Thursday, November 12, 2009

Let's Get Interesting

There's something that I've come to realize recently. It's a bit embarrassing to admit. Every one of my chapters needs to be interesting in order for my book to be good.

Um, yeah. That sort of seems obvious, right? You would think.

But I guess its not. I had 2 chapters right at the very beginning of my book that weren't interesting at all. I should have figured this out when one of my first beta readers - an 18 year old girl - and a huge Twilight fan - put the book down after about 10 pages and said "I don't really like this style book." She couldn't put it into words any better than that. She shouldn't need to. I should have taken a good look at things then. Her mother (my best friend) had also read the book and said to her "No!! Keep reading! Once you get to chapter 3 you'll totally love it."

Once you get to chapter 3.

That should have been my second clue.

Something interesting needs to happen each and every chapter. Moving to a new town is not interesting enough. Moving to a new town, discovering that your new housemate is a drug dealer, and meeting a group of hot boys who speak a different language - that you just so happen to know...that's getting better. Also meeting your new best friend and finding out everyone in school thinks that you are someone you're not....perhaps we have a winner.

Your chapter cannot be "I went to school and I had a conversation with my mom and then I went to bed with my nerves on edge." It just can't. It will never be published. Now, if you went to school and your guidance counselor hit on you/told you you would never amount to anything/advised you to kill yourself before the zombies broke down the door and THEN you went home and had a conversation with your mother and she told you that she wasn't actually your mother, that you had been found in a grocery bag at Walmart and she had taken you in and your actual mother had been by that day looking for you and THEN you went to bed and you were really nervous because your window was standing wide open and there was a ladder pushed up against the outside of the house and hey...did the closet door just twitch? Now that's a chapter. Probably a pretty crappy one, unfortunately. You can't just throw everything and the kitchen sink in there. You've gotta make it believable too, and readable.

So I need to go through my manuscript once more, not just looking for the inevitable typo, or the loose plot thread that doesn't seem to go anywhere. No, this time, I need to make sure my chapters are interesting enough. In the big chapter towards the end, where Ryan tells Sydnee everything, is *everything* interesting enough? Because ultimately, it's just a conversation. A really, really long conversation that ends with them going to bed. And no, not together. So that's not the interesting part either. But I can't just have a crocodile poke his head in the door and snap off a character's leg or anything. I need to craft it. And maybe I don't need to do anything. His story's pretty intense. But......intense enough? I dunno. If something big HAPPENED, I would say so. But they talk. That's it. I think something needs to HAPPEN.

It's alarming how much of a revelation this is to me. Better now than never though.


  1. I think the first couple of chapters are tough. Because that's where you started the book, they are most resistant to change, when maybe they're most in need of change. I don't know that my first chapter is dull, but it's not rock-'em-sock'-em, either. But I don't know what to do with it, if anything. Though none of my beta readers ever complained about it, and one said reading it made her really want to read further. The one complaint I got about it was from an agent, who said it was "well-written and basically interesting but not singular." So in the sequel, assuming this prequel ever gets into print somehow, I'm determined to start with a plane crash EVEN THOUGH IT WILL HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE REAL STORY!

  2. Penny,
    I learned this the hard way, too. I let a friend read my first MS, and she kept saying this happens then this happens, but you never really move the plot forward in this chapter. That's the key. Every chapter need to move the plot forward somehow. It's a hard lesson to learn...and a bit painful, because restructuring the beginning sometimes screws other stuff up and pretty soon you're plugging holes and bailing water. Ugh.

  3. Penny,
    I did not know that you had a blog! I saw your award at Tina Lynn's. Now I get to follow you. (insert evil laugh).


  4. Travener: I really wish I could read your work. I bet it's awesome. Your blogs certainly are, I always look forward to them. Plane crash: great. Plane crash caused by hundreds of escaped snakes: blockbuster material.

    Tina: totally! I'm still thinking about your chapter 1 comments and trying to figure out which sections of backstory I simply can't part with. It was so hard to ditch the first 2 chapters, that I feel like if I go back and save some of it, then I'm letting down the stuff that doesn't get saved. It's even harder, ya know? So tough...

    Melissa...I didn't know you had a blog either. Now I follow you too! Mwah ha ha ha ha

  5. This is such a good post because it's easy to forget this simple rule as we construct a chapter and let our characters carry us away.

    Every chapter must have CONFLICT. Every scene must move the plot forward and tell us something about the character. If you can't identify the conflict in the chapter or the goal for the character, then you have to rewrite.

    Agree with Travener that starting with something amazing is good--but gratuitous drama has to tie into the story. Plane crashes are good but they must serve a purpose and the purpose can't be to be sensational.

  6. *sing-song voice* Penny, you have award over on my blog.