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My story is raring to be put on paper. But the first paragraph, indeed the first chapter, is stiff as a board. Way too much subject, verb sentence structure (clean and safe).

Basically, I’m so worried about striking the correct chords that I’m strangling the opening of my story and it has no flow. I’m strangling the voice too.

A couple of chapters in, my writing flows just fine. Also, I notice that my secondary characters’ personalities come through quite clearly. They are fun to write, as a result.

My protagonist, unfortunately, is suffering under my constraint and concern. I know her inside out, and it should be dead easy to write her. But I somewhat freeze, worried that I’m not conveying her experiences, emotions, and dilemmas well enough.

Oh, and I’ve rewritten the first chapter I do not know how many times. But because my protagonist is the star of the opening chapter, I can’t stop overthinking every detail! As a result, I’m stifling the flow. I know this, but can’t break out.

I need to get over this hump. Any ideas are welcome!

Thank you.

  • Is the story finished and the first chapter is bad? Or is the story three chapters in and the first chapter bad? – ArtickokeAndAnchovyPizzaMonica Jun 7 at 10:10
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Start two chapters early

If it takes you a couple of chapters to get into the flow of writing, then start writing two or three chapters before where you plan on opening your story. These chapters aren't ever going to be seen by the readers - they're purely for your own writerly benefit. After you've finished your story then go back and cut the chapters in editing. If there's anything worth salvaging, you can slide it into other chapters as needed.

From a larger philosophical perspective - you should not be concerned about quality in a first draft. The majority of the words in a first draft will never be read by anyone but yourself. For some writers, none of the words in their first drafts ever see the light of day. The first draft is for the writer and the writer alone, to be a framework that later and better drafts can be built off of.

Generally speaking, constantly rewriting the first chapter is unlikely to help, because you aren't gaining anything between rewrites. You don't know anything more about your story after rewrite 3 than you did after rewrite 2. So write other things. Write a chapter about what your protagonist did on the Wednesday before the story starts. Write a scene that sets up the inciting incident. Write three pages of your protagonist singing to themself in the shower.

None of these things are things you would actually want to put in your story. But the act of creating them will help expand the amount of information that you personally have about the story and characters, and will help you when you go back and revisit that first chapter.

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I don't know of any rules which say you've go to write your novel from start to end. I tend to start with a few key scenes - I'll have been playing them over in my mind for a while so they're basically kind of bursting to get out. And then I kind of work my way out from those.

But that might just be me.

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