1. nzric
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    nzric Active Member

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    Opening scene/chapter trouble - nothing happens at beginning..?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by nzric, Jan 24, 2011.

    Hi

    I have heard all the recommendations about starting a novel well with a 'punchy' beginning. Trouble is I can't figure out how to start mine. My problem is I have so much to get through at the beginning that nothing much happens, I am 10 chapters in and it all feels like character introduction and world building.

    I am working on a speculative future science fiction story - it has multiple character narratives (about 5-6), i.e. changes voice each chapter, and all of them are written in first person present tense (because I don't want the reader to know which one or two are going to die). Also, I have a lot of world building I need to do, because I'm looking at tying in realistic developments in world politics in the next 50-100 years, but without boring people with a "future history lesson". So it's ending up very complex.

    My main issue is not much is actually supposed to happen at the start - a lot of foreshadowing yes, but basically I want the novel to start very slowly and build & build until the end. I don't want to start with an action scene or something too showy because it would ruin the structure of the story.

    Any suggestions? I'm personally interested in the story but I feel if I don't put bells and whistles on the first page people won't stick with it until the plot starts ramping up.
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    With mine I usually find a minor action scene - nothing big and explosive

    My first is an arguement between father and son, second is the brother of my MC falls in a puddle, third is throwing an alarm clock, fourth is a young child getting ready for school, fifth is a walk through the woods with grandparents and their grandson, sixth is a parish priest giving a sermon etc.

    Even with a slow build up you can still find an event to start with.
     
  3. FrankABlissett
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    FrankABlissett Active Member

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    Oh, I don't know about that. Pick up "The Sorcerer's Stone". The whole first chapter is description of the Dursley's and foreshadowing the troubles to come. The closest thing to "action" is Dumbledore extinguishing the streetlights.

    The next book I picked up was "The Norby Chronicles", by the Asimovs. It starts with a space cadet getting lectured because he "tied himself to the main computer", resulting in "the kitchen computer getting the wrong set of data".

    On the other hand, I also have handy "4th Of July" by James Patterson (my wife's, honest!). It DOES start with a police starting a murder investigation, so would likely be called "punchy". Not especially action packed, though.

    What the three have in common, rather than action, is suspense. They give us little bits of an interesting story, and we hang around for the next chapter to find out more. Even stories that do start with action do this - at least the ones that get you coming back for more.

    -Frank
     
  4. Terry D
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    Terry D Active Member

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    There needs to be some sort of conflict, or tension, set up early or you run the risk of losing your readers. That doesn't mean battles, or killing anyone off necessarily, it just means that there needs to be something to get the readers emotionally hooked into the story. It can be as subtle as a troubled character getting a new job as in The Shining, or as quiet as Hemingway's old man on an 84 day losing streak against the sea. But there is tension right off the bat.
     
  5. JetMasta
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    JetMasta Member

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    Nothing major happends in my chapter 1.
    The characters are packing thier things quickly. A body on the table, a big yeti-like creature standing around and a guy in a suit sceaming like a fanatic Justin Beiber fan.
    Most of it is just carry on, about how they have to leave in a rush. However no real 'action' takes place. Its all just setting the scene for the chapters to come. Its interesting and it makes the reader want to read more (so they say).

    Unless your first chapter is a whole tonne of 'info dump', I don't think you have much of a problem. Besides you are not far in the story yet, you will figure it out in re-writes later on.
     
  6. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with everything you said.
     
  7. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    I like both.

    If I know the basic plot of the book and think that epic things will happen, then I'm in for the slow burn.
     
  8. lemurkat
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    lemurkat Senior Member

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    How about starting with a conversation?
     
  9. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    A 'punchy' beginning doesn't necessarily mean the entire first chapter has to be a jaw-dropping epic. My writing professor in college said the most important part of the novel is the first line. If you can grab the reader's attention with that, then they will be curious enough to keep reading.

    For example, the current story I am working on starts with:

    "Mommy! Mommy, look! The sky is falling!"

    The idea is to get the reader to wonder why this child thinks the sky is falling. Once that 'why' is answered the reader will be opened up to other questions and be curious to see them to the next hook.
     
  10. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you don't want to ruin the structure you've developed for the story, but feel the need to change the story's opening--at least something within the first 10 chapters, what can be done?

    Even the most 'catchy action scene' won't last for the rest of the 9 1/2 chapters.

    As someone indicated above, there needs to be conflict--all the time the reader is learning about the culture, characters, and what's at stake.

    I am not sure if it is necessary to write it in first person present tense to hide from the reader which 2 characters die. If it's taking too long to get the story underway, maybe reduce the number of POV characters?

    A major concern would be (depending on your intended route to get this published): Would an agent/editor read 10 chapters before the story arc begins to rise up with more action and conflict--read 10 chapters of world building and character development, from an untested/new writer? What will hook them--because that ties into what would hook the reader.

    Remember, agents/editors have hundreds of submissions or more a month to consider. How long will they stay at it--they're your first audience. Readers have thousands of choices. How long will they stay at it. Even consider, with free samples for ebooks or chapters up on a website to get a reader's interest, how many chapters can be available...what % of the novel?

    An established writer has more leeway in building, than unproven ones. Not necessarily fair, but the way it is.

    Anything can work. Even so, it's hard enough to get a work accepted/published.

    I know I rambled a bit posing questions and concerns, but hope it helps you a bit to move forward with the project.

    Terry
     
  11. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    So, the first problem is that you are apparently more interested in writing a structure than a story.

    The second problem is that you want a novel that "builds & builds" while simultaneously having nothing happen. In real life, a story that "builds and builds" is one where one minor conflict follows another until the middle of the book, when larger and larger conflicts appear.

    Now, it could be that by "action scene or something too showy," you were referring to the sort of scenes in which large spaceships with laser weapons blast away at each other, and perhaps you actually do have tons of conflict which is being resolved in more mundane fashion -- perhaps by characters talking to one another, or deploying ships with mission goals that get around the problem, or by forming alliances, or whatever.

    But if your story actually starts out with ten chapters in which the characters are not involved, repeatedly, in some kind of conflict, you don't actually have a story until ten chapters in. This is problematic.

    Your best bet is to go through and make sure that there is some kind of conflict in every chapter. It doesn't have to be huge, like spaceships fighting. It can be as small as someone having been ushered into an unexpected meeting and finding an old enemy in attendance, or a character whose best friend is trying to talk him out of something important. As long as something is happening to a character and the character cares, it's even possible to get a story out of characters undergoing a serious change (just been promoted; just lost their right arm in a fire; just fell in love; just lost their parents to Lord Voldemort).

    If you go through and you don't find any conflict or story-worthy changes, then you need to seriously ask yourself whether you want your story to be everything you wanted it to be structure-wise, and to have no-one read it, or if you'd rather change your timeline into an actual story and have a fanbase.

    If you really believe in the story, you can always write it out as-is and send it to publishers, but get started on the next book afterward. A story without conflict is a seriously tough sell.
     
  12. nzric
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    nzric Active Member

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    Thanks for all the great advice.

    Yes, I have been occupied with writing the structure, but I have looked at it and I think I do need to bring the initial conflict earlier in the story.
     
  13. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    But you see, Rowling doesn't just go on a huge infodump for a whole chapter about the history of HP being sent to live with his aunt and uncle. She SHOWS what life is like with the Dursleys, and there's plenty of action in the scenes with Dudley's bullying, the snake getting loose at the zoo etc.

    I think the most important thing to consider in your situation is "show, don't tell." If your land is hilly and dry, mention in passing bits about your character trudging and gasping from an uphill trek each time he goes somewhere, and make the lack of water a source for family tension and arguments. Don't say "This is how it is........________" when you can weave it into your plot naturally.

    Hope it helped any
    -M
    :)
     
  14. nzric
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    nzric Active Member

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    Thanks for the info.

    Yes, at this stage I'm probably more interested in writing a structure, but nobody ever curled up on the sofa to read a structure. I suppose it's just 'new writer' growing pains about how to move from one to the other.

    I have had another look at the introductory chapters and I can probably combine some of them so it moves a bit more quickly. Like I said before, one of the main themes of the story is the transition for a lot of characters from a very "normal" life to some huge events/changes, so I have been thinking the 'hook' needs to be fairly effective.

    Will keep working away at it!
     

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