Archive for the ‘First Drafts’ Category

Welcome to this week’s Craft Post. We are still in the beginning of our new series on First Drafts. You can catch up on the first two posts here. Today we are going to be talking about the first chapter. We aren’t talking about prologues, we are talking about the first actual chapter. Prologues are still seen, but it is usually but established writers. Beyond that, they are considered by editors and agents as a sign of an amateur writer.

“Why are prologues seen as a sign of an amateur? I have one, and it is where I establish my world so they know what it is like.”

You answered the question for me. The reason why prologues are seen as would-be-authors. You are establishing your world in it and not the story to come. If it is the background on the world, it can easily be fitted in later in the book. There are other reasons.

I have heard literary agents say that 90% of prologues are unnecessary. This means that the vast majority of aspiring fantasy and sci-fi authors who have a prologue at the beginning of their book need to cut it. I can tell you from first-hand experience that they won’t like hearing this, even as a small part of them recognizes the truth to it. –Dan Koboldt

You may think you need the prologue, but your best bet is to just make it the first chapter. If you want more reasons why they are looked down upon.

  • Only serve as an excuse to drop into the action of a key conflict or world-defining event
  • Offer unnecessary backstory that could be worked into the novel
  • Often show the POV of secondary characters

While those reasons why editors and agents don’t like prologues, they are some of the reasons why readers love prologues. A lot of prologues serve no purpose to the story of the book, it is just events that take place way in the past. Usually, references a war that may have a very small importance to your story, but not really at all. That information can be added later on. I will talk another reason which I will talk about in a few minutes about why just make the prologue the first chapter. But lets here advice the king of Prologues, Brandon Sanderson who always has a prologue.

Prologues have been done so often in fantasy books that they’re almost a cliché. – Brandon Sanderson

I don’t think I have to say this, but I will anyway. Cliché aren’t good. Before we move away from Prologues, let me give this last bit of advice. If you are dead set on having one, write it as part of your first draft. Polish it as part of your second draft, and then give it to people to read. See what people think, if you get people saying cut it or take the information and put it elsewhere in the book, listen to them. In the end, it is your book and you can do what you want. However, if you refuse to cut your prologue and people have told you to cut it, don’t be surprised if you only get rejection letters from agents and editors.

Moving on. The first chapter. Long gone are the days where you could spend chapters showing the main characters normal life. No longer can you spend endless pages on describing the scene. While I am not sure if it is true, I once read that in the original Moby Dick, Herman Melville spent roughly 95 pages solely describing how white Moby Dick was. I not sure where I read that and it was a good source. In the end, it doesn’t matter. The thing to get from this is that times have changed and wordiness is not a good thing.

If you google What is the goal of the first chapter of a novel, you will get many pages of what the goals are. The things you need to achieve in are pretty simple.

  • Introduce the main character (another reason why not to have a prologue)
  • Give the reader a reason to care about them and their journey
  • Setting
  • Hook us.

There are many other things people suggest like, introduce the antagonist, tone, and theme. All good ideas. Sometimes you need to write to find your tone and your theme. This is the first draft remember, everything beyond the four I listed you really don’t need to do yet. It helps if you have others, to begin with.

Let’s look at the four things I listed. So the most important thing is to introduce the main character. Before moving on, how are you going to do this in a prologue that is set thousands of years in the past? Or if the focus on another character? Look at Harry Potter. The first chapter of The Philosopher’s Stone is essentially a prologue. Harry is only in the last quarter of the chapter. The purpose was to introduce something his horrible family and that something has happened. We then find out and Harry is introduced as a baby. However, that is the first chapter, not a prologue.

The first chapter hits everything I listed. It also gives us a reason to care about Harry. He is a child that lost his parents, did something no other Wizard could do and as a baby and is rewarded by going to live with horrible people. It also hooks us and gives us the setting of modern day London. If you find other lists that first chapters must accomplish, then that chapter checks them all off.

The first chapter must give us a reason to care about this character. I say care not like. A lot of characters aren’t really likable. Harry is one of them. In later books, though you can make an argument for book one as well, Harry is an ass. However, we are rooting for him.

You think going over setting should never have to be discussed, but you will be surprised how often that is wrong. If we don’t know where we are and when, how are we suppose to know what is acceptable and not. In the case of a fantasy world or science fiction futuristic or post-apocalyptic world, we will learn that as the story moves forward.

Then there is the hook. You must hook the reader by the end or they will place the book down and never pick it up. First, let me say this, your hook doesn’t need to be an explosion and giant aliens burst into the scene out of nowhere. It just has to be something that makes us go what, wait a second what is going on. Having some kind of conflict helps or an action scene does this, but it has to make sense quickly or the reader is going to see it for what it is, something just to get them to keep reading and has no real bearing on the story.

Most authors, agents, editors, publishers, the list goes on start your story at close to that exciting incident as you can. While we want to see the everyday life of the protagonist, the quicker you get to the hook the more the reader will be willing to learn about your world and characters. In Harry Potter, we actually get two hooks. One at the end of chapter one that we already discussed. The second is when his ten and about to turn eleven. He is at the zoo with his horrible family who treats him like he is a slave, and out of anger makes the glass vanish letting out a snake that then talks to him thanking him for letting him out.

This is where we are going to end. This is just the first draft, everything else that professionals in the industry say you need to have in the first chapter can be something to focus on in later drafts. Now, the purpose is to write this draft. While we want to focus on writing, you do want to have at least some of the things you need already in place now. It saves time when it comes time to revise and rewrite.

Be sure to check back on Monday for my Weekly Writing Wrap-up post.


Welcome to this week’s Craft Post. Last week we started a brand new series on the topic of first drafts. Unlike with my Worldbuilding series, I have the whole series broken down into five sub-series which you can find by clicking on the First Drafts link in the toolbar. The first sub-series is on writing the first draft and later get into some other areas of thing that can better help you prepare to write your first draft and things to keep in mind while writing. You can find all posts for this sub-series (insert link to First Draft page), which was tips on preparing. Today is all about first lines.

Go grab some of your favorite books from off your shelves. For those part of a series grab the first book. Open to the first chapter or if there is an intro or prologue. Read only the first sentence. How is it? Does it grab you right away? Is it anything like some of these classics?

A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. —Graham Greene, The End of the Affair (1951)

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. —C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. —William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. —Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851) American Book Review: 100 Best First Lines from Novels.

Great right? Do you want to read any of these books now based on that first line? So may. Others not. You know why these lines are so great? Or why the first line of your favorite books are good to you? Because everything that follows is just as good and better. There is a huge idea that your first line needs to be epic and meaningful. It should be beautifully crafted. If you read the ones above they are. If I went and started one my novels like Moby Dick and changed the name from Ishmael to Todd, will that make my book opening line be just as great?

Clearly not, Herman Melville wrote one of the best classic books of all time. Also, everything that came after my opening line will determine if that line was great or horrible or somewhere in between. What makes a good opening line is that when you finish the book you can’t imagine it starting any other way. While some might believe, and I include myself in this two years ago that the opening line should be good, the rest of the story is just as important as that first line.

“But Tim, isn’t it true that agents and editors turn down authors based on the first few pages?”

The answer is yes. Some even by the first line. I can’t remember what agent said they have turned down an author based on the first word. What you need to know about agents and publishers is they have so many manuscripts int their slush pile that they have developed little tricks that help them know if the book is good. Was the grammar bad, or was the first sentence is confusing or bad? Did they even care about what was going on after the first page? Every agent and editor are different, and each has their own tricks.

“Then we should really take the time to make sure our first lines are perfect.”

Yes and No. When it comes to first drafts one of my tips from the first post was is get it written. That is the focus of the first draft. Spending several hours or days on the first line is just not a great way of spending the opening days of starting your first draft. I did that when I started the first draft for Seeing Through the Veil. I had just read The First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke. It was a great book and got me a little to focused on that part of my novel. I recommend reading it after your first draft is done. I wasted a month of trying to make sure my first fifty pages were great so I had little polishing to do on them in the second draft. I ended up stopping and not pick up the book for two more months.

First drafts are to get it written. Once it is written then you know what is happening, even if you outline having an outline and fleshing it into a full-length book is different. For some, there are probably outliners out there that they know every step and all writing is making it more visual. Once you know what is happening you are better prepared to spend more time on your first line. However, don’t worry about making your opening line great like some of the ones I posted above. You don’t decide if it is on par with those lines. The readers do.

That’s all I got today, check back next week for the next post called The First Chapter. Be sure to catch my Weekly Writing Wrap-up on Monday’s as well.


Welcome to the start of a brand new Craft Post Series on First Drafts. We will be going doing five different sub-series in this series. You can find all the series and the breakdown on the posts in each sub-series on the First Draft Link. Today will be talking about Tips for Getting Ready to write your first draft.

My first tip is something that applies to all first drafts. Learn from each first draft you write. I remember the general details of all my first drafts and how they went. From difficulties to the great things. Take notes after you complete your first draft on where you struggled and what worked. The main thing is to try to figure out why things worked well and why the things were hard. Taking notes why you are writing the draft can help with this. After you have written a few first drafts start to try to see if you are having the same difficulties or strengths.

Next is more of a personal choice, but I recommend knowing your ending. This doesn’t mean you have to know everything about it just a bullet. The basic ideas. For those who are more organic, writing styles have an idea for it, and you can change it as you are writing. My point is having something to work towards, but let the story flow and take the turns that come even if it goes away from your idea for the end. If you go in a new direction try to see what that may be leading to. It could a way of working towards and find the next bump.

Next tip is to find a time to start your writing. A lot of published authors suggest finding your time where you can write every day.

I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp. ― W. Somerset Maugham

This doesn’t work for everyone because not everyone can write at a specific time each day due to work and other commitments. I recommend picking a time for the first day of writing the first draft.

Another tip is to get a good night sleep before you start. Having enough sleep the night before will help you think and let ideas flow easier. Days when I got little sleep and write the next day I barely get many words out and if I do get a lot of words out they are crap.

Remember, first drafts are always crap and don’t try to make it perfect. I have tried too many times to make the first few chapters really good instead of just trying to write and get the story.

Finally, my last tip is just to get the draft written. You want to get to the end. Take notes on things you want to change as you write, it will help with the next draft, but your focus needs to be on getting it done.

That’s all I got, there are more tips but this is based on my experience. You can google for more tips if you want more thoughts. This is the first post in the new series, so check back next week for our discussion on First Lines.  Check back on Monday for Weekly Writing Wrap-ups.