Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Vital First Chapter - Conflict

You don't need me to tell you how important the first chapter is - it is your taster - your tool to draw the reader in - your selling pitch - it is everything. 

So, why do so many writers begin with mundane events like the weather, a description of the place or the character, or an everyday occurrence such as having the character carrying out a task while sharing their thoughts - Ugh  - sharing thoughts, boring. 

What should be your opening lines, how should you construct them, what 'lead' into your story do you need - one word - conflict.  Hit your reader in the face with something happening, or about to happen that pique's their interest and makes them want to know more.

Let's suppose you are writing a murder mystery.  The main character is going to find the body and be accused of the murder.   You could start with the weather and a gentle run into the finding of the body..

The clouds rolled above, one moment the sun bathed her in warmth the next a chill shivered her.  Vanda paid no attention to it other than to pull her jacket round her slim body or undo it when called for.  Her mind had other avenues to travel, why was it her marriage had failed, they still loved each other, didn't they?

But then, she knew why, Tom's eye for the ladies.  And, he'd stopped looking and had touched.  Touched in a big way.  His affair had lasted two years.  Two years!  God, how come she didn't find out about it sooner?  Angelina Brooks, the bitch with stunning looks and a body to die for, and supposedly her own very best friend - she hated the cow to distraction! 

Taking a left she could see Angelina's apartment block.  Her anger rose up.  Knowing it wouldn't do any good, didn't matter.  She had to tackle her.  Had to tell her just what she thought of her.  Drag her through something of what she'd done, make her realise how it hurt.

Okay, there is a small amount of conflict there, we know Vanda is upset and is going to tackle the cause of it.  But three paragraphs in and all we have are her thoughts and the weather.  No hint of what she might find when she got to the flat.  Our own imagination might give us a cat fight, but not much more. So, who is going to be murdered?  This is a thriller isn't it?  Or is it a chic lit?  Here is the same scenario we intend for our opening scene, but haven't yet got to, but this one plunges us straight into the action:

Blood dripped from Vanda's temple and on to her hand.  Reaching the top of the stairs she could see Angelina's flat.  Hate welled up in her.   Shaking from her fall, and with fear, she moved forward.  The door swinging open compounded her fear.   She stood a moment before entering and looked back down the spiraled steps.  The hooded figure of the man who had knocked her over disappeared.  A clattering echo of the banging of the door behind him shuddered through her.   

Stepping inside froze her in a capsule of time she knew she would never forget.  Her scream stuck in her throat. Vomit choked her, stinging and burning as she swallowed it back.   The carpet squelched with the ever increasing blood surrounding Angelina.   Staring at the still, twisted body shattered the very core of her, tangling her emotions, leaving her stranded between love and hate for this woman, her one time, best friend, who had stolen her husband,  Oh God... 

Aware of a sore place when she knelt, Vanda ignored it and bent over Angelina.  The once beautiful face masked with horror.  Dead, unseeing eyes looking back at her.  There was no pulse.   Leaning back on her legs released the breath Vanda had held.  With it came a moan holding all the pain of what had happened between them, and of now.  The black pit of her despair reached up to her taking her into its bottomless hole.  Her hand dropped onto a cold steel rod...

Which one has you wanting to read more? 

Well, that is what it is all about.  Dragging your reader by the scuff of the neck into your novel.  Make them want to click the button to 'buy now'.  Don't waste time setting the scene, giving background information, or introducing anyone.  All of that can come later. 

Look at your own beginnings.  Have you immediate conflict?  No?    Then re-write.

1 comment:

  1. Good blog. And I like the example. I agree with so much of this, Mary. An opening hook is so important.I also think an 'end hook' to each chapter is equally important.


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