Rewriting the first chapter

Great, now I’ve got to rewrite the first chapter. The driver of the whole story as it’s written so far. Do I just trash the whole thing? Yes, I think I have to, maybe I can keep a little bit.

This is where I was a couple of months ago. It sucked. 15 chapters drafted, and I realized that the first chapter may have launched the action, but didn’t fit with the rest of the story. (At this point a professional writer might say: How is that even possible? – Well it is for me, because I’m not a pro.) That chapter started life as a bit of back-story for a supporting character. The idea was a tragic and secret love-story to explain his motivations. I had a lot of attempts to get my story going and I had characters and a general story arc, just not a good starting point. All I needed was a place I could launch the action that needed to happen. When I made the decision to swap the supporting character for the main character in that first bit of back-story, doors opened. I had motivation for the main character, a way to introduce the antagonist and an excellent introduction to the world.

From that first chapter, the second, third, and fourth chapters came easily. They were horrid the first go around, and I spent a lot of time rewriting them. I like them now, and liked them a couple of months ago. At that point I was ready to share the work, and the immediate feedback was that first chapter was good, but the story of it didn’t really fit with the direction of the rest of the story. In order to make it work, I would either have to expand chapter 1 into at least one more chapter and change significant plans for the main character in the future, or do something different. The conclusion I came to is that I had to scrap that first chapter. Well, that dropped me into a lurch. The action after just didn’t go and those subsequent chapters didn’t make a lot of sense without a launch point significantly similar to the original first chapter.

After throwing a tantrum for a while about having to throw away what had amounted to weeks of writing time – which translates into years for me given all of my other commitments – I spent some thinking about the problem, and managed to find a suitable revision. It was still a complete re-write, but it kept all of the key plot elements necessary to move the action forward. In fact, as far as story structure goes, it’s better. The style of that first chapter is more like the rest now (which was a related problem I’d been struggling with), the introduction of the main character was generally better, and the conflict I was trying to explain seemed to make more sense. The best part of this revision is that it didn’t require huge changes to subsequent chapters. However, there is a major drawback – the first chapter as it is now still needs a lot of revision and polishing. It’s nothing I can’t deal with though.

This experience has taught me an important lesson, one that I should already know: If most of the plot is working, there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to rewrite major portions (all?) of early chapters and still salvage the majority of the writing.


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