Saturday, January 23, 2010

What Goes Into a First Chapter

You've just written The End.

You fold your arms across your chest with a self-satisfied smile. After months of hard graft, you've finally finished your WIP. You may let it sit for a couple of weeks, or you may only leave it a couple of days before reading through the MS with fresh eyes. Either way, you'll soon have that baby out in the marketplace as you aim to find it a home.

So, that's done. You now need to start the book that has shamelessly courted your imagination while you were trying to write the last book. You know the one I mean--the little rascal that woke you at three in the morning whining, "Write me! Write me! Tell my story!"

You've been taking notes on scene ideas, snappy dialogue, plot points; you've gotten to know your characters etc (known as prewriting). Now it's time to write, but...hang on a minute...what goes into the first chapter, again?

Never fear, I'm here to help with a quick break-down of the essentials!

The first thing you need to do is come up with a fantastic opening line. A powerful hook to draw the reader into your story. Something that will immediately spark her curiosity. Get your Hero and or heroine on scene ASAP!

Make sure your heroine is likable--no one likes a snark or a dishrag--that she has a solid goal, strong motivation to achieve her goal, and real internal conflict preventing her from achieving that goal. She must have layers to her personality--space to learn and grow. (Known as character arc or development)

Your hero must be strong--not nasty to the heroine--he must be a man your reader can fall in love with. He must have a solid goal of his own, strong motivation to achieve his goal, and internal conflict, which prevents him from attaining his goal. Like the heroine, your hero must have layers to his personality and space to grow.

And this all has to be believable!

You also need external conflict, but remember, if you are writing a romance, the internal conflict MUST drive your story. Internal conflict is what makes a book character-driven (External conflict creates a plot-driven book). For those of you who may not know, Romance Novels are character-driven.

You must let the reader see the attraction between the H/h. A sense of time and place, you don't want her wondering, "so where or when is this taking place?" for a whole chapter. Be careful of dumping too much information on the reader, let her get to know your characters gently with snippets of back-story. This will also keep her curious.

And don't forget to end the chapter with a great hook.

To recount:

Your Hero and heroine should meet pretty quickly after the opening of your story. In romance novels, usually the external conflict throws them together. By the end of the chapter, the reader should know who your H/h are (characterization), What (Goal) they want, Why (Motivation) they want it, and what’s Stopping (Conflict) them from getting it.

The reader should not be in any doubt of the attraction between your H/h and she should be dying to know what happens next. How are these two going to surmount their problems by the end of the book to live HEA?

Until next time, happy writing.

And, as always, God bless.
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  1. Nicely summarized, Monique!


  2. ***

    Thanks for dropping by, Linda!



  3. Hi Monique,
    Nicely put.
    Love your blog page, it looks delicate and pretty, perfect for a romance writer.


  4. Monique, my brain has been a jumbled mess of late – I think I forgot how to think. But as usual your eloquence makes everything so easy. I think I’ll just go start another book….no wait – I have to finish the one I’m with right now. Any advice on how to stay committed. (I’ve chosen that as my next blog topic.)

  5. ***

    That's a really good one, April! I've read lots of advice from those-in-the-know and they all seem to advise us to have candy bar scenes, you know, scenes you're just dying to write. The complete opposite works for me! I haven't got the patience to wait. Whatever I want, I want it now! :)

    I've finally realised, making myself wait slows down my output because I could spend a good couple of days trying to force the next scene in the chapter sequence.

    I've decided to write whatever scene is courting my imagination, even if it's the last scene and I only just started the MS! I really think working this way will keep me committed...if it doesn't get me committed lol.

    I'll let you know how I get on.



  6. Good advice, Monique! Opening chapters are crucial.


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