End of the First Week

As my first week of seriously editing comes to a close, I’ve learned one major lesson; Editing is not as scary as people make it out to be.  It’s a slow, time-consuming process that requires a lot of attention and energy, but it’s not scary. Even when I’m cutting entire scenes or re-writing parts I spent hours perfecting a few months ago, it’s not heartbreaking.

It’s exciting.

It’s not like I’m burning the novel, laying waste to hours and hours work. No – I’m making it better. Much better, with results visible right away. Comparing the edited chapter to what it used to be I can see an immediate improvement, and it’s almost a little embarrassing to read parts of what I had. I say this with the knowledge I’ll come back to what I worked on today and improve it even more, genuinely astonished that I didn’t make the changes now.

Yes, I can happily say editing isn’t nearly as scary as I pretended to myself it was, In fact, I’m enjoying it!

So, in honor of my first chapter surviving its first run in with the surgeon, I thought I’d take a minute to talk about the all important first chapter, which is one of the most important parts of a novel.

The first chapter of a novel is the reader’s introduction into the world, characters and plot but that’s not all. The first chapter introduces the Writer, and their writing style. For me, the first chapter is a critically important factor when I decide to buy a book or not. So, what makes a good first chapter?

Conflict.  A compelling introduction to the plot is central to my decision of whether or not to read past chapter one, as a good plot is the most important part of a story. As such, introducing the plot is the most important job of the first chapter.  Conflict is what drives the characters to do everything they do. It’s what hooks the reader, and keeps them turning pages until they realize its 5 AM and scratch their heads in confusion. In essence, Conflict gives the novel purpose.  If I can give the reader an idea of the main conflict and stakes, and set the plot rolling with a sense of danger and uncertainty within the first few pages, then I have achieved success with the first chapter.

So, how do I do that?

The best way to introduce conflict at the very beginning is by putting the Protagonist right in the middle of it. Keep in mind, conflict doesn’t have to be gunfight’s or bar brawls – just some problem the protagonist needs to overcome. You don’t even need to start with the central conflict, though I much prefer to.

One technique I love to use in the opening is a confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist. It’s a Brilliant way to show the relationship between the characters and demonstrate the conflict early, but it’s not always possible – It depends on the story and nature of the antagonist. In Treasonists, I open with the protagonist Prince Sephiran and the Antagonist Princess Silvara attending a meeting in their father’s throne room, both proposing different ways of dealing with the seemingly unavoidable civil war and famine. Through this, I contrast their characters, develop the situation and throw coals on the conflict. The first fifteen hundred or so words make up one of my favorite scenes in the entire novel, and it does an excellent job of setting the plot-ball rolling before I calm down to develop character in the following chapter and, hopefully, throughout the novel.

I could go on talking about what I think makes a good first chapter, or start rambling what makes a bad first chapter, but I want to know what you think,

What do you think makes a good first chapter? Leave a comment below!

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8 comments on “End of the First Week

  1. I always love the editing process. I cringe at my bad writing in places, but add more detail to my story, or sometimes take it out. It’s great. I pretty much fangirl over my own stuff when editing haha. This is cool though. I never really thought how vital the first chapter should be. 🙂

  2. Wow, can you edit my book for me? I will pay you in lumps of coal. Editing turns me into a moody teenager.

    • Ben says:

      I think i’m going to get Enough coal from Santa this year. I don’t think he knows i’m using it all for a steam-powered expedition into the north pole to find him.

  3. Space_wolf says:

    I wish you luck with editing your book and look forward to the point when it gets unveiled to willing readers.

    Thanks for popping by Wolfish Written – your comment on this morning’s post was much appreciated, so thank you 🙂

  4. Great post, Ben. I once spent a whole afternoon taking out every “just” in my MS. Amazingly, the plot still moved forward!

    Cheers.

  5. jmmcdowell says:

    Good post. I remember my senior year College Prep Writing instructor stressing the importance of editing. Some students balked, claiming it took away from the “creative perfection” of their initial writings. The instructor countered by naming famous writers (and artists and musicians) who understood the role of editing in “perfecting their creativity.”

    Anyone can publish any number of books these days. But poorly edited works will not keep readers coming back. Kudos to you, and keep editing!

  6. I’ve just begun the rewrites for my own novel in progress so I can definitely relate to this post. Unfortunately, writer’s block – or editor’s block I suppose I should say – has reared it’s alarmingly unattractive head. Probably the pressure building behind the all important first chapter.
    But reading this has given me some inspiration to roll up my sleeves and throw myself back into the fray.
    Cheers.

    • Ben says:

      I’m honored i can be so inspiring. I always find that first step to start is the hardest, so hopefully once you get going you will be able to force that awful editor’s block away.

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