PDA

View Full Version : Help! Hating my first few chapters.



D.Hawkins
August 23rd, 2013, 09:16 PM
Ok, the reason I am here is to get advice and insight- and all of the input I have read for other stories has been awesome. This is just a tiny tid-bit of a story I am working on (rough draft alert). These chapters are bugging me, but I can't quite put my finger on why...


Everything I knew was fading in the distance as we headed down the highway and out of town. The buildings of downtown Atlanta had already blurred, replaced with tall pines and open road. I should have been more melancholy or glum, but I wasn’t. My life in Atlanta had ended when Ginny, my best friend, died. I had been going through the motions of life since then, but not living at all. We were picking up everything and moving west to Phoenix, where my dad could start a new branch of his financial firm.
In my mom’s own words, smothered with her southern debutante accent, she declared that “a family road trip would be such grand fun”. Hand to her heart, her tiny little frame almost became airborne when she came up with the idea. It didn't hurt that we had time to kill while the decorators put the finishing touches on our new house. My older brother,Jeremy, and I had not been allowed to see pictures of the house. She wanted it to be a surprise reveal.
So there we sat, in my dad’s Landrover. My brother did anything he could to pretend I wasn't there. He saw me as the object that ruined his life, not as his sister who survived. My dad stayed on business calls -working on his macbook, and my mom, Mavis, drove and tried to keep the mood light.
She planned stops at landmarks, we ate picnics and looked at natural wonders, and slept in kitschy motels and luxury hotels. Ten days of this and little did they know we had a fifth passenger.Ginny was always with me. She didn’t go wherever the dead were supposed to.Instead, she stayed grounded to me.

D.Hawkins
August 23rd, 2013, 10:00 PM
And I just learned the hard way that cutting and pasting from my writing software is not a good idea...UGH!

Orchidia
August 23rd, 2013, 11:06 PM
Ok, the reason I am here is to get advice and insight- and all of the input I have read for other stories has been awesome. This is just a tiny tid-bit of a story I am working on (rough draft alert). These chapters are bugging me, but I can't quite put my finger on why...


Everything I knew was fading into the distance as we headed down the highway and out of town. The buildings of downtown Atlanta had already blurred, replaced with tall pines and open road. I should have been more melancholy or glum, but I wasn'tperiod My life in Atlanta had ended when Ginny, my best friend, died. I had been going through the motions of life since then, but not living at all. We were picking up everything and moving west to Phoenix, where my dad could start a new branch of his financial firm.I like this paragraph, but I feel like you need to slow down just a little bit. There's already a lot of information for me to process here. Of course, this also depends on how long this project will end up being.

In my mom’s own words, smothered with her southern debutante accent, she declared that “a family road trip would be such grand fun” <--does the main character not have the same accent? Would she notice her mother's if that's how she spoke as well? Depending on where she was raised, she might not, but generally, children speak the same as their parents.. Hand to her heart, her tiny little frame almost became airborne when she came up with the idea. It didn't hurt that we had time to kill while the decorators put the finishing touches on our new house. My older brother,Jeremy, and I had not been allowed to see pictures of the house. Sbecause she wanted it to be a surprise reveal.

So there we sat, in my dad’s Landrover. My brother did anything he could to pretend I wasn't there. He saw me as the object that ruined his life, not as his sister who survived. I would consider cutting this sentence. It oversimplifies what sounds like a complex relationship between the siblings. Also, it comes off a information stuffing to me, it's not really natural for the character to observe that. Remember, you have a whole book to get this information across no reason to give it all away on the first page.My dad stayed on business calls -working on his Macbook, and my mom, Mavis, drove and tried to keep the mood light.Double meaning. "Mood light" could refer to low lighting, which of course doesn't make sense here. I had to reread in order to understand so maybe consider using a different phrase.

She planned stops at landmarks, we ate picnics and looked at scenery natural wonders, and slept in kitschy motels and luxury hotels. Ten days of this and little did they know we had a fifth passenger The second part of this sentence doesn't quite work with the first part. I think it's because in the first sentence, you refer to time, but "little did they know" has nothing to do with time. It's hard for me to explain... Maybe something more along the lines of "...of this and they still hadn't realized we had a fifth passenger." Ginny was always with me. She didn't go wherever the dead were supposed to.spaceInstead, she stayed grounded to me.

One little thing before I forget: in a few places you have the beginning of a sentences immediately following a period. There should be a space after the period.

Other than that however, I like this. You successfully filter the information through the main character's eyes, so even though you introducing a lot of information, I don't feel separated through the character. However, I think right after the section, you need to bring me into a scene or you're going to lose me. I need to see how the character acts/reacts in a situation. This isn't the most unique story idea, but I'm interested to know why Ginny has attached herself to the main character and what's keeping her from moving on.

So good job. This seemed well written to me and, for the most part, easy to read and understand. I look forward to the next selection, and let me know if you have any questions. :grin:

D.Hawkins
August 24th, 2013, 12:46 AM
Orchidia- Thank you, thank you, thank you! Let me start by saying that I did a cut/paste of this and didn't bother to check it. It made the few paragraphs morph together, so sorry about that!
I'm so glad you pointed out the thing with her accent. I was meaning to add in that she spoke like her father- who wasn't raised there, but that got shoved aside because there were a few other things bugging me.
I agree about the first part seeming fast, and that has been my struggle. I want to get her out of her past and into the present, but I also want readers to know some back story.
Thanks again! This will really help me nail down what I am trying to say.

Jeko
August 24th, 2013, 11:11 AM
Your first chapters are likely bugging you because they are your first chapters. They find a way of bugging everyone.

The excerpt reads well. As for exposition, it reads like an early draft that can grow and develop once the whole story is done.

singphantom7
August 25th, 2013, 08:47 PM
I do like the initial premise of the story. I like the main character, and I especially like the creepy closing sentences about the friend, Ginny, staying grounded to her. I found your opening paragraph unnecessary. I do this myself as a writer, and find I will write full paragraphs that tell, rather than show, that the reader doesn't actually need. While I think this first paragraph helps you get to know your characters, you could actually start your chapter with the sentence, "So there we sat in my dad's Landrover", and create a more interesting, action oriented opening that will pull the reader in. You don't have to summarize everything before you get to the crux of the story. I'm not sure you'll agree with my opinion, but just something to think about (: Keep at it!

D.Hawkins
August 25th, 2013, 09:11 PM
singphantom7- I just have to laugh because I have cut this down three times now. I agree 100% and have been thinking about doing the cut, but I'm hesitant because of the little bit of history that is there. I think the starting point you suggested is good. Maybe I can work in a tiny bit of history from there. I think I might have to post something a little further on in the book, just to be sure my path is working out. Thanks so much for the input!

bazz cargo
August 25th, 2013, 09:37 PM
Hi D,
the dance of where to start. I find the best way is to splurge everything down, plot, characters, scenes, important dialogue; with spellos, horrible grammar and diabolical punctuation included. Then either it is a play I'm in, or a film I'm watching. Depending on POV. And work it out so anything information wise stays to a sentence or someone includes it in dialogue.

Usually the beginning is rewritten about half a dozen times, and that is in a short story.

Best of luck on the long haul. I'm driving that way myself.
Bazz

D.Hawkins
August 26th, 2013, 04:27 AM
Thanks Bazz Cargo! I usually go pretty free flow at first, then work out the kinks. I appreciate the feedback and I'll be working on taking out the extra stuff. Joining this forum is the best thing I have done in a long while. Such fantastic advice!

Marc_Taylor
October 23rd, 2013, 01:20 PM
Hi D. Hawkins,

Like the others I like the premise of the story. I think that the idea of a friend having 'unfinished business' and thus clinging to your main character gives you a wide scope to develop an interesting story.

I like the technique of starting the novel in the middle of the action and then using the first chapter to weave part of the back story into the present.

I used that method in the opening of my novel also.

I look forward to reading more!

theatregeeksu
October 31st, 2013, 10:53 PM
You have a really great start! The only thing bugging me is the last few sentences- they are very... um... dramatic, and theme building, and therefore in my opinion should not be added so early. I'm not saying that idea needs to go, I'm saying the way you phrased it makes it sound like a climactic revelation, and its too early for a climax.

yaythisisavailable
December 30th, 2013, 06:03 AM
I like it, but it might build more suspense if you keep the reason for the move a secret until later on. If you immediately reveal the cause of the character's problem, it leaves nothing up to the reader's imagination.

thepancreas11
January 3rd, 2014, 03:08 AM
Showing a character's history is always a delicate balance between story flow and explanation. There are really two ways of doing it without delivering a lesson on your protagonist. The first and easiest way is to have a flashback. That way, you have only to retell the action that happened leading up to the event. However, if you have to tell too much by looking back, it can break up the flow of your story. I recommend including it in dialogue. Here's an example:

Mom tries to keep the mood light by singing songs in her southern accent. "Rock me Mama like a wagon wheel," I hear her say, and she puts the stress on the Mama to remind us all that she is our mother.

My brother rolls his eyes. I slug him with my elbow. "Be quiet. She's only trying to help."

"I didn't say anything!"

"But you would have said it."

"But I didn't!" He glares at me. "Just because you're miserable doesn't mean the rest of us are."

"I'm not miserable!"

"Right, like you haven't been in your room crying all the time since Ginny died."

That's a punch to the gut. Ginny, I think. My best friend Ginny...

Okay, I got carried away because I love your premise here, but see what I did? I've established three characters here. The mom is a good-nature, light-hearted southern woman who's trying to keep her family together. The brother is angry with the sister and the mom and annoyed at the idea of moving at all. Meanwhile, the main character is reeling over the death of her friend. You could even include something about the dad not moving to break them up. That's how we get a sense of the characters without being told who they are.

It will read much faster if you streamline it this way.

Tiberius
January 29th, 2014, 04:09 PM
Try rearranging the order you have things. You;ve got the death of the best friend, an event which has changed your character's life, buried in the middle of a paragraph. Try putting that right at the beginning.

A_Jones
March 14th, 2014, 04:18 PM
Your first chapters are likely bugging you because they are your first chapters. They find a way of bugging everyone.

The excerpt reads well. As for exposition, it reads like an early draft that can grow and develop once the whole story is done.

I disagree, I love my first chapter. BUT I agree that it is easy to dislike them sometimes. I have been trying to write a few books and cant get past the first chapter because something about it isnt right. Yours.... well, I am sorry to say I got very bored. It all started with the word "Granny". Granny has connotations of the little old lady who lives in a shoe, or red riding hoods grandmother who got eaten by a wolf. Its just.... outdated. I mean no offence if that is how you refurred to your own dear grandmother, but this is just personally how I feel. I rather like Gram, or Grams, or Nan, or even something sweet like 'Bean' with a back story, "When I was younger my grandmother wore a shirt with a giant stringed bean on it. She would point to herself and say 'bean' and I have called her 'bean' ever since. We want to know as much about what is going on, what is going to happen, and who is talking in the first chapter as we can. So remember, the first few parographs of a chapter need to catch your reader somehow, then flabbergahst them with story, beautiful wording, and imagery. Every reader wants to feel connected to your story from the very beginning. That is why it is so important to has some kind of backstory (like the bean story) because every reader has a back story. Understand?

That aside, I do like your choice of other words. I liked imagining the buildings disappearing in a blur. The soft feeling of the sadness in the character. She was leaving something important behind, but she was trying to convince herself she wasnt. As much as Atlanta only had her Grandmother, it also holds all the memories she had of her Grandmother, its going to feel sad leaving it behind.

Allysan
June 30th, 2015, 09:04 PM
I'm pretty new to this forum but I've scanned through multiple posts on this YA thread and I just wanted you to know that this is the first post that actually drew me in and made me want to read to the end! I'd love to see more of this project if you are still working on it!!

chrismackey
August 22nd, 2015, 09:47 PM
I agree with Alyson

denmark423
September 23rd, 2015, 04:53 AM
Just continue writing until you get finished. Then edit what you don't like that much in the story.

callanb
February 9th, 2016, 08:39 AM
Integral info dumps are hard to write sometimes.

Flashback is definitely my favourite way to do it: the problem is that I think we have a long list of points we want to hit. Where were they born? Who kissed who? How did their son get this way etc. Writing a flashback is definitely the most immersive and exciting for the reader, but it may not cover many of these points.

Pancreas is on the right track with dialogue - I personally struggle with that approach though.

TheRedSharpie
May 8th, 2016, 04:10 PM
This looks cool.

Just to say, you're not on your own with a struggle in the first few chapters. My book's in the seventh edit now!

Best of luck :)

CleverFox
May 11th, 2016, 05:33 AM
I agree with most of Orchidia's critiques. However, just to add and maybe give a slightly different opinion, I think you should keep the sentence about Jeremy seeing the narrator the way he does. I think it is important. It was that point that caught my attention, made me want to know why he felt that way.

Also, another suggestion I will make, adding to what Orchidia said, it doesn't come off as the most unique story idea. Of course, I don't know how your story ends. I would just suggest that you find something to add or make this different from others like it. What makes this "ghost story" different? I don't think you need a rewrite, just an original hook.

As far as information dumping and editing, I am of the opinion 'just get it all out'. Then worry about organizing. Only once you have it all down will you realize what you can combine, what you can cut, and what you just have to have.

Abubakar
June 3rd, 2016, 09:06 PM
I think it might be because you're putting too much info at once with no character interactions in between .If you add a few dialogues and blend them with some of the things you've written so far ,I think it'll help .

Jay Greenstein
June 7th, 2016, 04:50 AM
As I see it, the problem, is that you're taking the part of the narrator and "telling the story" to the reader. But storytelling is a performance art. How you speak the words, and your physical performance—expression, body language and gesture—conveys the emotional part of the story. Without that, it's just a list of events. To show what I mean, look at the opening of this graphic novel (http://www.gocomics.com/lostsideofsuburbia/2011/07/26). It's for a YA audience, but since I'm still a kid in most ways, it's one of my favorites.

Think about how much ambiance the two drawings add to the words of the story. Better yet, think of much would be lost were the pictures not included. Sight is a parallel sense. So in an eye-blink we get the dress of the two boys, which speaks volumes of the kind of person they are. Their expressions, body language and what they're doing tells us of their personalities and goals. The writing, on the other hand, is straightforward and factual, as is your excerpt—historical data that cannot mesmerize without something like those pictures to produce an emotional response withing the reader. Take a minute or two to look at the page, and the effect of the pictures ion the reader's perception of the scene, to see what I mean. And, you might want to read a few more pages of the story, it's fun.

That aside, look at the structure of your story. The first paragraph is a series of six sentences, each self contained, declarative, and as devoid of emotion as any history lesson. And at its end we don't know the speaker's gender, their age, or anything about their character. But without that, why would a reader care? The term for what you're doing is, an info-dump of backstory. And were you alone of stage and telling the story to an audience it would be necessary, to set the scene.

But think of how much more fun it would be for a reader, had you opened with:
- - - - -
I turned for a last look at the city, before it faded into the distance, then settled back into the car's backseat with a sigh. Goodby Atlanta, I won't miss you.

But I would. I'd miss the stability of life there—at least until my best friend ruined everything.

Oh Ginny. Why did you have to fall?

"Hey, birdbrain, Ginny said. "Do you think it was my idea?" I glanced to the left. She was leaning against the other passenger door, arms crossed and mouth twisted in disgust. "Do you think I wanted to die?"

Obviously, I must have spoken aloud, and in doing so, summoned her.

"Well, do you think I did?"

"Go away," I whispered, hoping the road noise would cover the sound of my voice.

"What's that, Ellen?" my mother called from the front seat.

She turned, and smiled, waiting for my reply. But what could I say, that I was having a conversation with someone she couldn't see?
- - - - - -
It's not your characters or story, nor is it great writing. But it's presented in the viewpoint of the person living the scene, not some later incarnation of that person who can only talk about the events.

Do we really need to know their destination in order to follow the events taking place in the car? No. Do we need to know what's planned, as a generality? Again no because in the moment your protagonist calls now, she's focused on what matters to her in the moment, not matters of history.

Notice the flow of story. The protagonist turns for a look, and we learn why. That gives her reason to think about the emotional effect of moving away from Atlanta, and react, while telling us what's going on and where we are.

But having reacted, honesty prompts her to stop lying to herself, an emotional decision. And that prompts her to react to why she'd lied, and speak aloud, summoning the ghost. Each event ticks the clock, moving the reader through time.

Next, I presented what she will respond to, Ginny's words. And our protagonist reacts to them by saying nothing (though we don't know why, yet).

That prompts Ginny to speak again, and our protagonist to moved to speak, triggering the plot-point reveal. At the same time, we've demonstrated some personality points of our protagonist—shown them to the reader, as against explaining them.

Ginny's words seem normal to the reader, who assumes she's a passenger, too. But then when the mother responds, there's reason for our protagonist, through her response to make it plain that there's a ghost in the car.

See the difference? There's no explaining by an invisible performer. It all happens, and does so in real-time, within that tiny slice of moving time your protagonist calls "now." And because the reader is aware of nothing but what the protagonist is actively concerned with—in the same way the protagonist is—there will the the illusion of time passing for the reader.

And that, is the fun of reading. It becomes an emotional experience, not an informational one. And trapped in the moment, the future becomes uncertain, and therefore, interesting.

Notice how every line leads to the next, and provides a need for it being there, as against a collection of statements that each stand alone.

And finally, look at the difference in emotional impact between being told that the friend was still around by the narrator, and realizing it as a result of the last line in the example. From a reader's viewpoint, isn't that something that will make them want to read on, to see if they're right, and perhaps learn why she's a ghost? In other words, isn't it a hook?

For an overview of the technique I employed, try this article (http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/scene.php). In many ways it's like learning the box step in ballroom dancing. It's pretty rigid, and you end up counting 1, 2, 3...1, 2, 3... 1, 2... But once comfortable with it you can embellish it and build on it, and in general, dance. That applies to the motivation/response approach to viewpoint. Once mastered, it's one of the most powerful ways I've found for placing the reader into the protagonist's viewpoint.

So chew on the article till it makes sense. Then look at a modern novel that made you feel as if you were living the scenes, and see how that author made it work for them. And if it seems like something worth knowing more about, look into the book the article's author based it on. It's filled with tricks like that.

Putting a bit of time aside to look into the tricks the pros take for granted can pay huge dividends, and make you like your own writing a lot more.

Hang in there, and keep on writing.

1Zaslowcrane1
January 28th, 2017, 02:10 AM
Yeah...I began reading this , and after a few sentences I was secrely glad that it wasn't very long....Then you got to the last three sentences. NOW I want more!
Though I'd do a second "pass" on your intro to this story. A lot of your sentences seem "clunky", so perhaps re write the passages with more dialogue.
You're "telling" me, when hearing characters talk, and getting to know them might be a bit more interesting...
Just my thoughts.
I am here to help if I can.
I'm looking for critiques for my work.

Stay well
Zaslow