When you start your novel, ideally your first chapter will do some or all of these things:
- Open With Conflict
- Signal The Genre
- Introduce Compelling Characters
- Raise Story Questions
- Provide The Necessary Backstory/Exposition
You can read more about some techniques for doing so in Writing The First Lines Of Your Novel.
I also recently found a fun podcast that can help you figure out how to do this.
What The Audience Wants
I've always loved learning about story construction by taking apart films and novels that work or don't work for me. It's part of why I love seeing movies with other writers.
Finally A Podcast does something similar with TV series, but from an audience perspective.
So far as I know, the hosts aren't writers. To me, that makes their insight more valuable. They're responding as audience members, not story creators.
As a writer, my first goal is for my audience (readers) to be engaged enough with my novels to keep reading and to return to my work again and again.
The Beginning And The End
The two hosts are brothers. They start by watching the pilot of a TV show they've never seen and share their insights.
Their reactions include what they think the show is about, how they feel about the characters, whether they find the conflicts compelling, what they understand and don't about the story, and where they think the story will go.
On the story prediction side, they often guess at which characters will become romantically involved and which might die.
After doing that, they watch the finale of the show, skipping everything in between.
Along with a guest who knows the whole series, the hosts talk about what surprised them, whether their initial take was accurate, and whether they recommend the show.
Helping You Start Your Novel
I find this show so helpful for thinking about starting my stories. It's most useful to me when the hosts talk about a series I know and love. (I've listened to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Mad Men episodes, for instance.)
Seeing what they don't get about the show from the pilot is particularly striking.
It brings home to me that what might be obvious to the writer or to someone already excited about the show (maybe because a friend recommended it) could be completely unclear to a brand new viewer.
Also, when predictions are accurate, it highlights examples of excellent foreshadowing and character development.
So far, I see only twenty episodes, the last one in late 2018. It's unclear whether Finally A Podcast will continue. But I strongly suggest checking out the existing episode list.
It's a wonderful, fun way to examine what works and doesn't at the beginning of a long-form story.
That's all for this week. Until next Friday, when The One-Year Novelist goes wide.