Tag Archives: Engaging Writing

Writers’ Group: Engaging First Chapters

6 Mar

One of our members mentioned an article she’d read at our January meeting that we decided to focus on at the February meeting. The article came from Anne R. Allen’s blog (link here) and it focused on the LOOK INSIDE preview section of an Amazon eBook but we expanded the discussion a bit to talk about writing in general.

The second of Allen’s suggestions is immediate conflict. We talked about using the conflict as a hook to get the reader to read more. The conflict should leave something unresolved in the first chapter so that the reader will want to move forward. Even if this isn’t the main conflict of the book, it will keep the pacing moving forward. I mentioned an old mantra I’ve heard of “Conflict on every page” and one of our members didn’t like that. We talked about how conflict doesn’t have to always be high intensity but that there has to be something unresolved so that the characters are working toward something. If there’s nothing unresolved, then the story should be over. It can be interpersonal conflict, personal conflict, environmental conflict, etc., as long as something is being worked toward or worked on.

When an author starts writing, they’re often inventing characters in their head. While this process is exciting, it’s important to keep the number of characters introduced in the first few pages to about 5. This doesn’t have to be five named characters. It could include the garbage man a boy watches out his window. More characters than that can be confusing and end up being a turn-off for readers who think Billy is watching George empty the trash when George is Billy’s uncle who’s waiting for the trash truck to move so his girlfriend Anna and he can pull into his sister’s Felicia’s driveway. See?

Allen talks about ‘unburrying’ dialogue and helping it stand out on a page. Even simpler than that, it’s good to break paragraphs up even without dialogue. Long paragraphs give people flashbacks to textbooks and you don’t want your fiction associated with assigned academic reading, do you? A page should look a bit un-uniform. Paragraph length should vary somewhat and be more irregular when there is dialogue.

Another suggestion from Allen is breaking the story into short chapters with hooky endings. One caution we brought up was switching POV too often in schort chapters. This can be a real problem if there are multiple POVs. You run the risk of switching away from a character that a reader likes best and if you don’t get back to him or her soon, the reader might lose interest.

The final piece of advice from Allen is sketch in details instead of painting a detailed image. We felt that an exception to this would be SciFi, fantasy, or horror when the details describe something the reader isn’t familiar with or when the details are the essence of what is scary (the focus). Some things in fantasy and SciFi are fun to imagine, but completely new ideas probably need a bit more flushing out.

I had to run out before we decided what to discuss next month. I guess I’ll be surprised.

Until next time, write on.

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