An Indie Epublishing Career Begins with a Single Word – That First Word on That First Page

Looking at a blank page is always daunting- mostly when my head is spinning with ideas but they will not come out in a coherent manner. At least for me, putting down that first word (or sentence) is sometimes an excruciating process of forward, reverse and pause for me.

It may be easy for a lot of you to start a novel, or a short story. For me, it is anything but straightforward and stress free. I have a little annoying voice in my head that says (in a whiney loud voice) “Readers will give you one page – or a few at the very  most, to see if they like (buy, read) your book or not. Make it perfect – or else!” Or else what you may ask- doomed forever- never able to write again or get readers? I am not sure, but I bet it’s really bad if that first chapter doesn’t capture the reader’s attention. Moreover, I do not want to take that chance of a mediocre first chapter.

Therefore, the pressure (admittedly self-imposed) to make a perfect first sentence in the (hopefully) near flawless opening chapter is enormous. The first line’s impact can be monumental and memorable – setting the mood for the entire book. Who doesn’t remember the opening line of Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Okay maybe I am putting too much burden on myself. In addition, I am in no way on the same superstar writer extraordinaire level as Dickens- so I should just chill and get on with my writing – right?

Wrong.

I rewrote my first chapter of my debut novel LIQUID LIES – no less than two

dozen times. Often scrapping everything and starting again with a blank page. Yes, its sounds like torture and a waste of time, but that is what I did. To me, it had to ‘feel right’ from the first word.

This brings me to the reason I wrote this post in the first place. I have set lofty writing goals for 2013- that include completing three novels in 12 months. Even with my entire clan of children home for the holidays, and my husband finally able to take some vacation time- I thought this “vacation time” would be a get way to jump start book one of my trilogy. Yes, I rolled my eyes too, but I want to try to get at least the first chapter done before the New Year.

However, a chapter begins with a sentence.

And a sentence begins with a word.

I am still staring at a blank page, struggling with what to do next. I have all the ideas, most of the plotlines, characters, and so on in my head. But that first sentence- well – nothing so far.

Big old zero.

So, what I want to ask all of you is, how do you begin a novel? What are your thoughts on that first sentence/chapter?  How much “weight” do you put on your first chapter having to capture the reader and be great, or do you not feel this way?

The Best of Writing-That-First-Word Wishes — Lois Lavrisa

EasyFreeAds Blog News Facebook Twitter Myspace Friendfeed Technorati del.icio.us Digg Google Yahoo Buzz StumbleUpon

Comments

  1. Sheri says:

    Hi Lois,

    I absolutely LOVE the cover of Liquid Lies!

    I’m on my fourth novel and feel more pressure now about the first line/page/chapter than I did writing my first book. The difference being I know more about ‘craft’ now than back in the summer of 2011.

    After reading two fantastic how-to books in the last six months, both focus on the opening pages, I think my writing has improved even more, but so has the pressure for achieving the best first pages possible. Funny how that works.

    When I wrote my first novel, that initial blank page was like looking down a black run ski slope. The way I finally got ink on paper was to give myself permission to write the scene I most wanted to write, which happepned to be the ‘big scene’ – you know, the one where the boat blows up and we think the protagonist has been killed. The one that belongs on page 280, not page 1. But it worked! Once I got that scene down, it was like the wind in my sails and my book just took off from there.

    All I can say is, thank God for technology and the guys who invented computers/Word, cuz otherwise I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to hit the writing slopes.

    Best of luck with strong sales on your stories!

    • Lois Lavrisa says:

      Sheri- what a great idea! Thank you for telling me how you write the big scene and then go back and write the beginning. I do have a lot of scenes in my head, and a lot written in a spiral bound notebook. Maybe I should take your lead and just write whatever scene I could- even if it is near the end, the n see if that helps the first scene. Thanks so much:)

  2. Tamara Ward says:

    Beginnings give me problems too. Without a great first sentence/first chapter, many readers won’t be hooked. So, yes, I’m with you, Lois! I rewrite and stress and putter and rewrite… go on and write more of the novel… come back to that first chapter and rewrite! I always try to begin with action or conflict, something that’s off and will make the reader read onward. But getting the beginnings right for me is often a challenge.

    • Lois Lavrisa says:

      Tamara-I don’t know about you, but I am a linear writer (usually) which means I need to start at the beginning in order to move to the next logical step. I think this has caused me th whole challenge of getting started with a first chapter of a new book. Maybe a resolution for me should be to mix it up start where I can- even if its the end.?

  3. Ansha Kotyk says:

    I’m like Sheri, once I learned that I didn’t have to start on page one, I could actually write. Thank goodness for yWriter and Scrivener. I create my outline as chapter headers and then pick and choose what scenes to write, usually it’s the big ones that I can write about first. Like puzzle pieces they all come together in the end. Of course, I have a fair amount of revision. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of the those writers that can create a clean first draft. Mine are all kinds of messy. But the story gets out of my head and onto the paper…er screen. And that’s what counts. Good Luck Lois. The story will come.

    • Lois Lavrisa says:

      Ansha- thanks for your comments. And I have been thinking about yWriter and Scrivener, perhaps I need to look into them as well:) Oh, and I also have a lot of revisions, no matter where I start. Often spending more time on editing than I had writing it.That is just part of the process for me.

  4. Ruth Harris says:

    Lois, *Only* 2 dozen times? ;-)

    I wrote/rewrote/edited the beginning of DECADES approx 75 times. Read that Dennis Lehane struggled/rewrote similarly on MYSTIC RIVER.

    Bottom line: “getting it right” is lots of work, comes with the territory. Upside: conquering Chapter One sets you on your way.

  5. Lois Lavrisa says:

    Ruth thanks for the inspiration- It seems that I am not alone in rewriting my first chapter. and I echo what you said “Bottom line: “getting it right” is lots of work, comes with the territory. Upside: conquering Chapter One sets you on your way.”

  6. D.D. Scott says:

    The first page is actually very exciting to me! One of my fave parts of the book to write and then re-write!!!

    I never worry about getting it perfect right off the bat. I simply let the characters tell me the story, usually right in the middle of the action. Then, as I get more of the book done, I go back and re-work that first page and chapter to reflect where the story has taken me.

    Doing it this way, I never stress about it at all! And I actually look forward to going back later and making it a perfect reflection of and precursor for the rest of the book.

    So, my advice would be to “Just Write”….”Just Write”…worry about what you’ve written later when you know enough of the story to fix it.

    • Lois Lavrisa says:

      DD- I need to adopt your mind set. Hmm, maybe another New Years’ resolution- just write:)

    • I love your idea of just getting the words onto paper, D.D., and then coming back later to polish. It’s a very freeing way to write, and I’ve been churning out 2500 words a day since I’ve adopted your technique! Before that, I would bang my head over every single sentence (the pesky perfectionist in me). Just getting those words on paper is one of the most important things you’ve taught me over here at WG2E! And it’s a much more fun way of writing than pulling my hair out over every single word. Rewriting, of course, is a whole different story . . . :)

  7. Julie Day says:

    I actually write chapter summaries for the whole book to start with so know what I want to write more or less. I am like you, I write in a linear way. I have to write it from start to finish first and don’t keep going back and forth. If I have ideas for previous chapters, I will jot it down on notes and put it in a folder for when I do the next draft. I just write it down from my head without thinking about plots etc. That comes later when I do revisions and rewriting, which I like doing.

    • Lois Lavrisa says:

      Julie- I know that sometimes linear thinking can get in my way of getting writing done, but that is just how I am wried. However, I am open to learning how to do things better, and may be just maybe, I can try to jump ahead then go back. Old dog new tricks:)

  8. Desmond X. Torres says:

    I’m a guy, so I am more of a linear thinker than you. So there- sexist as hell, but you know what I mean.

    I started writing my first novel in May of this year, and since then I’ve written two books and co-authored two others. I had no plan, and it just sort of happened. If I had thought for a moment on Jan first that I was going to take this on I would have burned my pc out of sheer terror.

    I’m the re-write king. Of the books up on Amazon right now, they’re all going to come down soon because the revisions that are going on are extensive. The revising process makes me a better writer I think.

    To tell you the truth, I couldn’t adopt your style. It’s the polar opposite of my own. I’m the kind of guy who ‘gets it in, you can clean it up later’. Yes, I do understand needing the opening to be good, OK? But even when I write the opening and I’m not happy with it, as I go through the book, as earlier posters have said, the improvements in the opening reveal themselves to me. This way, I have something TO GO BACK TO, no matter how crummy it may be.

    Hope it helps
    Desmond

    • Lois Lavrisa says:

      Yes Desmond, your comments do help! thank you so much. FYI to all- it may be several hours from now until I am able to respond again- but I will. 8 of us are at Universal in Orlando Florida, and we are heading off for our third fun filled day of rides and shows. So when I get back to the rental house later this evening, I will check again on all the comments. thanks:)

      • Christina says:

        Lois, I am SOOO jealous of you going to Universal! It’s on my go-to list within the next few years. Have a good time!

        • Lois Lavrisa says:

          It has been a tone of fun- gorgeous weather in the high 70′s low 80′s and not too crowded. Which is always a bonus:) Not long waits for rides and attractions- really a nice way to start our holiday break.

  9. PJ Sharon says:

    Lois, Lois, Lois! Be gentle with yourself, girl. Take a deep breath and ask yourself, where does my story start?

    I have no trouble beginning a book because I inevitably start the story in chapter three and have to go back and filter chapter one and two’s infodumps/backstory/descriptions into the rest of the book. Those first few chapters are a warm up exercise. I don’t know any writers who get it perfect out of the gate. You might have some winner sentences amongst the chaffe, but likely your first chapter is going to look like crap when you go back to revise. Just let it flow and keep asking yourself the question, “Where does my story start?” Sometimes, you’ll even know it when that real “first line” appears.

    For Waning Moon, I knew the story started when the first line of chapter three was “I didn’t mean to kill him!”

    Best of luck and enjoy your holidays:-)

    • Lois Lavrisa says:

      PJ- I am a little hard on myself. Thanks for the encouragement to let go of my first chapter perfectionism. Really, I will try! And I love this “For Waning Moon, I knew the story started when the first line of chapter three was “I didn’t mean to kill him!”

  10. Stacy Green says:

    Love the cover of Liquid Lies! And congrats on your goal of writing three novels in 2013 – I’m hoping for two, lol. My biggest issues are buckling down amid various distractions and not getting caught up in the marketing frenzy.

    As for first chapters, it’s funny. Normally, I’m more of a linear writer, and as I’ve envolved in the past two years, needed more of the book planned out before I could write. But with the new novel I’m working out, I’m letting the scenes pop in where they want to and writing as I’m plotting. I guess I’m constantly evolving:) Thank Goodness for Scrivener is right!

    • Lois Lavrisa says:

      Stacy- yes it is a rather steep goal- three books in one year- but at least I have something to shoot for and hopefully arrive pretty close to:) thank you for your comments!

  11. Jill James says:

    First of all, my Word is setup to be light blue with dark blue writing. No blank white page for me!

    A few years ago Karin Tabke ran a First Line contest. Talk about obsessing over your word choice, sound of the sentence, and whether it was attention-getting enough! But it was great practice to writing that first sentence.

    I don’t usually have trouble with the beginning of a book, usually that sagging middle kills me.

    • Lois Lavrisa says:

      Jill- we all have our challenges- your you mentioned is sagging middle, mine is that first line and chapter- then I have a few more- but that is the fun of writing. It keeps me working hard and challenging myself all the time. Thanks for your comments:)

  12. SK Holmesley says:

    Like a number of the others, I frequently write from the middle out, my characters just are never obedient and do what they want and go where they want, then when they’re all done, I read the book backwards — i.e., last chapter first, not literally backwards. That’s when I actually start writing. As I read a chapter, I try to remember how the character/s got to that point. If I can’t recall an incident that got them there, I know that I need to backfill more, either by enlarging a scene in a preceding chapter, or by adding another chapter to the front. I think of it as similar to going to lunch with people I work with. Unless they’re friends and I see them outside of work, we’re only talking about non-work matters less than 5 hours a week (lunchtime) and typically there are errand days, so probably much less than that. Over a year’s time, though, I gradually start learning enough about a person, that I can ask questions about dangling threads in the personal stories they’ve shared. So, over the course of time I might work from “My mother-in-law is coming to live with us next week” back to where he/she first met their spouse. With my characters, I can be more aggressive in asking questions, but it tends to be how I write–i.e., no beginning, only middles and ends. In the end though, I get to the beginning and my first sentence/paragraph/chapter tends to be the one that I need to start the ball rolling–something a reader would need to know going in to understand the world they’ve just entered.

    One of my favorite opening lines is from Disorderly Knights, by Dorothy Dunnett: “On the day that his grannie was killed by the English, Sir William Scott the Younger of Buccleuch was at Melrose Abbey, marrying his aunt.” I read that book (#3) and all the others in the series. It’s perhaps not the finely crafted simplicity of Dickens, but I had to know the rest of the story. I could never have come up with an opening hook like that–or have never been able to, however once I’ve written the story, like the conversations I’ve had at work, I find it easier to begin.

    If I’m really stuck, another trick I use–and again, I’ve already written the draft of the story–is to start with “Once upon a time there was….” filling in the blank appropriately for the story, then throw away the “Once upon a time.” So, if I have “Once upon a time there was a man,” the story opens with “There was a man.” Of course, then comes editing and revising and editing and revising…., but at least I’ve got a beginning. :-)

    • Lois Lavrisa says:

      SK- thank you for allowing me (us) to read your process of writing- you had so many great ideas including “As I read a chapter, I try to remember how the character/s got to that point. If I can’t recall an incident that got them there, I know that I need to backfill more, either by enlarging a scene in a preceding chapter, or by adding another chapter to the front.” Love it- thanks again!

  13. Christina says:

    I like to write linear as well, but I will jump around as needed. If a scene isn’t doing well or I feel like I’m just writing junk just to get my word count, I’ll skip ahead to the next big scene. When I revise, I save everything I cut in a new file named “Cut Scenes – Title”. If I need the scene again or even if I want to rewrite it to use in another book I still have it. I tie it all together when I revise.

    To start, I give myself permission to just write. That first beginning may be slow, but the goal is to get through the first draft. I have an idea where I want to go, including a log line and a summary I’ve written, but the first draft isn’t meant to be finished. By the third or fourth go round, I’m able to recognize when the first scene is moving slowly and where the story actually starts. I don’t want to start the story with the hero waking up, eating breakfast, driving to work, arguing with the DJ on the radio, and BOOM – the aliens attack. That may be how the first draft goes, though. Eventually, the story begins with the alien attack and the other stuff may be used as backstory in some places or cut completely.

  14. Lois Lavrisa says:

    Christina- thank you for sharing loved so many ideas you mentioned including “To start, I give myself permission to just write.” I need to post this next to my computer as my motto for 2013 and beyond:0

  15. My first e-book practically wrote itself. In my first romance novel, I had the characters in my mind first and started with that. I guess it was that way with the first e-book as well.