Friday, September 11, 2009

Some thoughts on chapter one

Chapter one, chapter one, it's such a weighty word. Not like, say, chapter 17 where hopefully you'll know what you're doing or, if not, your readers won't care. Chapter one needs to be good, it needs to set the tone for the rest of the story, it needs to communicate who your characters are and what, pray tell, might happen to them. All of that and more, and still be entertaining, well written and unusual yet not gimmicky.

Enough to make you wonder why anyone would want to write a novel, right?

In preparation for my upcoming novel workshop, which I'm kinda terrified of due to a bad experience in grad school, I did a little meditating this afternoon on my on chapter one, which I don't love, but nor do I hate. I'd always thought it was kinda of necessary for the book - it had a setting that was important, it introduced the two biggest characters, it set out a quiet conflict that was in the same vein as a later, larger conflict. But it was kinda boring. And I didn't think that I'd done a good enough job with my details really. And I figured other people would not love it, because in comparison to chapter 2 and 3, and so on, not much exciting happens. It's pretty quiet.

That's all true, still. I haven't raced back into the chapter determined to give it shiny new wheels. I'm okay with it being somewhat boring for now. I do think that the events of chapter one need to be told in some fashion...if the crisis in chapter one changes, that's fine, but there'll be another crisis of the same sort, just a better one. The characters' differences are clear, the setting is clear, the stakes such as they are on the face of things are laid out. The chapter could be much more directly ominous, and hopefully it will be, but I think more of the stuff that needs to be said at the outset is being said at the outset than isn't. Only, of course, in a nondirect way.

About my being so nervous about this workshop, I shouldn't be. I should remember that grad school was frustrating at very many times and this class in particular was a waste of my time and effort, and think that also I could have done a better job in my work and been more professional myself about working with a bad teacher. My professor did not like my work and she made it clear, and she also didn't like me and she made that clear. That was unprofessional of her, but I didn't take my out to drop the class when I could have (why, I don't remember).
I found an old workshop draft of one of those chapters that I'd given a prior writing workshop and the comments on those papers were much more supportive than in Waste of My Time's class. Sometimes your work doesn't reach its intended audience. Sometimes you need to be humble in order to make your work better. we all have different tastes. I remember being horrified in workshop in college when one of my peers HATED, but hated James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room.

{That was the first Baldwin book I read, and he's still a favorite author to this day. So rich. If you haven't read him, do.}

I was lucky and/or spoiled in college to work with wonderful writing professors, people who I still keep in touch with.

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