While writing a manuscript is one of the most exciting parts of writing a novel (for me, anyway), I have always found that getting the first chapter going is difficult.
It isn’t so much that I don’t know where to start, not right away. I always know how I want a book to start, but what inevitably happens is I’ll start chapter 1, and either partway through or after chapter 1 is complete, I’ll go “I don’t like that” and find that my instinct is usually right-on about it.
It happened with every novel I’ve written in the past, including the defunct 2004 Sword of the Dragon, the more recent The Sword of Dragons, and its sequel Burning Skies. In fact I have 3 different versions of the prologue of The Sword of Dragons, and I restarted chapter 1 at least twice.
Chapter 1 – A Matter of Perspective
As I’ve written on here before, I had originally decided to start Chronicles of the Sentinels out from the perspective of Thomas Walker, the 51 year old leader of the Sentinels. However, when I started today on the manuscript, I was only two pages in when I realized this was a mistake.
Why? Walker treats the Sentinels like a military unit, despite the fact that most of his team doesn’t have a military background. And the intent was to start the novel with the Sentinels chasing after disciples of Nabu.
Then I realized that if this was the first thing readers saw in the novel, they’d think it was a military thriller, and I’d probably turn away a lot of my target audience. Bad move. I don’t want to alienate my audience in chapter 1!
So I started thinking about how I wanted to actually start the novel. I realized that I wanted to start with action because I was used to writing epic high-fantasy novels. With TSOD, book 1 starts with the protagonist trying (and failing) to take on a pair of orcs by himself. Book 2 starts with him taking on an army of orcs by himself (successfully.)
With Chronicles, the tone of the story is supposed to be quite different, and while there is an epic tone to the overlaying plot, it also is supposed to be a much more down-to-earth (literally) tale.
Chris Tatsu – Ordinary College Student
One of the appeals for some types of YA fiction is that the protagonist and his or her friends are ordinary people (or seem like ordinary people at first) that are then thrown into extraordinary circumstances (please pardon the cliche.)
So I looked to examples of existing YA, including page 1 of Hunger Games (I didn’t know it was a 1st-person novel, haven’t read it yet) and one a friend mentioned, Fever 1793. They gave me an idea.
And so page 1 was written, not from Tom’s perspective, but from Chris’s perspective, as he walks out of one of his last finals, fearful that he failed it. It focuses on the character, and that is exactly what I wanted. As I progressed through the chapter, I was able to introduce Alycia in a context I liked, followed by Emmi. They are ordinary college students who are living their lives, which I hope will allow readers to be able to connect with them.
By the end of the first chapter, the stage is set for the coming events: the trio are invited to a party a well-known rich kid is hosting. They have no idea what awaits them at that party…
This does change the timeline a bit, and I’ll have to do some re-arranging and story changing to the chapter outline, but that’s okay. I’ve said it before, if your instincts tell you something doesn’t feel right and you come up with another idea, it’s probably for a good reason.
I haven’t finished chapter 1 yet, I spent a lot of the hours I was at Starbucks brainstorming how to better start the novel, but they were hours well spent. Once I get a better feel for the story and get past chapter 1, I’m anticipating the words will flow out more smoothly :)
On the bright side, in the “My Novels” page, I was able to change the status of Chronicles!
(PS: Shameless plug, check out my Facebook page! :D )