Topic: Has so much emphasis been placed by other writers advice, publishers, reviewers, etc. on authors to have a spectacular opening page/1st chapter that the rest of the story sometimes gets left behind? What are your thoughts and experiences with this?
Having just read Sol Stein’s On Writing, I fear I might be a little biased on this. While captivating beginnings have been hammered into my head since high school, this book brought home the reasons why.
Readers give a novel less time to engage them than they do any other form of media out there. Movies and games and TV shows get more of a chance from potential viewers/players.
For a TV show, you might give the first whole episode a go.
For a movie, it’s something like the first thirty minutes.
For a book …
Well, for a book we get a sentence. And then hopefully a paragraph. And then maybe a page. If the narrative doesn’t engage us immediately, that book gets put down.
Unless, of course, you have lucked out and found that rare reader who will give the whole thing a shot and THEN decide they hated it.
So the pressure that authors are put under for an excellent first sentence, first paragraph, first chapter is seeded in a depressing reality. People just don’t have time to devote to reading the first three chapters of a book before deciding whether or not they’re going to continue.
They need to want to continue from the very start. Something about the character or the situation has to resonate with them, or they will run off to wash the dishes. (Because nothing humbles an author more than realizing washing dishes is more interesting than their book to some people.)
That being said … the rest of the book has to get better. I have noticed during my second drafts that I’m often tightening my work, trying to touch back to whatever resonance I managed to capture in that first page.
And I always, always, always re-read the first chapter before I write the final chapters.
In fact, oftentimes I end up beginning my second draft before completing the last 3 chapters of a book. I have to bring myself back to the start of it, remind myself what promises I made in the beginning that should be carried forward, before I can complete the work in its entirety.
I tend to follow Stephen King’s advice here. I write the first draft “with the door closed.” Meaning it’s just for me and nobody gets to see it and I tell it the way that I want to tell it.
And then I write the second draft “with the door open.” Meaning I take all the tricks of the trade I’ve been taught and write the book for my ideal reader, keeping them in mind instead of just rushing through a flurry of creativity.
It means that the whole of the story is down, you know what you want to say and where the book is supposed to lead, so you know what you want to set up in that first chapter. And you know what tension you need to keep through the whole book, which gives you a more cohesive story.
See what some of my fellow authors have to say in this month’s Round Robin discussion …
A.J. Maguire https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-YV
Anne Stenhouse http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com