Thursday, December 22, 2011

Moving Past Chapter 1

You've written and re-written Chapter 1 a dozen times, you have an endless stack of story ideas from the techno-thriller, starring a maniacal Jack Frost, to the Victorian Mystery starring a fashion-obtuse Conan The Barbarian, but what you really want to do is actually finish something.

Question is: What is holding you back? Perhaps you're trying to make the story too perfect on the first draft? Because first drafts SHOULD suck and just be about what people are doing, why, where they are and how. All the pretty prose, good grammar, riveting action, clever dialogue should could come later (unless the muse is in).

I'm no Writer Extraordinaire, but I've got some completed projects under my belt, and others that are close, so it takes me back to my own path. If you are so interested, come walk with me for a moment while I reminisce.

I started my writing in '95 (perhaps '94), where I spent a lot of time working up the world building and a brief outline of many, many sequels to occur over the course of millennia. (Trying to keep the story small and manageable, right?) I dabbled in the world and the story, off and on, over the course of the next couple years before I pretty much shelved it until 2007. Other things took over during that time, and as dear to me as it still was, it didn't take precedence. Through the years I had a lot of little story ideas, and had four chapters done in the main story that started it all.

When I revisited the Story in 2007, it was partly out of creative depression from other things. But, when I looked at it, I couldn't figure out how to move forward. For me, the Story was grand, epic, and actually: Too big to write. I had too many things that I needed to figure out first: regarding story, writing skill, etc. In (what I think was) a brilliant moment, I realized that I needed to do something in that world, but far apart and separate. It would give me time to build up my ideas of what was to come while still staying productive. That endeavor (Hammerblood) was supposed to be a "short story", then novella, became the first novel of a four-part series of which the first one is "done", the second is half done and the others are roughed out.

I can't tell you if I can return yet to the main storyline that started it all, but I can tell you that I have a couple novels almost completed, others are close, two short stories are done and I am certainly feeling more accomplished and capable after taking these different stories from beginning to end.

Perhaps there is something a writer stuck on Chapter 1 can take from all of that, or perhaps I just spent FAR too much time navel-gazing about my writing past. You decide. ;-)

How about your own progression? Do you have a story of your way past Chapter 1?


  1. Spot on.

    I have about ten Chapter 1's, a half-dozen outlines, two Nanowrimo wins, and a good number of short stories. But, not a single completed, polished manuscript suitable for sale.

    However, I started this journey in 2008 for the same reason as you--Creative Depression. Life as a corporate drone does not fulfill creative needs.

    I write in-between other activities, and this is not something I planned to become a professional at. But, the more I have written, the more I have come to realize how much I enjoy doing so. When I go back and read the first drafts of my earliest scribblings, I shudder. They are awful, silly, trite, and I can clearly see all the mistakes in bold, glaring detail. So, even though I have not formally completed anything of manuscript length yet, I can see a steady progression of improvement. And for now, that is what I cling to as I work to finish that first manuscript. One day. One day I will have it if I keep moving forward.

    I'm grateful you and I have been able to connect and exchange tips, techniques, and reviews. I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May next year bring you your first sale.

  2. :-) Thanks, as always, Steve, for your encouragement and friendship. Perhaps 2012 can be the year for your first MS completion. Wasn't Chicken Nuggets pretty close? Or which one was it? I'm blanking right now, sorry, sleep deprivation. Our five month old seems dead set on getting his teeth as soon as possible.

  3. Clifton as a parent you know how free time is hard to come by. I heard an author say how there is a difference between writing as a profession and then writing as a hobby. I'm sure things change a bit when there are deadlines to meet, and money on the line. As I've mentioned before right now I'm currently deployed and surprisingly I've never had more free time in my life... I totally agree with what you mentioned about a first draft. Rough drafts are supposed to suck and that's something that I keep in mind.

    Right now I'm having several problems. The first is that I'm having a hard time expanding chapters. Each one feels too short to me and I'm having trouble trying to decide how to expand them. The second issue is on my actual writing. I want my story to feel dark and brooding, very R. Scott Bakker-ish. I want it to have a biblical poetical feel but as I re-read what I write it all sounds like "sword and sorcery" to me. It's a work in progress for sure. As Cyril Connolly once said, "Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self".

  4. I'm sure the difference between work and hobby is significant. After you hear about the change from so many newly "pro" writers, it can almost make you wonder if it is a superior thing or not. Despite all that, it is hard to argue against having a full work day to commit to the craft.

    I can certainly imagine how much more free time you have while away from home. Maybe not an ideal thing, but good for the writing, no doubt.

    I wish I could help you with your writing problems, but I fear I am not nearly skilled enough, especially regarding style. Of late, I've been trolling the blogs of Victoria Mixon and Jami Gold. Both have many nuggets of writerly wisdom to impart, perhaps there is something there for you? Victoria, in particular, is an editor of many years and has a book on writing out that sounds quite promising. I am of a need to buy it myself. Beyond that, I can only theorize that for style, you need to find out how the prose is composed. How the pacing is handled, word use, is it heavy on adjectives, action, etc.? Whatever makes it up, figure it out, dissect it and see how you can implement that for yourself. For me, I am quite enamored with George R.R. Martin and am trying to take his spare, evocative style to heart. I am not trying to emulate it, but just take the basic elements that I like most and make them my own.

    As to expanding on chapters, I can only wonder if you may need to look at the story as a whole, where you are lacking, who is lacking and what needs to be filled in to make it a better, richer story. Tackling it one chapter at a time seems like you might be missing something that may be a trend in the story. Or perhaps you are leaving it as too much "tell" and not breaking it down to the point of "show". First drafts can include a lot of telling the reader what to see, think, but later we need to make sure to remember to write it in a way that shows the reader the emotion and the action of the scene. That will always take more words to convey and may be all that you need.

    Happy Writing and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

  5. Thanks for the links man! Merry Christmas to you too. I'll take what you said into account, I appreciate your response.


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