Writing Progress: Week Ending April 7, 2012

It was not a bad week, wordcount wise:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 401 words
  • First Draft Wordcount: 2,468 words

Grand Total: 2,869 words

This week I very nearly wrapped up the second chapter of “Book of M”.  The second chapter has been a lot of fun to write, so far.  It’s significantly more action-packed than the first chapter.  When I mentioned this to Dear Wife, she asked “shouldn’t your first chapter be just as exciting, to get the reader hooked?”  Well, yes, Dear Wife is right about getting the reader hooked.  Doing that is pretty important to setting the right tone for the story.  (I’ll note that as yet Dear Wife has only my word to go on; she hasn’t had the opportunity to read the first chapter.)  In fact, this is a worry of mine.

But I’ve resolved to let the reader feedback tell me whether this is in fact a problem.  I’m much to close to the moment, and I right now can only trust my own intuition.

My intuition has taken a strange direction on this particular issue.  What I’m now writing as Chapter 2, when I first started thinking about this book several years ago, I had originally envisioned as the prologue.  Chronologically speaking, Chapter 2 takes place before Chapter 1.  But it takes as its focus not the main character – that is, not my primary protagonist, Isa, – but the story’s “co-protagonist”, a young man who joins Isa on her journey and whose story intertwines with her own.  What I have now as Chapter 2 is, basically, the co-protagonist’s backstory (which intersects with some of the significant backstory of the world).  But the plot of the novel itself really begins when Isa and her co-protagonist first meet.  And so I made that the focus of the first chapter.  It felt right to start the story from Isa’s point-of-view, and to start by showing this initial meeting – because how Isa reacts to that meeting will inform her actions going forward.

Plus, I wanted to establish Isa’s character, and start hinting at some of her own backstory that is relevant to her immediate situation and motivates her to act the way she does.

That’s a lot of non-specific blather, I suppose.  Enough for one day.  Suffice to say: I feel like this is the right choice, artistically.  I hope that readers react to it well, and that they are interested in my protagonist and her plight as suggested in Chapter 1 sufficiently that they are motivated to keep reading her story, independent of the more action-oriented introduction of her co-conspirator in the story.  But until the story is ready for readers, I won’t know the answer for sure, either way.

Anyway, I’m excited to soon be finishing Chapter 2, and from there to return back to Isa and unfold her story a little further.  She’ll be spending the next several scenes away from her co-protagonist – from here on I haven’t really mapped the scenes solidly to chapters yet – and I’m eager to reveal the dirty details of her world.

So how about you?  What are you working on right now?  What challenges are you struggling with?  How was your week in writing?

14 thoughts on “Writing Progress: Week Ending April 7, 2012

  1. I agree with the need to hook the reader in the first chapter, but I don’t think it’s primarily action that does it. Take The Matrix for an example.

    The first twenty minutes of The Matrix does as good a job of hooking the viewer as I’ve seen in any storytelling medium. There is action (and great — and often-copied action), but I think the main hook is the questions which are left unanswered until later, and the strong sense that there _are_ answers — that this isn’t all just showing off.

    My week was pretty good. Part Three of Stevie One is up to 3,113 words, with the next thousand about ready to go. But more exciting is that I think I just wrote the ending, the last three or four pages which wrap everything up. Of course I still have to get there, but it’s nice to have a feeling that I know where Im going.

    • I agree with you about what hooks a reader. I don’t think it’s action. Action without context is too empty to hold a reader’s attention. One could say a strong character is what hooks a reader, but I’m not sure this is the case because often it seems you need to hook a reader in rather less time than it takes to illustrate a character. So I think what does it best is a compelling plot question. In my opening chapter, I’m aiming for both the compelling question and the first outlines of an interesting character.

      It’s interesting to me that you’ve just written your stories ending. I’ve never written anything out of order like that, before. Oftentimes I’ll imagine some aspect of the ending before the beginning. I may even outline or make notes about things out of order. But I’ve always written everything from beginning to end.

      • Well, I usually don’t make a lot of notes (though I did just outline the actual crime — to make sure the pieces fit). When I think of something, I usually write it as a scene. Even if the scene gets cut, it can help clarify things in my mind.

  2. That’s pretty productive! Well done. Personally I find I feel cheated when the first point of view character introduced, does not end up being the main character. IMO, starting with Isa is a good idea, because the reader needs to form a bond with her / emotional investment in her story (or else why keep reading on?).

    I wrote ~ 2700 words on the novel last week, plus did some brainstorming for a short story. I need to get the short done first, but I’m having trouble with the beginning.

      • Yes indeed; Hitchcock clearly understood and was playing with tropes and expectations in Psycho. As to my “prologue” comment, too, the opening of Psycho runs substantially longer than you’d expect for a prologue, so it isn’t covered by that exception. In book terms as an analogy, it would be like having a 50-page prologue for a 250-page book…

    • I agree with you with one caveat. At least personally, I’ve always assumed that prologues will be told from a separate POV from the protagonist/main character. Of course, these days prologues are… what’s the word for the opposite of en vogue? I don’t know, but I still like prologues and I think they’re functionally useful in storytelling. But one thing I’ve noticed from a decline of the prologue is that more often I’ll read a book with a “Chapter 1” that’s really just a prologue. (Well, one example from my recent reading comes to mind is the first chapter of Children of Amarid by David B. Coe, but obviously that’s just one datapoint.) My point being… as I was originally planning to use what I’ve now got as Chapter 2 as the prologues, I felt like that would be legit. But anyway, in this case I decided that I didn’t think that would be the best way to unfold the story.

      So, do you have a deadline for the short story? Are you writing it for a market? (If so, good luck!)

  3. My view is that as long as “hooking the reader in the first chapter” actually means “hooking the reader with the very first sentence”, I don’t think you need to care much about the actual content of the chapter (action or no action, etc.).

    In the end, though, I think you do the right thing in following your own instincts first and then leaving the rest to the readers.

    • Hah! Yeah, I’ve heard that’s kind of the focus these days. Hook ’em from the first sentence and never let go. For myself, though, I don’t judge a book solely by the first sentence. The last book that I put down without finishing I’d actually read almost half the book before giving up on it. If I’ve started a book, it’s probably because I already think I’m going to enjoy it, so I’ll give it quite a bit of slack before I get frustrated. More often than not, though, I’m selective enough about the books I pick up in the first place that it’s very unlikely I’ll be that unimpressed with a book.

  4. Congratulations on a good writing week, or as a good friend of mine might say, “Woooot you!” I tend to agree with everyone here in regard to your organization of chapters. It’s all about the promise you give your reader, and if Isa’s your MC it’s pretty crucial she get first billing. It sounds like you’re having fun too which is awesome!

    This week has been more of “21 Days to a Novel”. Just posted Day 16 today which was creating a blurb for the back of the book. It’s a nice challenge. Not to mention it’s one day closer to Day 21 and officially starting the novel which I’m very excited about.

    • Thank you. I’m going to have to check out your post on creating a book blurb. That seems like a useful exercise: you’ve got perhaps a little more room to describe the book than in a typical pitch, but it’s still a very abbreviated form, which I suspect can help you distill the story down to it’s core ideas.

      • Yep, it’s a real challenge, and that distillation is the whole reason he gives for doing it. He allows 6 sentences – amazing how little that can be!

        I’ve already gotten two very different responses which will help me make it better. It’s funny to note the difference between abstract and literal thinkers.

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