Wednesday, July 3, 2013

ROW80 Check In 1 - Cut the First Chapter Rule

You know how they say that you should just cut the first chapter from the story, and the whole beginning will be better?  Had some illustration of that this segment.  (More below.)

In the meantime, I got off to a rocky start (ironic considering what I ended up writing -- more on that below too), but things moved along.

I'm aiming at 2000 words on the days I am mostly writing. While I had a story lined up to work on, I decided start with something more spontaneous, simply because I thought I could rip out the words better.  So I came up with an outlaw swashbuckler.

Sunday, Day 0 - 1602 words.  I had a great start, but I kinda pooped out in the evening.

Monday, Day 1 - Nada.  My afternoon session ended up being a plotting session.  It was useful, and given the kind of stuff I came up with, the evening session should have been fruitful.... except then a friend had a cat emergency and we ended up spending the whole evening in the Kitty ER.  Kitty is fine. We think she probably ate a bug that had some really irritating substance or something.

In the meantime, friend is rewriting a class on vector illustration and needed examples to show students the right illustration styles for the form. (Many students shoot themselves in the foot trying to do Photoshop or canvas style arts.)  So we had some fun talking about great illustrators, such as Milton Glaser and Saul Bass, and I found myself coming up with lots of examples of the things I've been studying.  (Like WPA posters!)

Tuesday, Day 2 - 2086 words.  Screwed around, made bread, and still had several good writing sessions.  Here, however, is where the "cut the first chapter" rule kicked in.

That Annoying First Chapter

I started the story in the middle, as I often do, to get a sense of it.  I thought I had a first half of a story in mind, and I knew the kind of things that should happen in the second half... but something satisfied me about my mid-point.  Even though it seemed like an awfully unsatisfying straight-line plot.  Still, shorter stories are often like that....

Until I realized that all it needed was for me to start earlier, and flesh out the set up properly.  Then the end would work fine.

So today I went back and wrote the beginning.  It was awkward and jumpy, and I knew there was a lot of unnecessary exposition. It was rough, exploratory writing.  I wrote a thousand words and I thought, "I'm going to have to do all of this from scratch, but I've got my voice and ideas in line..."

And then it hit me -- I didn't need to rewrite it, I just needed to dump it.  I had gone back too far, started too early.  It would be perfect to start with the very next scene -- a horse race on rocky ground.  Everything I need is there, excitement, flow, a chance to let the characters talk about expositional issues.

This is the classic "cut the first chapter" situation.  When you're trying to set something new up, you have a tendency to blather, and explore in various directions, make some false starts, get used to the voice of the story.  The story often only gets going in the second chapter. 

Unfortuantely (fortunately?) this story is stretching out, and will probably be longer than I expected.  The writing is quick, but it means I should try to up my daily quota.  We'll see.

See you in the funny papers.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Wow...starting in the middle! That's really taking on a challenge! I've started at the end before, but never in the middle. Interesting.

Like you, I've cut the first chapter several times before. Sounds like you've got a great story to work with.

Glad Kitty was okay.

The Daring Novelist said...

Oh, I always start in the middle. Or perhaps I should say, I never write in sequence. It's just not how my mind works.

Elizabeth Anne Mitchell said...

I never write in sequence, even after fully plotting, so I find I've often plotted way too early in the story. It does allow me to finish sooner than I expected sometimes, which is nice. :)

It sounds like you've made some progres already in the Round, even with life getting in the way. Have a wonderful rest of the weekend!

Anonymous said...

I like your perspective here. As I started writing my current story I was constantly tinkering with the first chapter. It seemed okay on the surface but the real conflict (protag finds out he has cancer) doesn't occur until chapter 2. Cutting chapter 1 would be a logical decision to make... except that I flipped the story to a different POV and started it even further back! Of course this is more of an experimental writing exercise than serious novel attempt but we'll see how it goes.

The Pedestrian Writer

The Daring Novelist said...

ElizabethAM - yep. A lot of us write the move vivid stuff first. (I just read an interview with Joss Whedon, who said he always writes his favorite parts first, because it encourages him to finish it.)

Chris - Yes, sometimes doing the opposite is exactly what you need to do. Cut something.... or develop it even further.