Start writing chapter one. This was the most daunting thought when I began writing a novel.
The goal was to write a story interweaving character‘s lives, the intimate sides to their stories, their relationships, and the days, weeks, or years that would grow and change them. I needed to write how their experiences enhanced or deteriorated their morals and attitudes, all while staying true to the plot, their story’s why, the messages, goals, and beliefs, using fluid writing, quick pacing, and truthful dialogue. How would I do this? I soon learned it would be one step at a time with persistence, determination, and hours and hours and hours of solitary confinement. During these lonely days, a writer must decide, imagine, and connect all the details of their story. Being a decision maker is crucial. And unfortunately, I have struggled to find permission to make decisions.
In the young, naïve, and vulnerable years of my life I endured the ugly side of human-to-human interaction. It molded me in a severe way. It taught me this way of thinking: “I am not safe. I have no voice. I must stay quiet.” I would avoid conflict and be better off if I allowed the stronger, harder, predatory people to coerce me and make my decisions. Pleasing others and flying under the radar became my whole life. It became my identity. I had to allow the stronger personalities to decide and wield my fate because I was broken and unable to do so myself. Writing a novel is one of the things that have helped me slowly but surely change this disability.
Writing forced me to find inner strength and purpose, and to be the decision-maker. A writer must create the avenue, the environment, and the people that shape the backdrop, motivations, the how, and the why of the story.
I realized I had to make every decision a character would make, I had to decide on every street name, every restaurant, the first and last name of every friend, every relative, where they were born, how they were raised, and where they are headed. I had to choose every enemy, every consequence, and compliment. I had to decide every detail of past and future relationships to each character, and I had to decide why they were important and why they were woven into the story. I was overwhelmed to say the least.
And so I just started writing chapter one. I couldn’t dwell on the intimidating task ahead of me. I just had to begin. After writing the skeleton of the novel – the snapshots of scenes envisioned so far – I wrote the first chapter. And I wrote it again, again, and again. I ended up writing my first chapter six or seven times until it felt right. What I mean by “it felt right” is the chapter finally resonated who the characters were, their setting, and where they were going.
Additionally, I had finally found the place where the action began. My first draft was filled with an extraordinary amount of back-story at a job location, with a supervisor and co-workers. As I read over it the next day, I realized this was not where I wanted the story to begin, and it did not reflect the essential why we’ve discussed in earlier blog posts. So I started over. Saved that version of Chapter 1 as draft 1.0, and did the same with draft 1.1, 1.2 and so on. This is called versioning.
- Note: I did keep all the versions of chapter one. What I wrote still helped me flush out character’s relationships, confidants, confessions, and feelings toward others, their life, and their environment. This building of back-story and outlining is important. It will continue to support your characters, their livelihood, vices, loves and losses.
Let’s remember that a lot of writers have a formula very different from the one I used. Your writing journey will be unique to you. Many writers use the freestyle method. They sit down and write whatever comes to them without stopping. They write without re-reading, pausing, or editing for hours. They do this type of freewriting for days or weeks at a time. They do this to get down a large first draft.
- Note: This formula never felt like the one for me. Some of the best inspiration came from my re-reading or editing what I had written in the previous day’s chapter or scene.
The most important thing to remember is our novels have to start somewhere. Use the linear fashion or the freewriting method. Either way, you will have created a platform!