The Perils of First Chapters

Honestly, you wouldn’t believe the trouble I’m having with the first chapter of the Frenchman. Having planned out the conflict and a good idea about how I was going to start, I then somehow lost my mojo.

My problem is that I actually wrote three chapters of this last year, way back before I had a good idea about any of the stuff I know now about conflict and character etc. And I really liked those three chapters. Yes, they were gimmicky and I made my characters do things without thinking through their motivation, but I still really liked them. Being good, I thought I’d can them and start the story off afresh, with a new beginning that was less gimmicky and based more on the characters themselves. But you know what? After writing it first from her POV and then from his, it just didn’t work for me. It felt stilted and not particularly dynamic. And this was a pain because I find that if I can’t get my first chapter to work well enough, I can’t write the rest of it! Now I can write ahead, though I don’t normally, but the first chapter is the scene setter. It’s the first glimpse of the h&h too and if it’s not right, then this has a flow on effect for me and writing the rest feels like pulling teeth.

So, anyway, after three failed attempts at a new beginning. I went back to my old one to see if I could tweak it so it was less gimmicky. But still I had problems with it. Finally I thought about changing the setting to see if that helped and at last – draft 5! – I think I’ve got it the way I want. For now. Maybe I’ll change it after I’ve written the rest of the story but at least it’s done enough for me to feel comfortable with writing on.

Why did I want the gimmicky beginning? Basically because it taps directly into the hero’s conflict. It features the hero in a situation where he has no control and the heroine having it instead. The previous drafts didn’t have a situation that made it difficult for either of them. And if it’s not difficult for the characters then there’s no tension. And I wanted that tension.

So how about the rest of you? Do you find first chapters difficult? Or is it just me?? πŸ™‚

20 thoughts on “The Perils of First Chapters”

  1. Well, I’m about to bang my head against a desk, I’m so insecure and angsty about book #3. Usually, I love writing first chapters. In fact, in HVA the first chapter has essentially stayed the same through all of the revisions.

  2. I’m with you, Jackie. The first chap of my first draft had the right tone – fun and flirty. But after working on the internal and external conflicts of the characters, and changing the hook, the newly written first chap was totally different in content and tone. Yes, it sets the stage. Yes, there is conflict present. But hey – what happened to the fun and flirty tone that made the writing of the previous first draft such a joy?

    Do I hear anyone say ‘pantzer’?

    Maybe in your case it’s the more you know the harder the writing is? I mean, you can’t write in blissful ignorance anymore. But, then again – how would I know? It’s taken me ages to write the first three polished chapters of my WIP. It’s been like drawing blood from a stone.

  3. Maisey – don’t feel insecure about book 3. It’s fabulous. And yeah, I used to love writing first chapters too. But it’s like the more I know about my craft, the harder it gets to write!

    Angie – Lol! I’ve just written that exact thing in my reply to Maisey!! Great minds think alike! It IS the more I know, the harder it is! As a pantser, I always knew the beginning of every story and it would just flow beautifully… Of course, come chapter 4 and I’d run into trouble. At least, I guess, I have the consolation of knowing the IC is all sorted and that’s the main thing. But I think some mss are tougher than others. Hard huh?

  4. I totally agree with the “the more you know the harder it is” thing! I dream up opening chapters all the time, but they are always more an interesting situaton, rather than based on solid conflicts. Establishing the conflicts in a non-info-dumping way is so difficult!

  5. I LOVE first chaps – but only when I’ve thought of a brilliant gimmicky beginning. My fave books are those that start off with a bang and until mine does I’m NOT happy! But your beginning is FABULOUS!

  6. Haha! You’ve basically described my week with my MS. I wrote three chapters last year etc, honestly it’s so exactly the same it’s darn scary! Well except for the fact that I still haven’t sorted mine out… chocolate anyone?

  7. It’s funny, I have no issues with chapter ones (that I know of LOL). I usually have a crystal clear idea of how the story will start and love having it open immediately in the middle of the action. It’s chapter 8. It hates me.

  8. It’s so the more you know…the more revisions you’ve received the more you analyze everything you write as you go. Pantsing? That’s the first thing to go, I think. Well, not for everyone, obviously, since some writers still do it, and I still do to a certain degree, but there are a few things now I know I HAVE to plot.

    And Jackie, I love the scene I wrote last night. SO HOT. There, in the hotness, is where I find my bliss. Indeed!

  9. Ha! This problem is exactly why I abandoned my sheikh story back in January. And it’s a great story, even if I say so myself. I’ve got the conflict all worked out but for some reason, the beginning just wouldn’t come together.

    In the end I totally panicked and abandoned it. It was especially excruciating because normally I have the reverse problem – my beginnings just fly then I get stuck about 3/4 way through. With this one, I wanted the first major scene to take place on a yacht, but I had to get the h&h from the ball to the yacht, and for some reason it just wasn’t happening. I just couldn’t make it fly without it looking gimmicky. I still plan on writing the story once I send the current requested partial off, but yep, this is a very real pain-in-the-tush problem!

    Sending hugs and hoping it all comes together for you soon πŸ™‚

  10. Umm, my first chapters often change.
    With Gladiator’s Honour, I had to totally rewrite the first chapter as the meet was far too gimicky. The problem with gimmicky starts is that the editors have all seen it before and unless you have a really new take, it is a hard sell.

  11. Leah – I’m so with you on that. My chapters used to be really gimmicky and based on NOTHING! But I did enjoy writing them. Sigh.

    Rach – I know, you do like that don’t you! πŸ™‚ I quite like that myself. Cheers re the chapter though.

    Lacey – I sorted the conflict, not much else. I guess that’s a start! Good luck with yours. πŸ™‚

    Janette – chapter two huh? Sometimes that can be a problem for me. And chapter 3. Hell, the whole damn thing sometimes!

    Judy – yep. Can someone move the wall? ‘Cause my head hurts.

    Kaily – chapter 8?? That’s funny. I should mine differs from ms to ms. Some are good, some are not.

    Maisey – yup, you’re right re the pantsing part. Maybe that’s why I’m finding it hard. So much to think about. I guess that’s what editing’s about. Yay re your hot scene! Can’t wait to read. πŸ˜‰

    Maya – thanks for the hugs! Yeah, the thing that you get hung up on can be so simple. Mine was also initially set at a ball but I got totally hung up on what his entourage, the press, would be doing etc, etc. Better to cut them all out!

    Michelle – yes, sigh, that’s totally true. Well, in the interests of me actually writing the rest of the story, I’m going to keep mine as is and then revisit when I’ve finished. I can change it if I need to.

  12. Yes, I find first chapters difficult. But I especially find the opening line to be hair pulling. I’m on chapter 5 now and keep fiddling with the opening scene. I must have changed it 5x now. UGH!

    But you can do it Jackie. I know you can.

    Take care.
    Gibb

  13. I too can’t write on until I’ve got the first chapter as I want it, then I give myself permission to carry on. Of course, the first chapter may change when the rest of the book is written (mine definitely will, as I’ve had clear advice to ditch the first part of chap 1–even though I love it to pieces).

    It’s a Saturday night and I am making myself push through the nasty mid book sag so I can get to a yummy bathroom scene πŸ™‚

  14. Katie – yeah, I keep changing that opening line too! Ah well, onwards and upwards huh?

    Joanne – it’s tough huh? But the bathroom scene sounds like some great incentive!

  15. I’m in a short story phase at the mo and often find things just don’t work – sometimes I need to re-write up to 10 times before the feel of it is right (and still no guarantees an editor will agree).

    In longer fiction, I often miss whole bits that aren’t working out and go back later to fill in the blanks. Can you skip to chapter 2 and go back to chapter 1 afterwards?

    XX

  16. Suzanne – I have tried skipping chapter one before but it doesn’t work. I find I need to have that scene setting chapter in order to get into the characters. It’s a pickle!

  17. First chapters have traditionally been easy for me to write–until I decided to plot. Now I’m in that no-man’s-land where I know winging it often doesn’t produce a solid piece, but plotting results in a stilted chapter.

    When I think about my characters (like I’d think about friends and family) it helps form their story in my mind.

    On another note, usually I need the perfect to start every chapter. If I know the objectives of that chapter, then it usually flows from the first line.

    Do you have any issues with first lines?

    Empi

  18. Empi – yep, my problems are definitely with plotting. The more I plot, the more stilted it is. There must be a happy medium somewhere huh? As to first lines, no, not really. I usually go back and change if I’m not happy but it doesn’t have to be perfect.

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