Staring Down the Barrel of Chapter One

Staring Down the Barrel of Chapter OneI have heard that the first chapter of a novel is the most rewritten chapter of all. I have also heard this is because everything that we want our novel to be and everything that it should be comes spooling out of those first words, sentences, and paragraphs. If the groundwork for the rest of the book isn’t compellingly laid out for our potential readers, and if our readers aren’t hooked by our initial efforts, our novel is doomed. No pressure there.

For the past week, I have been staring at the pages of the first chapter in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Based on the paragraph above, you can probably guess what my current goal is. Still, I refuse to force my story into an outline or someone else’s expectations and/or opinions of what my novel, as a whole, should be. I will, however, accept advice that helps me tell my story the way I know it needs to be told.

Today, I’m stocking my Writing Toolbox with two pieces of writing advice relevant to my situation. The first comes from Jacob M. Appel’s March 29, 2011, post for Writer’s Digest, 10 Ways to Start Your Story Better. I’ll be employing a combination of Mr. Appel’s suggestions to refine the essence of my first chapter.

The second, more recent piece of writing advice is from K.M. Weiland, Most Common Writing Mistakes, Pt. 38: Irrelevant Book Endings. I’m exploring the end of my novel to ensure that the beginning of my book set up my desired ending. If not, a chapter one rewrite and restructure may be in order.

Somewhere, an outliner is screaming, “You could have avoided this if you’d only outlined to begin with.” That may be true, but I enjoy exploring the rabbit trails too much. It’s where I often receive my next piece of writing inspiration, and I’m certainly not interested in turning off the creative supply outlet.

Are You a Pantser?

There is much debate on which way to write a novel:  Outline/Plot vs. Pantsing.  Each side can provide plenty of evidence to support their chosen method of writing, showing why their way is best.  So far, I’ve never seen the conversation turn into an argument.  The discussion usually ends with one side giving the other a sideways, eye-narrowed, head-tipped look of pity for not seeing the error of their ways.  It’s actually quite funny.

I find this debate always surfaces shortly before NaNoWriMo starts.  The following link by Janalyn Voigt offers advice on her site for those who might consider and/or choose pantsing.  In my opinion, the points mentioned are only the beginning of pantsing.  Since it’s not a formal writing style, I can’t imagine too many rules actually exist.  (Admittedly, I’ll be looking for them.)  Guidelines, however, probably abound.

I believe I fall closer to the pantsing end of  the writing spectrum well short of insisting it is the only way to write.  I’m not against outlining, but like most things in my life, I never limit myself to one of anything.  I have outlined scenes for my novel, THE SECRETS OF DR. JOHN WELLES, usually to clean up during the editing process  and when research needed to be conducted.

So, whether you outline/plot or pants it, I hope you enjoy Mrs. Voigt’s suggestions.

Pantsing:  Writing By the Seat of Your Pants

***I revisited this post to ensure the links still work, and while they do, you may be required to choose the option of opening them in a separate window.  But, please be assured they are still present and working!

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