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What I Must Accomplish in My Story Opening

Posted: Tue Jan 16, 2007 12:30 am
by Kiwigirl
Above my computer is a little list of guidelines which I plucked from somewhere about what must be achieved in my story opening. I think it came from a book about writing for children... you're welcome to take it or leave it, but the stories I've consistently loved have always managed to do all seven in the first chapter, whether the book is for adults or children:

1. Catch the interest of the reader.
2. Introduce the characters.
3. Set the stage.
4. Introduce the problem.
5. Set the mood.
6. Suggest the complication.
7. Hint at the solution.

I make a habit of running this list by the fiction items I write. If I'm missing any points I can make an informed decision as to whether or not I need to tweak to add them in or if it's safe to leave it until the second chapter.


Posted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 1:37 am
by Kiwigirl
Oooh, look! Thanks for the shove, Pat... I just found the source - Writing for Children and Teenagers by Lee Wyndham, chapter 15.

The story opening is, according to Wyndham, the first page. Now, don't ask me if it's the first half-page of a printed chapter, or the first page of a single-spaced, 1.5 spaced, or double-spaced manuscript. From memory, I had thought it was in the first chapter, but often first chapters in junior fiction are shorter than later chapters.

I find the biggest problem with adult fiction is how many authors spend an awful lot of time describing the setting, doing a bit of a build-up. For me, and obviously a lot of kids, this doesn't work because if I'm not hooked on something more than the pretty scenery by the end of the first chapter you've probably lost me. The story works best, in my humble opinion (and reinforced by Wyndham's commentary), when it gets off to a running start.

This book, even though it's targeted at writer's of children's literature is a brilliant read for any wannabe writer. :D

Posted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 8:53 am
by Writetrack
That is definitely the problem of many books, Christine. Being able to jump into the story and yet not confuse and lose the reader is key. I love stories that start in the middle of the action. I am a huge fan of dialogue - no dialogue (with lots of explaining - the setting, background, etc) is like listening to a boring college professor giving a lecture.


Give me dialogue and let the backstory and setting unfold as the novel progresses.

Good thoughts about what the first chapter entails. We have a lot of work ahead of us.


Posted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 3:56 pm
by PaddyO
I'm copying and printing this out. It's perfect for me.

I'm one of those who likes meandering openings. Not when I read, but oddly when I writ.e I want to say everything and I sort of sit too long. I think because I don't outline I often write an exploration, trying to come to terms with the characters myself. This is fine, but I have to remember this isn't a good way to start off, and I need to maybe write a first chapter for myself, and then a real first chapter that would be more fitting for a book.

Getting to the point quick is definitely a writing struggle for me. Though I don't know why. I really like writing action. I have to retrain my mind to start with it.

Posted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 3:57 pm
by RedBaron
Great info! thanks for sharing!!!

What to expect in opening paragraphs

Posted: Fri Jan 26, 2007 12:56 am
by valerierouthieaux
I agree with Christine about the seven points. I recently finished a course in writing for children and that was drilled home in every lesson.

As for the way I write, I like action, lots of dialogue, and I'm also into detail which usually comes out in the dialogue.

Anybody know the final word count on this contest? :?: :D

Posted: Fri Jan 26, 2007 3:38 pm
by kspil
Sparrow wrote:Oh, and I have a page-turning opening that I'm happy about, but it's only 400 words long... not chapter length. :|
What would be a good length for a chapter. I always have trouble with that.

You know this is a great topic for me because I have been editing a novella that I want to submit for this contest and was "not feeling it" as I went along. Then I realized that it is because the first chapter is not how it should be written. With your tips I may be able to fix it. Thanks.

Posted: Fri Jan 26, 2007 4:04 pm
by Vile
Now, I have a couple of characters who won't be introduced until later in the book (one of them in the second chapter). Both the title character and Protagonist are well-introduced, though.

I think the only thing I don't have is a concrete hint at a solution.

Posted: Sat Jan 27, 2007 4:44 am
by Kiwigirl
Vile wrote:I think the only thing I don't have is a concrete hint at a solution.
I don't think it needs to be a concrete hint at a solution. I think it needs to be a whiff, otherwise there's no point reading the whole story, is there? (Although I have read some stories where a concrete hint is given and it's so out there that I have to read the book to see how it happens.) It's worth reading a few books which you think are outstanding - just read the first and last chapters and see if you can identify the hint. It's a fun exercise. :D

Posted: Sat Jan 27, 2007 6:01 am
by Sparrow
Vile wrote:I think the only thing I don't have is a concrete hint at a solution.
From what I read, I think you did fine with that. :)

Posted: Thu Feb 01, 2007 7:21 pm
by Valora
I'm so excited! I didnt' even know what I was doing and hit every point on your list with my first couple of chapters!!!! Happy Dance!

Posted: Thu Feb 08, 2007 4:56 pm
by dfletcher
Wow, my 1st chapter has been replaced recently with a new 1st chapter, which starts out in the middle of action, leaving the reader to wonder why, hopefully giving them the desire to go further.

it sets the stage for me to go back into the history of my characters and what lead up to the battle, so this should be interesting.

Posted: Thu Feb 15, 2007 3:35 am
by morning glory
When is the deadline for this contest and where do we send the chapter? I haven't been around in awhile. :D