Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Start Here

I'm a third of the way throw my next book, the third book in a fantasy romance series, and it's moving along well.  I changed the start at least four times before moving on and letting it go as is until edits.  I remember showing my very first completed novel to an agent at a writing conference.  She read the first chapter and then told me to throw it out and start with the second chapter.  It was good advice.  The book eventually was published as The Greater Good.   I've continued to use the 'throw out the first chapter' at times but mostly I try to find the correct place to start by applying some general ideas of what to put in the first scene and what not to do.

Put action into it.  Don't start with a cliche like waking to a ringing phone, waking from a nightmare or dream, or starting with a ticking bomb. A whiny teenager fighting with her parents isn't a great place to stop either though I've opened a few YA to find just that.  I closed them right back up.  Most sources advice having the first scene belong to the protagonist though many of my favorite suspense authors open their books with a crime in progress.  That pulls me right into the mystery.

Even the first time novelist knows the rule about not filling the first scene and chapter with long descriptions of setting or pages of introspection.  In fantasy there is a need to world build but it doesn't have to all be done in the first chapter.  

What cliches turn you off in the first chapter?  Where do you like to start your books?


  1. Great post Susan. I've often ditched the first chapter too. Finding that elusive grabber is tough sometimes!
    I tend to keep reading through disappointing chapters, if I know some payoff is coming. Or if the author's a favorite.

  2. I've started a lot of books lately and hated every single one of them. I'm beginning to wonder if there's something wrong with me. Maybe I can't be entertained anymore. The last novel I opened and went "wow" was REVOLUTION by Jennifer D. It isn't even that I need something fantastic. Just make it interesting.
    BTW none of these books were stereotypical either. Maybe it is me. LOL =D

  3. Congrats on being a third of a way through your next book. Go you.

  4. Thanks, Ivy. I'm glad I'm in good company with you, Cate.
    I've started a few books lately, myself, RaShelle, that I've put down. One by one of my favorite fantasy authors. I don't have time to waste reading something that doesn't grab me.

  5. I received the same advice to throw out the first chapter of my current wip, and I think the ms is much better for it. I write fantasy, and it is hard to let the reader know what's going on without doing a massive information dump, but it's also a fun challenge.

  6. dream sequences turn me off or long descriptions where nothing happens. Sometimes I just have to write that first chapter before I can ditch it. It's a good way of getting it all out to order some thoughts.

  7. I don't mind novels that start with the action, but I feel like some writers overdo this now and it takes me several pages to work out what's going on and who my protagonist is. I like reading novels where it starts with the main character just before the action.

  8. I guess I like books that start with something sort of unexpected happening. Maybe an opening line that makes you think, "Wait, what?" which makes you keep reading.

    I'm working on my first round of revisions on my first novel so now, of course, I'm going to have to go make certain that's what I've done!