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Delilah S. Dawson @DelilahSDawson
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One of the most important skills to learn if you want to write IP = how to show voice right out of the gate. That's why you generally need many books under your belt-- so you can dive into the pool instead of slowly immersing in chapter 1. It has to be there from page 1
My first few books = the first chapter was me slowly immersing, telling myself the story and making it 'real'. Why? Because it didn't feel real to me and I felt like I had to make the reader know everything I knew. With time, I learned to get where I was going faster.
But you can't ramp up to being Han Solo. You must immediately be in that voice, w those mannerisms, good enough to please superfans. And that's a skill that can generally only be learned through years of doing it wrong until you figure out how to do it right in your own books.
So how do you do that in your own books? You start by writing any way that gets the book done, without self-editing/judging. Then look critically at the first chapters. When does the story really begin? What can you cut? Backstory, infodump, 'I'm the kind of girl who'? Cut it.
One thing that helped me a lot when I was starting out = I joined a monthly writing group where we did timed writing exercises. Never knew what they'd be. So you had 5 - 45 minutes to write something brand new based on a prompt. You had to get in there fast with voice, action.
Another way to work on your dialogue = Take a section and remove all the names. Can you tell, just by the words and movements, exactly who is speaking? Each character should speak and move in ways that are particular to only them. You know when Han is talking vs. Leia and Luke.
When writing the first scene in your book, look at the instigating factor, and then rewind one beat to a scene that shows your main character through action and dialogue. Not waking up, not having a normal day. Something with conflict that shows us exactly who they are.
Things to avoid in your 1st chapter:
- protagonist wakes up
- protag goes through a boring day
- protag walks around thinking about life
- protag has a foreshadowing dream
Do books do this? Yes. Do they lower your chances of getting an agent? Yes. Start with ACTION + DIALOGUE.
I mean, can you imagine a book beginning with Han Solo getting up, scratching himself, having a normal, boring day, thinking thoughts about life? HELL NO. You'd start that book in a plummeting ship or a deal gone wrong-- which shows his character in a compelling way from page 1.
So when a writer or agent tells you not to start a chapter with the tropes listed above, it is for this reason-- not bc it's been done before or bc they're meanies. Because you're making your job harder. No one is compelled by a boring person thinking about life, doing nothing.
My 1st book's Ch. 1: Boring person monologues about boring life + diarrhea
2nd book's Ch. 1: Starts at interesting moment with a boring person
3rd book's Ch. 1: Starts a beat too soon, thinking about life
4th book: Starts with a vampire attacking a drunk pianist. Won 2 awards.
Still not sure where to start your first chapter to show character and voice through dialogue and action? Consider your character. What situation would show them at their most feisty? At their worst? What would raise their hackles? Show us your character at a moment of passion.
What you've got to do here is MAKE PEOPLE CARE. We need to connect with that main character, fast. And we need to *want* to connect with them. That's why even antiheroes need some redeemable quality or lovable spark. We see who they are through action and words, not thoughts.
By the time you can do this with your own original characters, you'll already have that skill to apply to IP characters we already known and love. You'll have a natural feel for where to start a story that suits them and shows who they are in the moment. That skill takes time.
So on the flipside, say you want to start your first chapter in OMG THE MOST ACTION EVER. In the middle of a battle scene, say, or a dream about one. This rarely works for new writers. Battles are emotional because someone could die. If we don't know anyone, why should we care?
Again, it's about emotion. About caring. About becoming attached to the character and curious about what will happen to them next. Write a scene that shows us who they are, that makes us care, and that makes us wonder. Ask a question about what happens next. Plant a gumdrop.
It doesn't matter how many books you've written, how many degrees you have, who you know in the business, or how much you love writing-- if you can't make me CARE in the first pages, I won't care.
Voice + conflict + action + dialogue + prose + [mysterious heart-spice] = CARE
So just adding the usual caveat: Your mileage may vary. My way is not the only way. If you read my threads and want to tell me that I'm wrong and why, they're probably not for you-- they're for writers still finding their way. I teach/advise for noobs, not outliers/masters.
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