Wow! It feels nice to play author again for a bit. For those perhaps on the other side of the planet, or at least not in my section of New York, I held a museum exhibit opening and turned in my honors capstone thesis on a more inclusive museum (titled Demolishing the Temple, Raised Voices in the Palace:
An Art Museum Whose Door is Open to Everyone). On top of those, I recently said temporary good-byes to people who live several hours away but had recently only lived a bedroom door away. I graduated with a degree in Art History and will travel to University College London in September for a whole year to get my Master's in Museum Studies--and there's an entire summer of bookstore employment and adventures in between. The world is a little bittersweet and entirely exciting, so it's wonderful to remember that I am also a writer.
So, in the spirit of my awesome friend who wore a jump rope as a cord to graduation because she was "jumping into her new life", it's time to talk about new chapters; about first chapters.
Suggested by Skye: Has so much emphasis been placed by other writers advice, publishers, reviewers, etc. on authors to have a spectacular opening page/1st chapter that the rest of the story sometimes gets left behind? What are your thoughts and experiences with this?
As a withered veteran who started writing perhaps earlier than was wise, I sort of turn a deaf ear to this advice now. I remember being 14 or so and having a teacher stress the idea of Chapter One being a knockout. It had to hook the reader from word #1! It had to make them cry, and scream, and howl with laughter! Except...no, it doesn't. Like the pilot of a tv show, I think people give chapter one some slack now. Most book readers understand that some assembly is required to get the story going. You can't launch a rocket into space without performing tests and fueling up.
This is not to say that you shouldn't attempt to make your book start exciting. Who wants to continue reading a book if nothing is happening? I simply stress that you don't try to sensationalize at the cost of your plot. I almost did that a few times--introduce a scene that is ultra-exciting but basically has no connection to the rest of the book.
Here is the opening paragraph of Monet Evanesce, a novel signed by MuseItUp Publishing that is set to publish sometime this year or next:
On April 26, 1894, the fog hung yellow and Jos stumbled upon a painter singing in a ditch. It was only sort of a ditch, more of an indentation in the recently constructed street and even less than half a song, more of just a drunken slur of grumblings.
It fails to blow you away, I'm sure. But it doesn't utterly destroy your interest, either. I introduce a slow sort of excitement, especially when the readers discover Jos is wearing an outfit stolen from an artist's son, and that the man in the ditch is a famous member of the Impressionist art movement--and a forger.
The closest I get to an action-packed beginning is with Shubiao's Girls, a paranormal novel that has undergone two rounds of edits with MuseItUp:
The cheap alarm clock screeched like a 9.5 earthquake was imminent.
I really have to get up. Cara should shut off the possessed thing, or at least punch Snooze, but a wave of grogginess hit her and her arms remained curled underneath the pillow. It always took all she had to get out of bed. Not because she was depressed or anything. Cara just didn’t rise out of sleep gracefully like other people did. She emerged like a drugged person after twenty minutes of her hearing-damaging alarm. And now, on her own, there was no mom to storm in and drag her out of bed. But today…
I have a presentation. Cara’s inner-mind voice held a strange note of panic and she cracked open an eye. The poster boards and notecards waited on the floor beside her bed, but that wasn’t the problem. Cara still lay in bed, perfectly relaxed. Her alarm clock continued to scream.
“Oh my god.” Cara drew out the word. She braced herself against the mattress to fling herself out. Dizziness hit her. The sheets weighed her down until her arms trembled.
No, stay. Sleep.
The soft, supplicating whisper hadn’t been one of her thoughts. It’d whispered up from her mattress.
Cara stared down at her rainbow coverlet. I didn’t even go out drinking last night.
Grogginess pulled on her lids. Cara lowered herself down to her elbows and nuzzled the pillow.
You’re tired. Sleep.
The voice whispered at her face this time, like someone was inside her pillow.
Cara screamed, jerking upward. She swung her legs out but they tangled in the sheets.
As you can probably guess, there is some more freaking out involved, and the story is underway. What about you? Do you think first chapters really need to wow the crowd, or do you allow some patience for the author to help you find your footing?
A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-YV
Anne Stenhouse http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com
TWIP: Recollections from a Twenty-two-year-old Art History Student (or, My Love Affair with College)
(TWIP: This Week In Progress)
When I was eighteen, a visiting college rep laughed in my face when I said I wanted to study Art History. She did the whole shebang--quirked one eyebrow, the air catching in her throat before she tossed her head back and blasted out a guffaw. This was not what eighteen-year-old me wanted to hear, and after brushing off the shock that an adult would treat my interests with such contempt, I promptly broke down crying in the dead middle of the senior hallway.
It's 3:25 in the afternoon four years later, and I can look back on that memory and laugh. Or, at least offer up a half-smile.
Eighteen--when the American school system expects you to decide what you're going to do for the rest of your life while also not preparing you for it at all--seems like such a young age now. I was a child! Eighteen! I didn't have any friends who weren't white and at least pretending to be religious; I'd never questioned my sexuality and I didn't even own a car. My world was a small space and I was determined to bust out. I was also incredibly arrogant about my 'worldliness' compared to my peers. I was "fluent" (by small-town standards) in two languages, daydreamed about far-off places, loved Shakespeare, knew the history of the Taj Mahal, and read National Geographic.
Fast forward to August when I cut my hair and stepped foot on a college campus, majoring in Art History and French in hopes I would have a third language under my belt by the time I was a senior (so old! Twenty-two was ancient! A true adult!). I was thrown flat on my face with the exhilarating yet frustrating realization that I was "small town worldly" and, here at college, nearly everyone was as smart as I was or far, far smarter. My hair grew shorter, I got that car, I dated, I drank, I traveled. For the girl who grew anxious driving fast on the highway and stoutly declared she'd never drink much because alcohol "tasted gross", I wonder if my high-school self would properly recognize me. I suffered what I came to realize were anxiety attacks. I worked my butt off and got into two research assistant-ships. I published two books and contracted five more; I got accepted to two grad schools and fell in love with theater again. (The summer I was fifteen, I looked into going to Juilliard for Acting. My parents kindly told me to please add a back-up major to this. I still love theater and would love to be in a play someday, but writing pretty much filled that gap.)
College, I write with oozing sentimentality, has been the best four years of my life, and I mean it wholeheartedly. Yeah, parts of it suck--crippling bouts of loneliness where I'd cry in the shower, apartments with no heat, and stress where you'd want to clamber to the roof of the campus library and curse the heavens--but so much has matured me. Friends whom I'd never have met in my hometown have helped me grow and laugh and love. I've been sadder than I'd thought possible, but I've also felt happier than ever before. I feel more positive about my body than I've ever been, and my interests, because at college lots of people accept diversity and you don't have to simply go with the flow. The world is bigger than I ever dreamed it could be. I've been to New York City, Peru, England, Ireland, Scotland, and France. I've wandered the ruins of priories in the icy rain and stuffed my face with macarons after climbing the steps of the Eiffel Tower. I've watched Ghibli movies in a Queens apartment with one of my best friends, staying up late after seeing Aladdin on Broadway.
I am not the person I was before I left for college. I'm not even sure I'm the person I was a year ago. I'm stronger, more ambitious, more open-minded. I'm more content. I never got that French major, but I can mumble in French, Italian, and know the Greek pronunciation of Cyrene (which is very applauded by scholars, believe you me).
After college ends and I have to cry my way home, I'll spend the summer working at a bookstore and then be hopping a plane to London for UCL's Masters program in Museum Studies, a program my professor urged me to not bet on and not get my hopes up for. It's for a whole entire year, and I know I'll become the biggest patriot I know and miss home terribly, but it's an incredible opportunity and I'll be living in the clouds as well. Getting the acceptance email was pretty much like getting kissed on the mouth and sucker-punched in the stomach simultaneously. Living abroad is something I'd dreamed of all my life; actually achieving it was a bit of a shock.
I mean, my sister and I used to spin my dad's old college globe and stab a finger down to figure out where we'd travel in the future. For a girl who wanted to be Indiana Jones when she grew up, calling UCL's Department of Archaeology my soon-to-be home is something worth cheering about. But for now, I'll stay sitting in my college apartment, oversized hoodie from study abroad keeping me warm, listening to the crack of pool balls wafting in from the bar next door, and enjoy this whole senior thing while it lasts.