Thursday, August 11, 2011

Chapter One

Way back before I signed with my agent, ALTERED had a beginning that I’ll call Beginning 2.0. It had already changed quite a bit from 1.0, and I hearted it something fierce. It took place five years before the actual story started and I thought it covered  all the great things about Anna’s story. There was tension and conflict and a little bit of love. I thought it rocked.
But then my beloved beta readers suggested I totally ax that beginning. Start it closer to present day, they said. You need to hook the reader a little deeper, they said.

Everything plus the kitchen sink
I scoffed. My beginning rocked. IT ROCKED. Right? It did…rock?

No. It didn't. But I couldn’t see how bad that beginning was until I wrote another one.

Beginnings---specifically first chapters---need to cover a lot of ground. They need to say something about the characters, the setting, the conflict, but they can’t say too much. 

They have to tell the reader Maggie loves Dan without telling them Maggie loves Dan. They need to tell the reader Maggie hates her mom and writes angsty poetry without listing these things like attributes in a character worksheet.

The progression of ALTERED’s beginning taught me something valuable. It taught me how to write beginnings with the intention of throwing 1.0 and 2.0 straight into the trash so I could eventually reach 3.0.

Now, I allow myself to pour everything into that first chapter. Learn who the characters are. What they’re doing. What they fear. Who they love. Hate. Admire.

Then I paint over it and let just a tiny bit shine through. I know what happens behind the scenes, now it’s my job to show the details as subtly as possible.  

Jennifer Rush is the author of ALTERED coming Fall 2012 from Little, Brown. Check out her blog for news and updates. 


  1. Agreed. I think by the time you reach the end you've lifted your game since you started. -And the beginning is make or break. I always judge from the first para.

  2. Jennifer, I hate the idea of writing a beginning that you know is going to end up in the trash heap. But you are so right. You kind of have to just dive in and hope you'll look back and see this moment somewhere in Ch. 2 or 3 where you'll say, "Oh, that's where I should have begun!" Live and learn, right?

  3. Beginnings are so difficult to write, and you're absolutely right that sometimes, you have to write them with the intention of throwing them out to uncover shinier things beneath.

  4. Poor Beginning 1.0. Gathering dust in some unused folder on your laptop.


  5. Tracey --- I judge by the first paragraph too! It's sad, but true. If I'm not hooked in just a few sentences, then I put the book down.

    Eve --- It's all about trial and error! I'm sure someone, somewhere has written a killer Chapter One on the first go, so it's not to say what you've written is automatically garbage. Just keep a careful eye on that sucker and don't marry it till you're absolutely sure of it's quality. :P

    Emy --- I'm terrible at beginnings, I've come to realize. I just have to plow through.

    Jay --- I'm such a liar!! Does that make me the literary equivalent of a player? :P