Ah, the first chapter. Can’t have a book without one. Can’t even have a proposal without one. Truth be told, the first chapter I start with is rarely where I ultimately begin the book. It’s not merely a case of starting before the inciting incident; that would mean I actually had a clue where the incident was. No, I usually start on the wrong planet and possibly with a different set of characters doing completely different things.
What a surprise: It takes me about the same amount of time to write the first fifty pages as it does a whole manuscript. It kind of goes like this:
Author: Okay. This is the scene. I want you to leap out from behind the gravestone and stake the vampire.
Author: That’s what the synopsis says.
Character: (pouts) Where’s my motivation?
Author: You hate monsters. You’re a monster hunter. What’s to know?
Character: Oh, great. I’m nothing more than another black leather cliché with a pointy stick. What genius put me on this gig, anyway?
Author: This genius, you ungrateful rubble of adjectives.
Character: Yeah, yeah, always with the big words.
Author: I have a mouse, and I’m not afraid to use it. Start emoting. Now.
And so it goes. Every Swiss cheesey hole in the Grand Plan rains down like wedding confetti. Characters scatter like chickens. Author writes purplish prose bristling with extraneous similes, kind of like now.
Character: So I’ve staked him. Big deal. Now what?
Author: Now you kiss him. You’ve just realized you have a hidden passion for his doomed and brooding soul.
Character: Huh? Ew! What am I, psycho?
Vampire: Somebody in this room had better start backspacing ….
As if beginning chapter one isn’t bad enough, there’s the depressing fact that it’s actually supposed to lead up to something. Like chapter two, or at least somewhere beyond a flashy fight scene and a bunch of snappy repartee.
Author: Hmmm. Okay, we’ve got the protagonists onstage. They hate each other. They love each other. They hate each other again. Good. We’ve hinted at the villain’s secret identity. Good, but now what? I’ve got 370 pages to kill before they polish off the bad guy. What can I do to kill some time? Wait! I know I’ve got a crate of zombies around here someplace …
But the zombies always stink. Something like the prose. And so we shake the great mental Etch A Sketch and try again tomorrow … and tomorrow … and tomorrow …
Deadlines are really just an editor’s way of limiting the pain.