Who knew? The first chapter of a novel can, literally, make or break its success.
Oh. You knew this? Well, bear with me. I am learning as I go here.
So, I made the classic rookie mistake. I began my novel the way it began in my head: with my protagonist waking up. It is how many novels start–The Hunger Games, for example. Even Fifty Shades of Grey begins with what’s-her-name brushing her hair. These aren’t works of literary genius, you say? True enough. But they are widely recognizable and wildly popular. Speaking from my own experience, I think this tendency probably stems from the necessity to get to know a character before throwing them into the deep-end of the story’s pool. And that is o-kay. Whatever method works to get your story started is a good one, right? I mean, if you do not start a novel, you will never finish it.
But I did start my novel, and I did finish it. (woot!) Once I did (and while finalizing some personal edits), I resumed my research into traditional agent and publishing routes.
Does this sound familiar? “Submit first 10 pages of your manuscript along with query letter.”
Here’s another: “Send query letter with first five to ten pages of manuscript in the body of the email…”
Practically every submission requirement is the same–send query letter and–not even the first chapter–but the first five to ten pages! Talk about pressure! If agents and publishers are basing their decisions on this tiny percentage of our novels, how are we ever to get past that preliminary round?
What I have learned thus far is this:
1. Start your novel at the beginning of the climax. This is most likely not found at the beginning of the protagonist’s daily routine…
2. The first line of the book is valuable real estate. Build a condo on that mother. In a single line humor, mystery, tragedy, and voice can all be conveyed. Find something profoundly simple that sets the book apart.
3. Use your strengths. If you’re funny and the book is comedic, get the reader snorting right off the bat. If you’re great at voice, make them fall in love with the protagonist. If you’re writing a mystery, give a taste of what’s to come…no, not a taste, an amuse-bouche!
4. Don’t get too attached to your words. It’s true, they’re your words and you wrote them, and you can love them forever. But sometimes (stop me if you’ve heard this one) if you love something, you have to let it go.
So there they are. More lessons learned from a rookie novel writer.
Stay tuned, folks. I’m sure there’s many more to come.