hope you work it out, don't give up the answer is out there.

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    1. Hello Suzanne,
      I hadn't thought about writing a Prologue, not being a lover of them myself. However, I will certainly think about your suggestion. Thank you.

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  2. I know the feeling :-). I have wondered though if first time authors (is that you? it's me) have the chops to start slow. Of course, follow your story, your heart, your muse etc. But perhaps readers, agents esp and publishers, want to be smacked in the eye by newbies. They don't trust us. Perhaps you're writing your second novel?? I have no idea if I'm right about this. Just a thought I keep having. Cathy x

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    1. Hello Cathy,

      I've attempted to write two novels before, the first one I stalled at 30k in first draft, the second one I managed to work my characters into a corner, and sadly they are still there waiting for me to release them.
      This one, I know the whole story. Interestingly, I had no intention of starting another novel, it was by chance I met with a writer friend on the eve of NaNoWriMo,she was feeling low about her writing, and said she would do the challenge if I did too...

      So, at the eleventh hour I found myself embarking upon another novel, with no plot, no characters, no plans!

      I have to say it came to me through the character. So here I am.
      Thanks for you comment.

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  3. Maybe you should write something else, a short story perhaps, and then look at this again. When you do the answer might well be clearer.

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    1. I'm thinking that way myself, I have got a few other things I can be getting on with...Good idea Patsy, I'll give it a go. Thank you.

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  4. I'm writing my first novel too, and I'm going to rewrite tthe first chapter lastt ( it currently sucks and I know it needs major changes). I understand why you want to fix it now though, it does keep nagging at you doesn't it? It's ok to start slow, in fact I read a great post about it today, the key thing is that we care enough about the main character to follow her through that first chapter. Might help? Anyway, here's the link, and best of luck sorting it out http://querytracker.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/engaging-openings

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    1. Hi Trudy,
      Just read the article on Query Tracker, and I can see what Jane Lebak is getting at, and I sort of lean towards thinking the same way.

      Engagement with the character, and caring about what happens to her is more important than an action opening, I need to lead the reader in and hold their interest... Thank you for sharing, its been helpful.

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  5. Sorry, just checked that link and it needs html after it. http://querytracker.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/engaging-openings.html

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    1. Thanks Trudy, I managed to find it, but this link you have provided takes you directly there now.

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  6. "Engagement with the character, and caring about what happens to her is more important than an action opening" - I think this is it exactly,probably just a bit harder to know when you have got it right than starting with the big event/ blood&guts /scary monster. Maybe ask yourself if you have put questions in the reader's mind that need answering. Interesting topic for me as I am in a first (rough) draft and the first chapter is very much setting the scene - i.e. not good enough! - but it's early days. I need to get some sort of story down - any kind will do!
    Ali B

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    1. I am only just ahead of you Ali, I have the rough draft down. I was happy just to get some sort of story down as you put it so well...

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  7. Hi Maria

    Commiserations. I must have written my first chapter (of recently completed book) half a dozen times. In the end, I set it aside. For weeks. Forgot all about it & simply got on with the rest of the story. One day it just came, & essentially in the shape of the first line. That revised first line gave me the key.

    I wouldn't write a prologue - agents don't like them & in any case, if you can write a prologue, you can write a first chapter!

    How well do you feel you know the character you refer to? Have you created an in-depth profile for her? I find character profiles invaluable & spend a long time creating them before I begin my stories. (I also write a detailed outline.)

    I don't believe 'dumping' a project is necessarily a bad thing. If you've fallen out of love with the story maybe it really is time to begin a new one. That said, it is hard, hard, hard to let a story go. Particularly when you have invested so much time & effort in it.

    May your Muse be with you!

    (I'm @carollovekin from Twitter by the way.)

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    1. Carol,

      Thank you, sound advice. I have written a character profile but maybe I need look at it again and expand it a wee bit. I do know what my character wants...I am not going to dump the project.

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    2. Good for you! Tenacity often wins the day. I recently entered a short story competition. It was against all my instincts - I am NOT a short story writer. I committed to it though, so persevered. It was hell, frankly. A clever friend with a brilliant editorial eye ripped it to shreds (nicely) & suggested I gave up.

      I'm stubborn so didn't & I revised & revised until my eyes bled! (It was that hard.) Although it still has to be judged & probably won't even be placed I'm really glad I did the work. In the end, it was a reasonably decent effort. And even the clever, difficult to please friend approved.

      Never give up!

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    3. I've been in a similar situation, it does us good to reach out of our comfort zone now and again.

      Regards that competition story - if it does not win a prize, and its technically well written, you be sure to send it back out again. These competitions are just one judge's opinion.

      On a different day with a different judge who likes dogs, cowboys, vampires or whatever your subject matter is...they may just place your story.

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  8. The more I read about writing a book the more I think I could never do it. I write blog post and short stories. It all sounds so painful. I think as a reader the first part of your book sounds good it would ease the reader into the story. From the tiny part you ave given I want to read it.

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  9. Hi Anne,
    I used to think the same, after years of writing short stories though, I bit the bullet and challenged myself to a novel. It is a different way of writing, and I sometimes revert to a short story. Don't dismiss the idea.

    Your comment has restored my faith in readers not wanting to be thrown kicking and screaming into the action. Thank you. I am undecided how to play it...

    I might actually now do an alternative Chapter one, and see how it looks on the page.

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I really appreciate you taking the time to leave me a comment, and I try to reply to every one. Many thanks!