Writing and Rewriting That First Chapter

The first chapter might be the most important chapter in a novel.

Whether you’re trying to entice an agent or publisher for traditional publishing, or trying to keep readers who’ve picked up your self-published masterpiece, the first chapter needs to be a great hook.

There are plenty of articles out there which detail some elements of a good opening chapter (like this one from Writers’ Digest which describes several agent-repelling mistakes, and this list of tips by Chuck Wendig).

So, rather than try to provide comprehensive advice here, I’m focusing on three major issues I’ve encountered while writing my own first chapter(s): (1) knowing where to start the narration; (2) being able to set aside perfectionism so you can finish the rest of the manuscript; and (3) having the humility to make major changes.

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Argh—So Much Editing

“I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time.”

Every time I finish a round of editing on my novel manuscript I think something along the lines of, “Cripes, it’s so much better now.” This has happened about fifteen or sixteen times and it makes me afraid of how crappy the first drafts must have been. Continue reading

A.D.M. Was Here: Bavaria (Munich and Ludwig’s Castles)

From Rome to Munich

Yep, a lame wingtip photo.

After my would-be adventures in Italy with my fellow law students, I flew solo from Rome to Munich. I spent the first night wandering on foot for a few hours.

Munich 02

Marienplatz

Munich 03

The next morning, I headed off to Dachau to visit the concentration camp. Like the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam, the entire experience was rather somber. Going into the gas chambers gave me an unexpected chill. It’s a creepy space to walk through and I did it backwards, first seeing the room where they incinerated the bodies, then walking into the “shower” room where they murdered all those people and finally seeing the slots outside through which they dropped the gas canisters.

Dachau 05

Incinerator.

Dachau 06

Gas chamber.

Dachau 07

Gas canister drop slots.

Dachau 09

“Work makes [you] free.” Right.

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Lessons While Editing My Novel

With so many writing conventions and diverging schools of thought, it’s impossible for a single human being to learn it all (except for Yeezus, of course). However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the effort to keep improving our craft. Giving up is for poets and the French (bonus tip: don’t make fun of poets or the French on your blog).

So, in the spirit of not giving up, here’s another list of writing-related lessons I’ve conjured up while drinking an ill-advised mix of Mountain Dew and Stella Artois (mostly lessons that were re-learned and reinforced):

1. Unnecessary scene changes to your readers is as tea to Phoebe Buffay (Hint: “Tea gives Phoebe the trots.”).

Maybe you actually want your book to make people rush to the toilet, but for those of you who don’t, you should carefully assess the number of settings you push your characters through in a single chapter.

Essentially, you have to consider whether a change in setting is necessary. Do you absolutely need the change in ambiance? Are you trying to jump through different settings to expose the reader to the different places you created during your manic world-building episode? Can you get the same plot advances, character development, and evoke the same emotions by having everything occur in the same place? If you answered yes to that last question, make it occur in the same place. Otherwise, you’ll waste time and word counts shuffling your characters between locations.

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So, I Binge-watched Daredevil on Netflix

Daredevil Promo ImageMarvel has been knocking it out of the park with just about every addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Netflix has done similarly with their lineup of original series. Daredevil, which is part of the MCU as well as a Netflix original series, is no exception—the show is good.

For those unfamiliar with the Marvel character, Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer who uses his other heightened senses to moonlight as a masked vigilante. Matt has a sort of radar sense that gives him great awareness of his surroundings (e.g., placement and movement of objects, people’s heart rates and body temperatures).

It’s satisfying to watch the titular character flip around and kick countless amounts of asses. Beyond the physical action, there’s plenty of character development and non-combat tension. What I found impressive was the show’s success in developing the antagonists which sometimes left me rooting for the bad guys. As it should be, however, I ultimately wanted Matt Murdock to prevail.

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A.D.M. Was Here: Italy, Revisited (with Grumpy Law Students)

In the middle of our semester in London, I went with some classmates to Italy. One of our friends set the itinerary, booking all of our lodgings, and telling us where to be on which days. Travel arrangements, for the most part, was the responsibility of each the individual. So, we round up making our way to Venice in smaller cell groups.

Venice

Our first stop was Venice, which was more of the same from my first trip there (minus random, fun hostel people). Venice Again Venice Again 2 Venice Again 3 Bologna

We stopped in Bologna only because it’s the birthplace of Kappa Sigma, a frat to which one of our classmates belongs to. Emboldened by the spirit of his fraternity’s forefathers, this guy overcame his fear of heights and climbed with the rest of us to the top of the Golden Assay, a tower overlooking the city. Bologna The Golden Assay Before the tower, we went to a restaurant called Da Cesari for lunch and walked around chugging a giant bottle of wine. Da Cesari supposedly has awesome rabbit ravioli, but I made the mistake of ordering some pasta with Bolognese sauce which was rather mediocre.

Florence

Rushing out of Bologna, we got to Florence around sunset. When we were shown to our hostel rooms, I was thoroughly grossed out by my gassy male roommates, particularly since the space was so small. Unable to find lodging elsewhere, I stayed in the other room with my other classmates (yep, I’m that high maintenance).

We had dinner at Da il Latini—easily the best meal of the trip. Once seated, we were given an unlimited amount of food of whatever the kitchen was preparing that day, and unlimited wine. The meal included three or four types of meats, two pastas, and some other stuff. My personal favorite was the chicken liver spread over a slice of toasted baguette-like bread. We asked for an extra plate of those. The meal was capped off with some limoncello (lemon liqueur).

A bit of bad luck the next morning put most of the group in a foul mood—in contrast to the last night, I was super laid-back and relaxed for no explicable reason. The first morale-drainer was our hostel’s lack of hot water. It was winter, and our only bathing option was a cold shower. I was the only one who went ahead and showered anyway. Next, we ventured back to the train station and found there was a labor strike, halting all trains for the day and stranding us in Florence. Continue reading