Starting in the right place

I’ve been struggling with the first chapter of my story for some time, not the prologue, but the first-chapter proper. Part of the reason for this is that it was a breakthrough chapter for me when I wrote it, although it took me a long time to realize that. It had initially been a part of a different character’s back-story, and when I made it the starting point for my story, a lot of stuff started clicking into place. As a result, I was rather married to the first iteration of it. Then, I asked some friends to read it, they all said the same thing: It really doesn’t work with the rest of the story. It wasn’t that it didn’t fit the plot, it was the tone and direction that first chapter seemed to set out that wasn’t working. So, I revised it. The feedback I got on that was better, more along the lines of, this works way better, but it needs a lot of polishing. That felt better in terms of review and ego, but the chapter still doesn’t, in fact, work with the rest of the story. There are a lot of reasons for this, it still has vestigial bits and pieces from the original chapter so it has an uneven tone. The main character is still also not defined well enough, of course this causes other problems moving forward, there’s also a bit of that plausibility issue as well. So, I’ve decided to make another crack at it. This is largely because having that chapter so rough bothers me. I want it to be the best chapter of the book. It really needs to be if I expect anyone to actually pick it up.

I spent a lot of time today avoiding writing, not because I didn’t want to, but because I was letting this problem stew in my mind. Finally, I spent an hour working on the first couple of paragraphs (this is almost always a bad sign for me, unless there’s another real distraction in the room). After re-reading what I’d puked out, my conclusion: It’s worse than what I started with, hardly fixes the original plausibility problems, and really doesn’t even read well. So what am I going to do?

I have come to the conclusion the story starts in the wrong place. I’m actually not far, I think, I just need to step back to events fifteen minutes before the original start. At the beginning, I’ve got my character running through the woods, which I think is a really good idea, but it makes life difficult for establishing the setting properly, because I’m neck deep in action. I mean, this can be done, but I’m not quite skilled enough to pull it off. What this is going to do is give me a couple of sentences for setting, which is relevant to the larger story, though quite subtle, and then launch into the action more naturally. It will also stretch the action out a little so that when the main character has to give up the chase, it’ll feel less jarring. I’m super-optimistic about this change, so hopefully it’s what I need to help me launch chapter 1 so it’s every bit as great as I expect it to be.

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