Editing Tip #49

 

First Impressions, Pt.4 ~

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Your first chapter has to be your “Wow” chapter. It’s the one that pulls readers, agents, and small publishers into your story. I’ve touched on the first sentence, the first paragraph, and the first page – so what’s left? All those strong promises you made upfront need to carry through to the last line of the first chapter.

So often, when I’m editing first manuscripts, I come across a writer who has done her homework on all the firsts except how to end the first chapter. The opening has the right tension, it hooks the reader, and there’s follow through on the promises made… and then IT happens.

What’s “IT?”

Info dump. The absolute need to explain why:

– why he made that decision

– why he feels this way

– why his parents left him

– why he has that stigma

– why she’s afraid of ghosts

– why she can see in the dark

– why she’s mad at herself

– etc.

The longer you’re able to keep the answers to these things (and others) to yourself, the more mystery and tension you will create by allowing yourself to only drop hints about these whys throughout the entire book.

By answering them at the end of the first chapter, or within the first few chapters, you’re letting us eat the whole carrot being dangled in front of our noses… remember – just a nibble here and there. Just a sentence or two about “why” and “IT” will pull them through from one chapter to the next.

I must admit. My first drafts still have info dump in the worst places – it’s there in the front of my mind and at the time I’m writing I integrate it into that moment of the story instead of jotting it down with my notes for the book and picking at it as I go. But then, when I write the first draft, I don’t let the rules in.

It’s distracting.

That’s what consecutive drafts are for – the craft, after the story has broke free and is ready to be molded into the right shape.

Now, don’t think I’m advising you to put a “cliff hanger” at the end of every chapter – Please Don’t Do That! Some things can be resolved, some promises can be fulfilled, but if that happens new promises need to be made to keep the suspense and tension optimal for continued reading.

Happy editing 🙂

[First Impressions, P1. 1 ~ First Sentences]   [First Impressions, Pt. 2 ~ First Paragraphs]  [First Impressions, Pt. 3 ~ First Pages]


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