Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, April 08, 2010

First Chapters and More

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I’ve been thinking a lot about first chapters these days and how important a first chapter is, not only to a book, but to hook the reader, the agent, or whoever is reading it. If I could say anything about writing a first chapter, I would say four things.

Build a solid character from the beginning. Give us details, help us care about them and what they’re going to do. Make them believable and identifiable. Dig deep. Find an emotional center that will appeal to your audience and bring them with you on your character’s journey no matter what it will be.

Have your main character involved in a situation of some sort right away. Build the tension. Draw your reader in so they want to turn the page and see what happens.

Give your reader an anchor with a strong setting. Don’t make them guess where your character is. If she’s in her car, driving around a darkened city looking for her best friend who just called her in a panic, tell us what she’s seeing with the lights passing by, or that she’s smelling the oranges that she bought at the grocery store earlier and that makes her stomach rumble. Give us sensory details so we can be right there in the car with her.

Don’t try to pack everything into one chapter. No info dumps---don’t give me the entire life story and more in the first ten pages. Let the information come out naturally, build the tension by sprinkling in backstory details, which will also let me imagine it.

Your first chapter sets the stage for the entire book and for your style as an author. Make it count and make it shine.

Answers from last week’s quiz:

Do you believe that I met Princess Diana when I was thirteen years old? True statement. She was on walkabout in Canada right after she was first married and I got to meet and briefly talk to her.

Do you believe that I am expecting my eighth child in the fall? True statement. We are very excited about it!

Do you believe that I was once bitten by a poisonous spider and am now deathly afraid of spiders of any kind? Not true. I’ve never been bitten by a spider and am not deathly afraid of them.

Do you believe that Jeff Savage once worked as a mall Santa? True statement.

Do you believe that Jeff Savage purposely didn’t finish the next book in the Shandra Covington series just to torture his fans and that he giggles about it several times a day? Well, as Jeff announced on Monday we DO get another Shandra. But I still think he’s enjoyed the pain of his fans hanging on the edge of their seats waiting all these years.

Do you believe that Jeff Savage once owned a spastic golden retriever? Not true. He owned a spastic border collie.

Do you believe that Stephanie Black plays the violin? Very true. And she’s in an orchestra I heard!

Do you believe that Stephanie Black lived in Arizona and briefly worked as a tour guide for the Grand Canyon? Not true. She lived in Arizona, but never made it to the Grand Canyon.

Do you believe that Stephanie Black’s favorite Disney movie is The Emperor’s New Groove? (That would explain a lot if it is true, wouldn’t it?) True.

Do you believe that Robison Wells is distantly related to H.G. Wells from War of the Worlds fame? Not true.

Do you believe that his parents actually meant to name him Robinson, but the nurse wrote down Robison for his birth certificate and they never corrected it? Not true.

Do you believe that Robison Wells’ favorite vacation was to Canada where he loved the atmosphere, food, and most of all, the people? I don’t know if Rob’s ever been to Canada, but I know he has an appreciation for the awesome people. J

Do you believe that Kerry Blair has a collection of voodoo dolls? Not true.

Do you believe that Kerry Blair is one of the sweetest, most Christlike women on the planet? Very true.

Do you believe that Kerry Blair loves surprises? Somewhat true. haha

Do you believe Sariah Wilson is the oldest of nine children? True.

Do you believe Sariah Wilson was a cheerleader in high school? True.

Do you believe that Sariah Wilson got married on her 20th birthday? It was her 21st birthday.

Thanks to those of you who played!


At 4/08/2010 5:04 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Great first chapter advice, Julie.

And congrats on the upcoming Bellon #8!!!

At 4/08/2010 5:19 PM, Blogger Debra Erfert said...

Thanks for the great tips on first chapters. It still doesn't make it easier writing one, but thanks anyway.

Congratulations on being pregnant! Now are you going to be referred to as Octomom? Never mind. The only image I have after hearing that term is a woman with eight arms flailing in all directions at the same time, which I guess is what you need just to get through the day. (with two being used for the keyboard, of course.)

At 4/08/2010 6:43 PM, Blogger L.T. Elliot said...

Great information on first chapters, Julie! You should totally repost this in December of this year for the next Storymakers conference. =]

Great truths/fictions. =] Loved learning more about each of you. And Stephanie, I love that movie too.

At 4/08/2010 7:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And how do you do that to your first chapter, you ask? Julie gives you a lot of great advice, but you could use that for ANY chapter in your novel. Sensory details. Character development. Interest. Action. Engaging dialogue. So are you going to do a really good job with all that stuff in your first chapter and then only a so so job with the rest of your novel? Hopefully not.

So what really sets a great first chapter apart from the other chapters? What makes the first chapter so irresistible that when the reader finished they go back and read the opening, and when they do, they have multiple AHA moments? What, really is the secret to a phenomenally irresistible opening?

Drum ROLL: The End in The BEGINNING.

That's right. If you execute all the the things Julie mentions, but you fail to carefully place the END in the BEGINNING, your opening chapter will fall short. It will be less exciting than it could be, less interesting, less dramatic, less developed of character, less sensory, less engaged of dialogue.

When you place the END in the BEGINNING you are in essence whispering to the reader: "Don't be suprized if this happens or if that happens, and look out for this, and watch for this." You are essentially trying to load up the subconcious mind of the reader will all sorts of plot ideas, information, and story, without them conciously knowing that your planting the entirety of your story into the first chapter.

And how will you know if you've succeeded, if even only mildly? The first indication is that when the reader arrives at the END they will say, "I knew that was going to happen." Which will give the reader a very satisfying experience. The second, and possibly more important indicator, is that when the reader goes back and begins the novel for a second read and starts through your opening chapter, they will pick out all the hints, the foreshadowing, the premonitions, the ideas, the story lines, the plots, all of them carefully placed into the opening. All those important details their concious minds glossed over, but their subconcious retained in order to give them that super satisfying reading experience.

The truly great first chpaters have the END in the BEGINNING.

At 4/08/2010 7:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon, I agree mostly with what you said, but beginning writers have the tendency to info dump, try to jam too much into a first chapter, and either skim over setting or be setting heavy. I was simply pointing out some of the biggest problems I've seen with writers in my experience. And sometimes I like not knowing the end in the beginning. ;)

L.T. I plan to, and perhaps I might suggest a first chapters class at the conference next year. It really is something writers often struggle with, and anyone who's been involved with the first chapter contest can attest to that, but all writers need a refresher, I think.

Thanks, Stephanie and Debra, and Debra if you call me octomom I will name a character in my next book Cobra Farfert who will die a horrible death or be a bumble-headed villain. Just so you know. ;)

Julie Bellon (who is too lazy to sign in. haha)

At 4/08/2010 7:54 PM, Blogger Debra Erfert said...

I know I should apologize, but the thought of making you carry through on your threat is really tempting. ;)

At 4/08/2010 8:03 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

While circularity in a story can be very fun and effective, I don't know that it is necessarily a requirement. I do agree that it's great to have a first chapter that means more the second time you read it.

Octomom is right about beginning writers though. Authors often feel the need to "set the stage" before plunging into the story. They want to show a happy family before showing the family's home torn apart. Or explain who the man in the car is and what he is doing before getting to the "good part."

I recently spoke with an editor of a big LDS publisher who said the biggest problem they see is books that take too long to get started. One of the best tests of any chapter is to see if it can stand alone. If it is not interesting in and of itself, your chapter needs fixing.

At 4/08/2010 9:35 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

Okay, so I am new to the LDS writing world (at least the virtual one anyways). What is this Story Makers everyone talks about and the first chapter contest? I live in Wyoming and feel a bit out of the loop.

What's your take on prologues? My current WIP has a prologue that is a hint at the ending of the book, leaves you wondering what's going on, in a good way (I hope).

At 4/08/2010 11:42 PM, Blogger Debra Erfert said...


Go to and you'll find a really cool website. Cruise around a while and all your questions will be answered.

I went to the conference last year and rubbed elbows, (and knelt at the feet, gazing up lovingly,) with most of the Frog Bloggers plus many other published LDS writers. There were hundreds of wannabe writers like myself sitting in classes listening and learning, and furiously taking notes as fast as our little fingers could write.

I'd like to go again this year, but I'm basically too broke to leave my city. I live in southern Arizona and the conference takes place in Provo, Utah ... like, next week!!!

Good luck with your WIP.

At 4/09/2010 12:08 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Debra, darn it, I'm so sorry you won't be at the conference! It would have been so fun to see you again.

Lisa, Debra's right--the conference is awesome. Last year was my first time and I loved it.

At 4/09/2010 11:02 AM, Blogger Lisa said...

Thanks Debra! I'll check out that website out as soon as I post this comment.

At 4/09/2010 1:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


If beginning writers tend to infor dump then tell them not to info dump. But, you also don't want to confuse beginning writers by telling them that what constitutes are great opening chapter is no info dump. That may make an opening chapter less desireable, and certainly less appealing to a publisher, but things that make for bad writing, make for bad writing in any chapter, not only the opening. Info dumb anywhere in your novel and you're entering the territory of terrible pros.

And it would be a sad thing for a beginning writer to believe that as long as they set the setting well, have interesting characters, and don't info dump, along with some engaging dialogue that they have a good opening chapter. Not. They have a good chapter. Even what our illustrious author extraordinaire poinst out about beginning in the MIDDLE of the action and/or the MIDDLE OF THE STORY, is true for any chapter in your novel. Enough with preamble, preparatory narrative. Start in the middle of the action/story/plot in all your chapters.

What sets a good opening apart from other chapters in your novel is thre END IN THE BEGINNING. It is, essentially, the only really novel thing about an opening, the only thing that sets your opening chapter apart from any other chapter in your novel. An opening chapter is a different beast than any other because of that one important issue. The End in the Beginning.

All other elements are germane to any chapter in your novel. But the End in the Beginning is the novelty of the opening chapter. The difference maker. The one thing that sets it apart from all other chapters.

And it will make your opening chapter a killer. For sure.

And it also means that you can't really write a good opening chapter until you know how your novel will end. You don't need to know any of the middle of your novel, the twists and turns, but you do need to know the end. Once you know that, you can write a great opening novel because you will be able, subtly, to place the END IN THE BEGINNING.

At 4/09/2010 1:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a "beginning writer" I have one request to make. Please use English. All these literary terms make my head spin. While I understand some of them, I get really lost with all of the jargon.

I went to a writing clinic in a very elitist location and the people there used nothing but fancy talk. I had no idea what half of them were saying and I walked away feeling as if I had learned very little.

Maybe my ignorance is the sign of a bad writer. I hope not. But I think it would be best if everyone out there trying to help us "beginning writers", realized a lot of us don't speak the literary language.

At 4/09/2010 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon, I think what makes a first chapter great is somewhat subjective beyond the basics, but you have to have the basics, no matter what. So while I don't necessarily disagree with your theory completely, I do think an opening chapter is different from any other chapter because of the fact it's setting up your entire novel and the tone. I also think it's nearly impossible to start each and every chapter in the middle of an action and model chapters after an opening chapter. You have to have a flow in a story and sometimes it's not all action and hopefully it's not always a new beginning. And while having the end in the beginning can work, there are times when it won't. And yes, I am of the opinion that you can write a good beginning without knowing the end. I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on that one. :)

I mostly wrote this post because I am in charge of a First Chapters contest this year and after reading through some entries, I am seeing many chapters that don't have even the basics down--hence my post about some things I would tell writers of first chapters. Obviously I wasn't putting forth my four little ideas as the be all end all, it was simply a start to what I would say to those who are working on first chapters (especially the basics) and what, in my opinion, could help. If it doesn't help you, then feel free to disregard.


At 4/09/2010 3:00 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Anon 2, the best way to learn is by asking. Don't be afraid to look dumb. We al have tons to learn. Tell us what terms are unclear and we will attempt to make them clear.

At 4/09/2010 4:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Julie:

You're right that you can't begin in the middle of the action in every chapter, hence the council to begin in the middle of the action/story/plot. If you're writing an actionless chapter it’s nearly impossible to begin in the middle of something that does not exist. But you can begin in the middle of the story, which, if you think about it, is essentially saying drop the back-story and begin in the middle of the scene/story.

Instead of telling us that 97 year old Herriot is a little odd and also dumping all the information of how she came to be that way, all the visits to the psych doctor, the fainting episode last spring that put her in the hospital for three agonizing days, and that goofy fling with a butcher knife and the mailman who cut through her back yard, you simply have her open the door, shut it, open it again, shut it, lock it, unlock it, open it, shut and lock it again. Have her peer out the window, then shut the window, lock it, unlock, lock it again, then draw the drapes then look out the window again. Have her arrange and rearrange her toothbrush, Kleenex (lots of Kleenex) along with lotions, and sprays, and combs and anything with lots of roses on it, or anything pink, or any with the floral print including the pink floral toilet paper. And in the middle of her stacking and her re-arranging you have her finally muster the courage to go out the door, all dressed up in her very best dress with a matching hat and gloves, get in her 1940’s roadster retrieve one of the many letters from the glove box and read one of the love letters her now deceased husband wrote her every weekend before taking her to the movies, or the local city dance, or on very special nights, dinner at the veterans lodge. That’s the middle of Herriot’s story. She’s alone. She doesn’t want anyone to know that every Friday night she gets all dressed up, and sits in the car in the driveway to relive her most cherished memories of days gone by. No action. Nothing gut wrenching or suicicdal or mysterious or fantastical. Just a lot of little things that make us curios about this lovely, curious soul. But we BEGAN IN THE MIDDLE OF HER ACTION or actually the middle of her story. Every chapter can begin in the middle of the point of view characters story, even when there is NO MIDDLE OF THE ACTION available, because beginning in the middle of the story is really another way of way of saying no info dumps. No back story. Just get going. The reader will figure it out without you telling the life story of Herriot’s previous 97 years of life.

This is going to sound repetitive, but I’m going to write it again: EVERY CHAPTER CAN BEGIN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ACTION or the MIDDLE OF THE STORY or the MIDDLE OF THE PLOT. Without any info dumps. Without any back-story. Without anything but the current events. It may be vitally important for the author to know the back-story so she can realistically portray the current scene, but the reader doesn't need to know any of that. (continued in the next anonymous post….)

At 4/09/2010 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(…continued from above)

Which leads me back to my point. Though every chapter can and should begin in the middle of the story and the middle of the action, what sets the opening chapter apart from other chapters is not and understanding of good writing techniques, or following good writing advice, or adhering to principles of good dialogue, character development, professional pros, great setting, inventive action, brilliant plot or any other of a myriad things.

The one thing that sets a first chapter apart is that you foreshadow the end of your novel in the beginning. I know. I’ve said it before, but it really is the one thing that is different about an opening chapter. Sure you can write a good opening chapter without knowing the end. But once you do know the end. Go back and re-read your opening chapter and Nine times of out NINE you'll likely re-write it to include all the cool foreshadowing you didn't know you needed to include in the opening because you didn't know the end. Go on. Try it. It always happens. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that you've done it a thousand times without knowing that's what you're doing. You write your first chapter, then you move on and when you get 2/3’s of the way into your novel you have your ending figured out pretty much and you go back and rewrite your opening. Then you push on to the end, and find out that your end is different than what you originally planned and when you go back to the opening chapter the third time (or in my case, for the five hundredth time) you end up rewriting it into its final form with all the foreshadowing and storyline nuggets included.

We can go on forever about this topic, which I think we should, but still, in the end, the one thing that differentiates the opening chapter from the others is including the end in the beginning.

At 4/09/2010 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon, we COULD go on and on about this but it all comes down to one thing. You cannot have a great first chapter even if you have the end in the beginning if you don't have the basics! If your first chapter is all dialogue, it doesn't matter if you have the end in, it's not going to be good. If you tell every minute little thing about your character, or tell us nothing concrete about your character, it won't matter if the end is in there. That is my point. You have to have THE BASICS of good writing and good chapter writing before you can expand to include anything else. Without the basics, the rest doesn't matter, including the end being in the beginning.


At 4/09/2010 4:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right. But you want the basics of good writing in EVERY CHAPTER. So good writing isn't really a distinctive attribute of opening chapters. It is an imparative of all chapters.

And that's why its SO important to be clear to beginning writers. Your first chapter will bomb if you don't have the basics. But so will your second and third and forty third.

And once you have the basics down your opening chapter will be great and so will all your other chapters. You will have written a wonderful novel.

And then, if you want your opening chapter to do its work, to carry the weight that an opening chapter is intended to carry, you will, as an aspiring published author, figure out that you need to distinguish your opening chapter from all the other chapters on your novel and do the work that it is intended to do. That means foreshadow the end in the beginning chapter.

At 4/09/2010 4:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, many beginning writers seem especially prone to do the same things in beginning chapters--introduce too much backstory, jam too much in to try to set up the novel, don't give a strong setting and don't build the tension. I was pointing out that in first chapters, you don't want to do those things, especially since I'm seeing a lot of it right now. And, frankly, a lot of those basic things are more unique to first chapters because beginning writers feel they have to start their story a certain way. I was cautioning them against that. That's all. You can say you need all that in subsequent chapters, but there are points that are more valid in a beginning chapter.

As for the ending in the beginning, again, it is only your opinion that that makes a first chapter unique. Just because you say it, doesn't make it so. I'm not saying you can't do it, or that it won't be good for your chapter, but it's not a rule, not everyone has to do it, and just because you've done it doesn't mean your first chapter will be good.


At 4/09/2010 4:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Anon Who Has a Spinning Head because of all the literary terms:

Hand in there. You're peering in from the outside. And as you gain more and more experience, define more and more terms, and acquaint yourself with more and more writing techniques, you'll feel more and more at home.

You don't want to dumb down the discussion. Just ask lots of questions. What does back story mean? How do you define plot? What is the diference between story and plot? Can you give me an example of starting in the middle of the action?

Trust me, if you're really serious about wanting to write great fiction, you don't want authors to dumb anything down. You want it all. No matter you don't understand the lingo. What's the best way to learn french? Immerse yourself in the language. Live in Paris. Write it. Lots of it. Speak a lot of French. Talk to people about the grammar, the syntax, and the street lingo--the phrases that make no sense unless you know the subtle meanings.

If you immerse yourself in the language of writing, you'll soon become conversant, and it will improve your writing beyond anything else you can do. We could no sooner throw out the jargon of writing as a Frenchman could throw out his native tongue. But, like the Frenchman, we're all happy to answer the most basic of questions and keep answering them until you speak AUTHOR or French, whichever language you want to focus on...

Good luck.

At 4/09/2010 5:00 PM, Blogger Noble M Standing said...

Julie, congrats on #8, you're my hero! I am expecting #7 and I am done! Too old, no energy, etc etc etc.

This is my third year entering the First Chapter Contest. Both of the other years I have taken the comments I recieved and studied them carefully. Then used what I learned, to write the best first chapters I could write.

I agree that a good first chapter drops you in the middle of something whether it be action or a situation or something else entirely. I do believe the days of four chapters describing the town in which the story is going to take place is definately a thing of the past.

I have also seen that the reader wants tiny bits of information about the character, not necessarily back story, or info dump. While not the easiest thing to do, it can be done.

I am intrigued about the "end in the begining" idea but I don't believe it's necessary. My first chapters always give a subtle hint as to the "theme" of the book but not serious clues.

What Julie said is right, even the most amazing story is dead in the water W/O proper execution and writing skills. Those people who comment who are published know what they are talking about. After all they are published. Listen to them they offer good advice. :)

At 4/09/2010 5:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My head has slowed down to merely a bobble.

Thanks for the advice. It's intimidating entering this world. And the last thing I want to do is look stupid (even as an Anon--my pride has no bounds).

I wouldn't want anything to be "dumbed-down" for me. But beware when I pepper you with questions that you asked for them (literally).

: )

At 4/09/2010 5:51 PM, Blogger Angie said...

An anonymous opinion is anon-oped that is supposed to be profound. If you want to be taken seriously and have your issues considered thoughtfully you must identify yourself in my anonymous opinion.(smile)
Congratulations Julie on another book publishing success. In my world if you want to be successful you do what successful authors like Julie Bellon recommend you do because you know what they say "you can't do what you have always done or believe what you have always believed and expect to get a different result - that is the definition of insanity.

At 4/09/2010 6:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember when I first began writing fiction. Everything was new to me. Everything. Even the simplest of terms. I remember the annoyance. Mostly at my own ignorance. There was a whole new world out there I didn't know existed. It was frustrating. I spend an entire month reading a HOW TO book. The same one. Over and over again until I memorized every page of it. Then I moved on to the next how to book. I read them so many times I wore them out. They fell apart in my hands. I woke up one night on the couch in the living room with a how to book on my face. Finally, after a much longer than average self-inflicted writing education, my iced-over brain began to thaw.

Here's hoping that your thaw will be much less soggy than mine.

At 4/09/2010 6:26 PM, Blogger Rebecca Talley said...

Great post, Julie. And, congrats!

Maybe you should invite Anon #1 to be a judge for your first chapter contest next year :).

Anon #2: Don't feel intimidated, we've all been there and we're all still learning. Ask away.

At 4/09/2010 6:41 PM, Blogger Sheila said...

Hey Julie, Congrats on #8. Did you know you were expecting when you podcasted with us? I ask because when we asked if you were going to have anymore children you smiled when you gave your answer. Anyhow, you have beautiful children.

I love all of this "talk" about writing. I continue to learn from you and all of the wonderful writers out there.

I am also so happy that Shandra is coming back!! Thanks Jeff.

At 4/09/2010 10:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rebecca, Rebecca, Rebecca:

You know I never come out of my hole. Ever. The largest crowd I've ever been around in public is home teaching.

Anon #1

At 4/09/2010 10:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


If you want to find an identity, go look in the mirror. Some of the finest writing ever done, was done in anonymity. You should try it. Anonymity has its advantages.

At 4/09/2010 11:16 PM, Blogger Kate said...

Julie you had really good points. I really like how Anon detaied the difference between a first chapter and the rest of a book. I think the END in the BEGINNING could be a very powerful tool if used correctly: a light touch, subtlely, the whisper of a hint.

At 4/09/2010 11:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon #1, I think you are being rude to Angie and feel comfortable doing it because you aren't signing your name to this. It's been an interesting discussion for me, but I really don't want any of our commenters to feel like they will be belittled by anons when they are willing to sign their names and you are not. :( Be kind. Please.


At 4/10/2010 1:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In an interview at this URL:

Orson Scott Card ends the final question about what advice he would give to aspiring authors by saying:

"There are no shortcuts. If you know how to handle point of view and you end the story that the story's beginning promises, you will eventually sell your work."

I thought that was very interesting given our discussion about including the end in the beginning. If your story delivers on the promises it makes in the opening, then it will sell. That means you foreshadow the end, and then you deliver on all those foreshadowed promises that you subtly made to the reader in the opening chapter.

That is what distinguishes and opening chapter from all the other chapters in a novel.

Orson Scott Card

At 4/10/2010 8:20 AM, Blogger Angie said...

thanks for the suggestion on identity Anon-one - Look in a mirror! if it works for you then I guess it must work for everybody? - is that your prevailing philosophy of life?
Personally I like Covey's idea of "beginning with the end in mind"

At 4/10/2010 10:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I personally liked the entire quote Orson Scott Card gave.

"In the world of publishing, it's WHAT you know and HOW you write that make the difference - that and the blind luck of happening to submit your work to an editor who gets it. No editor or publisher that's worth anything is going to buy your work because it has an endorsement from a big-name writer or because you happen to know their cousin. There are no shortcuts. If you know how to handle point of view and you end the story that the story's beginning promises, you will eventually sell your work."

So in my mind, Mr. Card expresses exactly what both of us have been saying. It's HOW you write, (you have to know the basics, as he discusses in the article with how he learned to write) and you have to submit to an agent who gets it (so if you suck at the basics, no one is going to get it) and you have to deliver the ending that the beginning promised (doesn't say foreshadowed anywhere in that quote, but whatever.) :)

So Anon, thanks for the article, it's been an enlightening discussion. I appreciate all your comments.


At 4/12/2010 2:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From Anon #2 (the girl with an unstable head).

I took your advice and asked, on another, not-to-be-named website. This website touts itself as the home of an expert. So, I asked (on more than one occasion actually). But my comment was never posted, let alone answered. So I return here.

What is a "passive voice"? How do I recognize this in my own work?


At 4/12/2010 3:11 PM, Blogger J Scott Savage said...

Passive voice is when when you make the object of an action into the subject. Usually it involves was, were, had been or other to be verbs. For example:

Jennie's gun was slowly raised. Instead of Jennie raised her gun slowly.

Her hand was taken by a stranger. Instead of The stranger took her hand.

The papers were picked up by teh students instead of the students picked up the papers.

At 4/12/2010 3:14 PM, Anonymous Reed said...

Why do people who refuse to give their name expect me (or anyone) to accept their writing advice? There are a lot of poor writers on the internet giving their poor opinions. Unless I know what you write (and if it's any good) I'm not going to pay you much attention. Sorry, Anonymous.

At 4/12/2010 3:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon #2 says:

Thank you Mr. Savage! That explanation made perfect sense.

At 4/12/2010 4:44 PM, Blogger J Scott Savage said...

You're welcome! Glad it helped. I just caught myself using passive voice in a novel I am currently working on. I had written, "At their tables the other first years were grinning." I changed it to, "At their tables the other first years grinned." Passive voice is not always bad. But most of the time active is better.

At 4/12/2010 5:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon #2:

I think I should clarify an earlier statement. The only reason I did not ask my question here first was because the term was used on the other site (you guys were so encouraging). I thought I would ask its source. I guess now I know to come here. Maybe you should put up a definition blog, or can I just insert my question into any post regardless of what the post is about?

At 4/13/2010 11:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I always love your explanations. They are terrific. Thanks. I've been around the block a few times, and I still can't get enough of the repetition and instruction that comes from you and everyone else.

Many thanks.

PS: The end in the beginning is still the only thing I can think of that seperates a first chapter from other chapters in a novel. Can you think of anything else?

At 4/13/2010 12:18 PM, Blogger J Scott Savage said...

Thanks. I love how you take the time to teach as well. You do it well.

I do agree that you want to write every chapter so it is as exciting as your first chapter and can stand alone. But here are a couple of things I’d throw out about first chaps.

1) Try to introduce your main character in the first chap. so the readers know who they are rooting for.

2) Don’t start a first chapter with a dream, waking up, or any type of flashback.

3) Even if it isn’t your main conflict, the first chapter must have some type of conflict. I talked to a person who had a guy driving a flower truck to an airport in the first chap. Turns out t was full of explosives, but we didn’t learn that until the end. I suggested he start with a bee flying into the truck and nearly causing an accident. That gave him the action he needed and really built up when we saw the explosives in the back of the truck and even more when we see the airport exit sign.

4) Don’t use an exciting prologue to make up for a slow first chapter. Fix the first chapter.

5) This works for all chaps, but enter the scene late and leave it early.

6) Foreshadowing is cool, but heavy-handed foreshadowing is worse than not at all. Don’t pull a, “Little did he know the person at the door would change his life forever.”

7) Lastly, all your chapters should be exciting enough to stand by themselves, but the first one is what sells the book. As a reader I may forgive a slow chapter 13, but if the first chapter doesn’t hook me, I won’t usually buy it.


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