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DragonFlames

Help me write a good opening chapter

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I don't know how many of you know this, but I've been trying - and failing - to write my own fantasy novel. I've been stuck with writer's block and world-building disease for quite a while now and I've finally decided to give actually writing the thing a shot. I've had several ideas that lead absolutely nowhere really fast - some of my early drafts are only two pages long, while one lasted a hundred pages before I realized I was basically writing a crossover between Fire Emblem and Fate / Stay Night, which was about the point I just gave up on writing for a few years and I am just now getting back into it, actually.

I haven't really written anything yet, though, because I am stumped on how to write a good opening chapter that serves as an introduction into the world and the characters but isn't all just exposition and no substance. Any tips and / or pointers from you guys would be very much appreciated.

If this is the wrong section for this kind of question, I apologize.

Edited by DragonFlames

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I love in medias res openings. If I ever actually write my ideas into a story (for what I've been too lazy for years now, and the ideas are just coming and coming...) I would definitely start out like this. A whole chapter starting in the middle. After that it could turn into something like a monologue, the MC tells the reader about what happened. Not necessarily a monologue though, it could be a dialogue between two characters  ("Have you heard the story of X?" "Of who?" "You know, X, who did this and that...") I guess you get what I mean. Or it could continue on two threads, like every even chapter is the present, while every odd chapter is the past. Well, anyways, you asked about openings, so yeah, I'd pretty much reccomend an in medias res start, but since I don't know your preferences, this might not be that appealing for you.

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well it really depends on the story you're ultimately trying to tell. First chapters are always a tricky one cause there is just some such they need to accomplish. The first scene needs to set the tone of your novel and world. if you want to go for a gritty war like story, then start in the middle of a battlefield with your protagonist hanging on the edge of life and death as he looks around at the torn up battlefield. Another idea is to start with the protagonist's day to day life in his/her home town before they are thrust into adventure by some outside force. There are plenty of ways to go about it but again it really all comes down to what kind of story you want to tell and how you want to tell that story.

Edited by Otts486

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just (world)build lol

memes aside, probably just have any particular character/thing/place make an strong first impression, but thats pretty vague advice tbh.

What i might do is just have a character wander about the area, looking around, and mentally pointing out notable things, though that might be better advice for visual mediums like games and films, because otherwise you would have to dedicate a whole block of text to describing the thing that your character is just briefly glancing at. something else i might do is having a more high energy exploratory character, well, exploring an area to build the world subtly and slightly develop them via the response they give. generally though, you don't want the story to be ridiculously fast of the bat, nor do you want to have it be mind-numbingly slow. 

A more specific idea though would be to have a character in the woods doing their own thing, like practicing a talent, or hunting/ being hunted by, some notably unrealistic, wierd creature in the darkness, with as few fantastical concepts revealed as possible. this works well from my own experience as it introduces bizarre elements 1 at a time, and you get to gauge the "power level" of the world and/or the character you introduce's reactions to the world around you. also the fact that most people have seen a forest and/or a tree at some point in there life, and immediately, the audience is more immersed in the world than if you introduced them to the world via the planet of soup, the whole soup, and nothing but the soup.

basically, i'd just start small and work my way up to larger scale conflicts within the narrative, so i hope that kills at least SOME of your writing troubles

anyways, its really fucking dark/ late where i am right now so bye for now and good luck with your novel thing

 

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You can't write a good opening chapter because this is not how it works.

You shouldn't expect to start writing and suddenly pop out something brilliant that will make you proud of yourself, because you need experience to get that far. In the beginning, we stumble a lot and write plenty of bad or mediocre stuff. That's how we learn so that eventually we may write something good.

The first draft is also always the worst, even professionals stumble at this (Game of Thrones TV series' first draft was terrible, according to the producers, and it took them a complete revision before it turned out into what we saw).

So, my advice would be to write without worrying too much about your first draft, just make sure you write and actually finish your stuff, then worry about revisions and improvements on your second draft. You'll improve with the experience you draw from the exercise and from the positive criticism you receive.

Edited by Rapier

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All good advice here. You might want to start off with a short story that contains some of the main elements of the novel you are attempting to write. Best of luck to you and be patient.

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First chapters are tough, the balance between exposition and plot development is hard to find. It's not like there's a cap on how many times you can rewrite it, or that the first thing you write has to be set in stone though. So I would advise to just write something to get the gears turning, and then reread what you've got later on and rewrite, lather, rinse, and repeat. 
Now if you want my personal opinion, don't start with any of that "two years earlier" stuff. It's unfair to yourself as a writer in a way, it's like saying "yeah, the first part is gonna be boring as hell, but trust me it'll be exciting later". It ends up being cliche, and lazy story telling. It's a whole big bag of no thanks as far as I'm concerned, but do whatever you want, it's your book.

Consider checking this writing blog out, there's not a lot on there but it seems pertinent. 

https://addictedtostarlight.wordpress.com/2018/01/08/5-things-i-learned-from-the-first-draft/

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Thanks for all the advice so far, guys. I've been considering just giving up for a while now, so I needed some outside encouragement.

13 hours ago, ProfImpossible said:

First chapters are tough, the balance between exposition and plot development is hard to find. It's not like there's a cap on how many times you can rewrite it, or that the first thing you write has to be set in stone though. So I would advise to just write something to get the gears turning, and then reread what you've got later on and rewrite, lather, rinse, and repeat. 
Now if you want my personal opinion, don't start with any of that "two years earlier" stuff. It's unfair to yourself as a writer in a way, it's like saying "yeah, the first part is gonna be boring as hell, but trust me it'll be exciting later". It ends up being cliche, and lazy story telling. It's a whole big bag of no thanks as far as I'm concerned, but do whatever you want, it's your book.

Consider checking this writing blog out, there's not a lot on there but it seems pertinent. 

https://addictedtostarlight.wordpress.com/2018/01/08/5-things-i-learned-from-the-first-draft/

I hate that stuff, as well, honestly.  It's like... just start two years earlier and work towards that one scene. That way, your readers will have context as to what's going on and won't be sitting there like "What the hell was that?".

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So... I've finally managed to write an opening paragraph and would like your opinion on it.
I actually have ideas for two completely different stories set in the same world and deciding on which idea to go with is driving me nuts!

Anyway, here goes:

One letter was enough to disrupt peace.
They could only stare at the piece of paper as they pondered their next move. As if it was mocking them, the Symbol of Eternity covered the entire letter in red, a fleeting sense of dread and superiority emanating from the ink with which it was drawn.
"So, they finally made a move." Sighing, the older woman folded her arms and leaned back against the wall.

"The snake has commenced the hunt. Her poison spread, her prey panicked." The secretive whispers of a girl clad in a dark purple rope hung heavily in the room. Her eyes were fixed on the paper and the symbol on it, no emotion showing on her pale face.

"First the countless reports about fiends, then the brewing war between Raganor and Liphia and now this?" Shaking his head, the grey-bearded man covered his face with one hand. "We don't have enough members to deal with all three of these things at once."

"If escape is the prey's objective, fear is its greatest enemy," the girl whispered again, barely audible, but her words still weighed heavily in the air.

"Artelind is right. If we panic now, we'll be right where they want us." The older woman walked to the table and stared at the paper that was delivered to them earlier today. "Now, more than ever, is the time we should be calm and think things through."
"You know the odds we face just as well I do, Runhild," the man said, his voice belying his calm countenance. "This is an opponent we cannot face with normal means. And I am sure what we saw then wasn't the full extent of their might."

"Survival is dependant on knowledge about the predator," Artelind whispered once again.

"Yes, we need information. We know next to nothing about them, but we will have to work on what little we do have." Runhild nodded thoughtfully.
"But all we know points in the direction of our downfall. Remember how we just barely escaped with our lives last time? How do you propose we face them now? Do you have any ideas?"
"I have." The older woman took an empty piece of paper and a feather and began writing something. "You are right, Theodor. Alone and without any information, we do not stand a chance. And through all the fiend attacks and the threat of a war between Kendrs two most powerful nations, we don't have any people to spare, either."
"Knowing this, you still have a plan?" Theodor stared at her, shaking his head.
"Here, read this." She handed him the piece of paper. A list of names was written on it with careful handwriting.
"A list of names..." Theodor read the words, mulled them over and thought them through. "So you want to recruit more members? Haven't all of our members come to us of their own volition? Why change that now?"
"Desperate times call for desperate measures, Guildmaster," Runhild said, a stern expression on her face. "Even if we have to go against Asgard-Guild code to never actively recruit members, this might be the only chance we have..."
"I see." The Guildmaster nodded and read the list once again. "These names... they're all renowned warriors across the continent. So you wish to form an elite squad to take them on?"
"Call it an Investigation Team," Runhild replied. "If we want to take on an organization like that, strength and knowledge go hand in hand."
"All the knowledge in the world will do nothing if we aren't strong enough, anyway... You're as clever as ever, Runhild." Theodor shook his head and for the first time today, genuinely smiled. "If even one of them responds positively, our chances of success increase significantly."

"The snake is moving... Her shadow growing longer." Artelind's whispers filled the room once more. "But her prey has one last chance. A last ray of light, before the poison takes effect..."

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I like that opening sentence.

Aside from punctuation and a few spelling mishaps, I'd say your narrative is solid, but not stodgy. Good job!

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On 16.6.2018 at 12:04 AM, Karimlan said:

I like that opening sentence.

Aside from punctuation and a few spelling mishaps, I'd say your narrative is solid, but not stodgy. Good job!

Thank you!
I translated it from German, so I guess some punctuation somehow carried over. Whoops.

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I don't know if you've heard of him or his work, but John Truby is a famous author and screenwriter and he has a book called The Anatomy of Story.  As someone who himself is in the middle of writing his own work, he offers a lot of good insight into writing a good story.

As for writing a good first chapter, it can certainly be a difficult task.  One thing I learned is that the first chapter should be able to give a general indication of what the story, more specifically what your main character or character's, will go through.  This is particularly important with your very first sentence, as that can, and probably should serve as the indicator for what your story will be like.  A good example to look at would be the book 1984, "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."  Instantly you know that something is up, seeing as April is associated with warmth, not cold, and the clock striking thirteen in and of itself is out of the ordinary.

I can definitely see that here, as this tells me, 'Okay, what was on this letter, what's going on in this world, and how much of an effective will this letter have on the world and it's characters, and what will they go through now that this peace is shattered?'

Once you know how you want to start, you should figure out how you want it to end, because if you write as you go you may find yourself in a block even further.  Once you know how you want it to end, put the pieces in place is all that is needed.  It's like a puzzle, start with your corners (from my experience that is how it starts, how it ends, how the main character/characters grow, and the setting and world) and then everything else (plot, tone, dialogue, themes, motifs, etc.) will come in place in due time.

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54 minutes ago, DMan64 said:

I don't know if you've heard of him or his work, but John Truby is a famous author and screenwriter and he has a book called The Anatomy of Story.  As someone who himself is in the middle of writing his own work, he offers a lot of good insight into writing a good story.

As for writing a good first chapter, it can certainly be a difficult task.  One thing I learned is that the first chapter should be able to give a general indication of what the story, more specifically what your main character or character's, will go through.  This is particularly important with your very first sentence, as that can, and probably should serve as the indicator for what your story will be like.  A good example to look at would be the book 1984, "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."  Instantly you know that something is up, seeing as April is associated with warmth, not cold, and the clock striking thirteen in and of itself is out of the ordinary.

I can definitely see that here, as this tells me, 'Okay, what was on this letter, what's going on in this world, and how much of an effective will this letter have on the world and it's characters, and what will they go through now that this peace is shattered?'

Once you know how you want to start, you should figure out how you want it to end, because if you write as you go you may find yourself in a block even further.  Once you know how you want it to end, put the pieces in place is all that is needed.  It's like a puzzle, start with your corners (from my experience that is how it starts, how it ends, how the main character/characters grow, and the setting and world) and then everything else (plot, tone, dialogue, themes, motifs, etc.) will come in place in due time.

Alright, many thanks! These tips really help!
I have read 1984 just recently, in fact. It was a very interesting book.

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