cliché, as she read she saw that I'd used it in a different way.
The scene was character driven with little focus on the accident itself and more about the innards of my lead female with a hint of what might be in store for her. I knew using an accident would trigger the fear and pain buried inside this girl--which remains hidden throughout most of the story--and would also afford me the opportunity to give the reader a glimpse into a special talent this girl possess but ignores. AND yes, a little of her past, but just enough to make the reader go Hmmm?
However, there was one point in the chapter where she went Whoa and question my reasons for not starting the chapter there.
I found it so interesting when she asked me that. Let me set it up for you: girl wakes up in backseat with unconscious friend + sees strangers just outside vehicle. At the end of the scene, the lead female (who's vision is blurred) senses someone near...too near. She hears his voice and exhales what she believes to be her last. Her world then fades to black. But the reader is privy to the fact that something is being done to her and it's not death taking her.
Originally, I hadn't included her waking, seeing someone outside the van, etc... It was simply her feeling someone near, not knowing who or what it was. This was the place Natalie felt the chapter reeled her in. I told her that I'd lengthened it because I was afraid someone would interpret the shortness of the chapter (which was only two pages double-spaced) for a prologue, which I didn't want. She assured me that it didn't read like a prologue as long as the story moved forward in chapter 2, which it does.
So here, I needed to either cut the beginning out entirely or take out some extraneous phrases and descriptions of the scene to speed up the intensity, tighten my prose, and completely hook the reader. Note: my Oasis Ladies had read the chapter prior and each of them had the same assessment as Natalie. Smart chickies.
Natalie's advice was universal to all five of us writers who met with her.
- A chapter is a chapter despite the length. YOU may chose to keep it short - as I had originally - for impact. That doesn't necessarily make it a prologue.
- If you're going to start with a bang - start with a bang and keep it rolling.
- Use shorter sentences to create tension and suspense.
- Step inside the scene. Tell what you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. Use it all.
- The reader only knows what the writer tells them. Think carefully about what you want to reveal or keep hidden. That, right there, could be the hook which makes your story irresistible.
- Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly, especially in the opening scene.
- In any story, but especially young adult or middle grade literature, speed is a necessity. Keep your scenes and chapters moving quickly. In today's world, most readers between the ages of 11 and 19 could find an abundance of other activities to do other than finishing your book.
- Shorter chapters work well for keeping suspense and attention spans.
- While editing after your first draft, be sensitive to tightening your prose by discarding extra details or repetitive details. (Yeah, we hate to chuck a beautiful sentence. But if it's not moving the character, scene, or story forward ditch it. But do create a folder for unused material. You never know when it could come in handy.)
- This is my personal deduction: trust your instincts. I knew where I wanted to start the chapter and what I truly wanted to communicate, but was afraid to push the envelope, step out of the normal box, or take a risk. Ultimately, Be True To Yourself and someone will believe in you and your work.
Please feel free to add to my list. I'd love to hear some of your experiences with first chapters.