…is fear of the first three paragraphs. For me, at least. Blank pages, or should I say blank virtual pages on my laptop screen, don’t faze me. Not in the least. In fact, the raw manuscript is finished. 12 chapters of it, with an average of about 7500 words in each. So, yeah, the blank page didn’t really stop me. Once I got going, it was just a matter of having the time and the concentration to keep going. There were a couple of blips along the way…but I don’t know that I could even call it “writers block.”
The first problem occurred because I’m reading about writing as I’m writing. I’m not sure whether or not that’s a good idea right now. On one hand, listening to other people can ruin your art. On the other hand, writing is one of those arts that can be improved by learning. *sigh* So I’m reading along and writing along and I realize I’ve made something of a flaw. The “climax” ain’t all that climactic.
Everyone loves a good climax.
So I dove into the almost finished manuscript (I think I had 10 chapters at this point), tore some stuff apart and shoved a new climax into the approximate middle. Well, where I felt it belonged in the story, at least. Because of that, I had to go back and smooth out all the chapters before it and the couple I had after it. It wasn’t that bad. Ok, it was that bad. But I lived through it, right?
Then I’m running right along, editing the manuscript on round one and I realize another flaw. I’m telling not showing. It needs more showing. More oomph. The problem is, I’m dealing with protagonists in one geographical area…and the disasters and chaos are supposed to be happening around the globe. Originally, I had the main characters witnessing these events through the wonders of television, radio, and internet…but it just wasn’t enough.
Okay, back to it again. Let’s add some vignettes in there to bring the drama up. They’re not main characters, they’re completely disposable characters (although in a side note to all of you, the people in the vignettes are not main characters but they are related to other non-disposable characters and some of them may be making appearances in later volumes, should I ever get that far!) essentially in short stories to demonstrate all the wonderful and horrible things that are happening around the world.
This is taking a lot of research and imagination because I have literally not been outside my home country. (I do not consider Cancun, Mexico to be a foreign country. Everyone speaks English and they have a Denny’s. A Denny’s, for Crissakes.) Fortunately, I have a wealth of friends and family who are more geographically experienced than I am, but still…
All these trials were manageable. I could handle it. But then I read two very disturbing details in one of these “how to write” books. Actually, I’ve seen in mentioned in a few of them, and even in some advice web sites.
1. Any conflict brought up in the first chapter…as soon as it’s dealt with, the book is over.
2. You can lose your audience in the first three paragraphs
AAAAAGGGGGH!!!!! TOOOOOOO MUCH PRESSSSSSURE!!!!!
I adored my original first chapter. But it was almost all character development. There was almost no conflict at all…and what little there was dealt not with the “plot line” but with a “sub plot” of belonging and all that. Grrr. So…here I am, the novel hasn’t even been finished yet and the book is over in chapter 2 and I’ve already lost my farkin’ audience.
So…okay…deep breath. Added something that foreshadowed all the stuff that’s going to happen. It actually added some to the character, in retrospection. And started going through the ENTIRE manuscript again to make sure that the “belonging” problem isn’t resolved until closer to the end of the book. So…now I have the real problem presented that isn’t solved at all (all good fantasy fiction is written in trilogies, right? Even sometimes 4, 5, or 35 book trilogies…lol), and the belonging thing is definitely drawn out.
I keep looking at that first chapter. I’ve changed it again, added something that might even be considered a prologue. But then I’ve read that editors don’t take kindly to “prologues” these days…and even reject manuscripts automatically if they have a “prologue”…although if you submit the same manuscript with the prologue listed off as “chapter one” you might make it through.
What I want to know is who “they” are and what the hell “they” know, anyway.
Every single time I open the manuscript up to edit it, I begin at the beginning. The rest of the text has been barely touched, but I’ve been through the first 50 pages probably 20 times already. Is it exciting enough? Engaging enough? Will the audience understand what I’m trying to say about this character? Can I do it in fewer words?
The first chapter stress is killing me.
Granted, the experts say this and that about that first chapter, but I’m a reader. I know there’s more to it than that. If I’ve never heard of an author before, I know how I pick a book. I’ll look at the title. I’ll look at the cover. I’ll admit, I’m a little bias…I know I prefer female authors and female characters, although there are exceptions. I look for those notorious apostrophes and exotic spelling habits because if nothing else, that’s terribly distracting. If it’s an author that’s been recommended by someone I trust, I might try it anyway. Usually not, though. I’ll look at the beginning paragraphs, sure…but I also page to somewhere in the middle, randomly. It’s a habit I picked up from my mom. Because no matter what the subject matter, or who the author, or how tempting it might look…if its not readable, I’m outta there. But I give the author a chance…in the middle, where the pressure is off, where s/he’s picked up steam, gotten their landlegs under them, and are up and running. Its only fair.
If that’s good, I buy the book. And once I buy a book…well, I’m going to read it. And unless it’s absolutely horrible, I’m going to finish it. I’ve committed to the experience by taking it home. I have to say that in my experience most books (99% or so) have some redeemable quality to them, whether its characters, dialog, descriptive prose, plot twists or what-have-you, there’s something good there. Even in genres I can’t normally stand, I can find something. My mom is occasionally throwing me a romance novel, a mystery or one of those modern fiction things…(she’s in a book group) and even though I usually don’t care for the genre of writing (each genre has their own quirks)…there’s something I enjoy in them.
I guess what I’m saying is that I pray that either my first chapter is much better than I’m afraid it is…or that most readers in the world out there are like me and will at least give me a chance.
If I die prematurely, it will be the first chapter that killed me.