Catch 22 of the Day

Here is a tip I heard from Martine Leavitt and recently read again on Carol Lynch Williams’s blog:

The story must start on a day when something is different for the main character.

I tried this. Laid it all out there on the first three pages. And you know what editors said? “Who cares? I don’t know your character yet, so I’m not interested in going on this journey with her.”

Back to the drawing board.

Next I tried implementing advice from editor Jennifer Hunt, who in essence told me to tell readers whose story this is going to be, establish her voice, and *then* begin the character’s journey. Similarly, writer/editor Kim Griswell said:

Most heroes’ journeys begin in the ordinary, everyday world. We meet a character where he lives and get to know a bit about him. Just as we’re starting to like him, he finds himself at the edge of a cliff looking off into the great unknown.

I tried this too. Do you know what my writers groups said? “I like knowing your main character more, but I was hoping for some conflict by now. What’s different about this day?”

ARG! Sometimes I wonder if writers are even close to sane.

How do you balance the introduction of main characters with making stuff happen in a first chapter? Or what are some novels you think have especially great first chapters? Chances are, your favorite first chapters achieve this balance without readers even noticing.

*Runs off to read 20 first chapters*

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10 Comments

Filed under Writing challenges, Writing Tip

10 responses to “Catch 22 of the Day

  1. Valynne

    Um, have you ever noticed how I only bring the first part of my book to writer’s group? Yeah, so I haven’t quite figured it out yet either.

  2. Kim Reid

    And your first chapter is always good. 🙂 Those darn first chapters are so hard to write. Along with the middle. And the end.

  3. I think…maybe…the story should start on a day when something different happens for your character, but maybe it’s not part of the main conflict. Or we don’t know yet that it’s part of the main conflict.

    • Kim Reid

      So true, Cherylynne. I’m hoping that’s the mark this billionth draft will finally hit, but I’m afraid maybe the “different” thing is still too subtle. We shall see!

  4. Melanie

    That’s exactly where I am right now, Kim. I’m writing the first 50 pages over and over. And over. If you figure out a magic formula, let me know!

    • Kim Reid

      Heaven help us, Melanie. I’m cheering you on to the finish line . . . again and again and again and again. ha.

  5. I read the same post. I don’t know. The fact is that sometimes I like feeling like I’ve been dumbed into a whirlwind. Action is taking place, the main character is off and running, I’m not sure who they are yet, or why their running (metaphorically or literally) but I figure I have time to figure that out as the book unfolds.
    That being said, I suppose it’s key for the writer to know who their characters are so they can reveal backstory and elements about their character is a way that feels seamless and effortless, even though it was anything but. That’s just my assumption though.

  6. Ha. I was just reading other people’s first chapters, stuck on this very thing, when I read your blog post. It’s my dilemma too. I think I just have to trust myself and hope others find beauty or connection in what I’ve written. I guess. Obviously, I don’t know.

  7. Shanna

    So when I went to the writing conference here a few months ago, I rewrote my first pages both ways and read them to the group. They all liked the get into the action version better, but later they said, but what about this? and what about this? They wanted to know more about the character right away. Grrrr. Perplexing. Flummoxing. Confusing. When I figure it out, I’ll be sure to tell the world. Until then, good luck to both of us Kim.

  8. HI there Kim, I’ve just stumbled upon your blog, and think your editors are sassy. Too sassy to be saying things that way, but they’re in the business for a reason, right?
    At any rate, I thought I’d contribute my meager two cents. It seem that the books that I love most reveal to me who the main character is through the choices, responses, and train of thought that he/she experiences on that ‘different day’ (thus the presentation of who and what’s happening are in tandem). For example, in The Book Thief (one of my very favorites), death, who narrates the story reveals that he actually is thoughtful, not impartial to his victims, and even funny. It drew me right into his ‘different day’ as he described the main character. Anyhow, I could probably babble on, but I’m sure that you hear more concise and reliable pointers from those who present at the conferences you attend. I enjoy your blog!