The Good Adventurers was my first completed book. The novelty of having completely written a story to ‘The End’ and the rapid pace at which I progressed through the writing of it really propelled me through. It was not until afterward that I heard of things like character arcs, plot points, and ‘acts’ in a story, and other helpful knowledge, but I was able to identify them and use them to sharpen the writing and plot.
But they and many others became a stumbling block to me as I struggled through the first draft of my contemporary, The Writer’s Game, which I recently laid aside.
And this here was the worst of them:
The First Line/Chapter
This is the #1 reason I grappled with The Writer’s Game for so, so long, and one of the many reasons that I recently had to lay it aside.
It seemed, right off the bat, like a good idea. I told myself that the best way to start the draft was to craft a killer line. But this was a huge detriment to my hopes of ever getting anywhere.
Those opening words are the hardest to write and I only sabotaged myself by making it the first thing I worked on.
Working on a good opener ought to be one of the very last things you do to your first draft, or maybe even the very first thing when you start editing.
First lines and first chapters are very important parts of your story. I don’t argue with the status quo over this. But believe me, no one, not even me, has enough pieces and information for their story and backstory figured out before they’ve even written ‘Chapter One’ to try and craft the perfect first line or chapter without getting hung up on it.
• • •
Writing a book is a journey. You get up one morning, grab your road map of plot points and notes, and with a big cup of coffee in hand and a destination vaguely in mind, you hit the road.
But you have no clue as to what exactly will happen along the way to that destination. You make some friends; they distract you a little bit from your end goal. But that’s okay! It’s a part of the journey. You stop to look at the scenery, pause to get refueled, and try a new road. You get to the destination eventually, but looking back, you see how wonderfully different your journey was from how you imagined it. In retrospect, it isn’t just a trip, it has shapes, colors, flavor, personality, memories.
And if you had stood on your front porch that morning and tried to sum up that journey, no matter how hard you had tried, there is no way you could have described and introduced something you had not yet experienced.
And in the same way, you cannot craft a fitting first line and mark it off the to-do list of your first draft before anything else.
But of course, you still have to write a first chapter.
So here’s a few tips:
DO find your jumping off point.
Most people have enough ideas by the time they’re ready to begin actually writing to choose a relevant point in the story. This is something that is worth putting thought into. It’s more broad than writing a whole chapter, and if you choose well, and include at least that thing that causes the rest of the book to be necessary, your foundation is a solid one. You will be able to return at the end and edit with the rest of the story written and add so much depth and meaning and tension to that first chapter that you would have wasted time trying to accomplish prematurely.
DO introduce the main character or conflict.
At least one, but not necessarily both. They don’t have to appear together, and you can go back later and add foreshadowing, tension, backstory, and other good things.
This brings me to my next point.
DO keep a running list.
This list can be of ideas or additional inspiration and elements that come to you as you continue writing the remainder of your novel that you want to include in the first few pages. When you feel ready to go back and tackle that intimidating chapter you will be armed with an arson of weeks or months worth of inspiration.
DON’T make the same mistake I did!
When you hear (or read) that you ought to just dive in, not editing, during that first draft, the best way to implement that advice is to start on the first line. Put your first thoughts on the page and just keep going!