How it really works. Or not.
by Sharon Ashwood on January 27th, 2009

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.
Character: Why?
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.

Vampire: Ow!
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. :???:

5 comments to “How it really works. Or not.”

  1. 1

    LMAO, Sharon! My one word response: exactly!

  2. 2

    Sharon, lol, I love your internal dialogue!

    I actually do tend to keep my first scenes pretty much intact, although I know I’ll always have to go back and fill in stuff once I know the characters better, or when things spring up later that need foreshadowing. But for me those first pages happen quicker than later chapters. Remember the guy with the Porche? I just hang on and enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts, which is usually about the first three chapters.

  3. 3

    Somebody in this room had better start backspacing

    LOL! I used that key so much I started to get a RSI, so now I rubberband my pinkie to the rest of my hand. Instead, I use my whole fist to backspace. Must more satisfying.

  4. 4

    You’ve just realized you have a hidden passion for his doomed and brooding soul.

    Lol! You’re a woman after my own heart! Oh, yeah, but you’re right! There has to be more than that! Ouch, me brain!

  5. 5

    Ppl like you get all the brnias. I just get to say thanks for he answer.

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