Panels: First Steps & First Chapter

One thing I regret about my ConCarolinas experience is not getting enough photos of the author panels.

Faith Hunter (aka Gwen Hunter) and I

What’s wrong with me?

Thank God my husband was paying attention and reminded me to get one with Faith Hunter. Honestly, I was so tongue-tied around her but my inner fangirl was screaming! Faith writes the Jane Yellowrock paranormal fantasy series and is a contributor to the group blog www.MagicWords.net .

Alright. Alright. On to the writing goodies…

The first two panels I attended started out appropriately titled.

First Step:  How to take your first steps toward a writing career

The panelists began by discussing the basic skills required to start and maintain a writing career. Much of it wasn’t new: the writer has to have an ego, but also be accepting of criticism. The writer has to be focused, but also open to new directions etc, etc.

In other words, writers need split personalities or at least have a good counselor or friend on speed dial for the inevitable meltdowns.

Actually, this reminds me of author Myke Cole’s hilariously contradictory list of writing rules: The 18 Rules I Learned In My 1st Year As A Full Time Writer It’s worth checking out.

Learning how to write by reading, and reading widely, was discussed. Another obvious one, but one I haven’t been attending to lately. Now that I have that stack of autographed books from the con, I need to get crackin’.

There was the usual list of writing resource recommendations which I won’t bother repeating because they are on every list I’ve ever seen. However, here are two I hadn’t heard of before:

Thanks But This Isn’t For Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected by Jessica Page Morrell. The title kinda says it all.

John Steinbeck’s Working Days is his writing journal as he wrote Grapes of Wrath. Sounds interesting.

* * *

You Had Me at Hello

This panel included tips for creating a first chapter that will grab the reader and keep his attention. Now, that was a topic I could sink my teeth into.

One idea surprised me: Make the first sentence in your novel NOT make sense on the surface. Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? That way, the panelists explained, the reader will want to continue reading to understand and make sense of what was just read.

Honestly, I can imagine a whole segment of readers who, after reading a confusing first sentence, would put it down, never to pick it up again, much less try anything else by that author.

That thought just sent me to my own bookshelves and I discovered several books with this type of beginning sentence. Apparently, it worked so well on me I didn’t even notice the difference.

I feel like one of the cool kids now.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I’d rather write for those folks who “get it” (if I used that kind of a beginning) than those who don’t. I suspect it may be indicative of the rest of the novel. It’s better to know these things up front.

Ok, now that I’ve probably alienated a bunch of people — Onward!

James Maxey mentioned (and I’m paraphrasing here because I can’t read my chicken-scratch notes), “Dressing up the first chapter as if it’s going out on a date.” He focuses much attention on that first chapter because it’s so important.

David B. Coe (who also writes as D.B. Jackson ) believes he overworks the beginnings of his novels to the point he often doesn’t like them. He highly recommends the services of a professional editor for helping pinpoint problems.

Rachel Aaron suggested that when trying to decide between different ways of approaching a novel beginning, try them both and see which you prefer.

All sound advice, I believe. What do you think?

Next time, I’ll focus on the panels about magic systems, kidnapping your muse, and writing as therapy. 

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3 comments on “Panels: First Steps & First Chapter

  1. Think of how you teach your kids to speak and to read. There isn’t a right way. You just have to spend a lot of time and effort on it. Having methods suggests there is a logical way to it. But your brain is always way ahead of your conscious thinking, so you just have to throw lots of stuff at it and see what happens. It’s an art not a science, so the rules are what you sense they are, or what you find works. Hope this helps, cheers and thanks for the post.

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  2. curiocat says:

    I get what you mean though. The first sentence really can’t be specific or make sense…otherwise it would be boring. I guess the trick is to be just confusing enough, in an interesting way, that makes the reader say, “Why?” and keep reading to find out.

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