Chapter One is a series of posts where I take apart the first chapter of a successful book to see what makes it work, how the author hooked the reader, which rules were followed and which were broken to good effect (previous entries can be found here: Chapter One Analyses).
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was published in 2012 and made into a hit movie last year. The author’s previous two novel were moderately successful, but sold nowhere near as many copies as this one.
It’s a contemporary mystery thriller, written in the first person by two narrators, both of whom seem fairly unreliable. Chapters are alternated in a he said/she said format. The story starts with the husband (Nick) writing on the day his wife goes missing. The wife (Amy) is represented by a diary that begins on the day she first met Nick at a party in Manhattan.
I’ll be looking at both first chapters (his and hers) to see how they differ and how they complement each other.
You hear it all the time: prologues are evil. (And writers everywhere, commence howling.) Now I’ll grant that “evil” is a slight exaggeration. We might call them “dangerous” instead, except that word is pretty ironic, since one of the chief reasons a prologue is so dangerous is because it allows authors to play it waaaaay yonder too safe.
I used to confuse conflict with action. In film, we decipher conflict from dialogue and character’s actions and reactions. In writing we have the added dimension of thought. We can introduce the reader to conflicts through our characters in an intimate way.
Sometimes things don’t work out the way we want them to. In life, we put up with this – we bear the disappointments, we try something new, we get over it.
When writing a book, it’s different – we know that we can find a way to make it work. Why? Simple reason: as the author we have complete control over the story world. We’re not lying on the operating table – we’re the surgeon with the cool brow and gleaming little scalpel.
Dialogue is a key part of any story and it’s usually what readers find most engrossing. They might skim long descriptions, but when they get to someone speaking that’s where they’ll get pulled back in.
It’s a writer’s truism: the most important paragraph is the first one. It opens the door to the reader, inviting him or her to come into the place you have prepared for them. Your opening must convince them that this place is somewhere they want to visit, and perhaps stay for a long time.
Time is our enemy. Most people don’t have enough. This is why our writing must be tight, direct and hook early. Modern audiences have the attention span of a toddler hopped up on Pop Rocks and Mountain Dew. We can’t afford to let them drift.
How do you know if your story goal is good enough to support your entire novel?
In last week's post, The Story Goal - The Key To Creating A Solid Plot Structure, I discussed what a story goal is and the importance of this goal. This week, I want to give you a checklist to find out if you have a good enough story goal.
One way to make a good first impression is to go into a situation with your chin up, head held high, exuding confidence. New research says we judge how confident others are in just .2 seconds, and if you’re feeling weak or insecure, your voice will give you away almost immediately. Here, a few scientifically proven ways to boost your self-esteem.
“How do mystery writers do it? How do they surprise their readers?” I reflected on Chesterton’s Father Brown and Doyle’s Sherlock and Rowling’s Comoron and a weird idea came to me — for years I had been analyzing authors and their plots. I would think through an author’s knack for withholding information and how their plot would hit on every detail but the solution to the mystery. Wasn’t that the surprise?
Turns out I had started in the wrong place. The first question on the origin of surprise is this: What goes on in the reader’s mind the moment they’re surprised?
Sometimes after people learn I’m a writer, they confess to me in private they have a book inside them. They dream about it and long to make that happen.
I know others who talk a lot about writing. They post writerly quotes on social media, links to publishing articles and always know the latest industry buzz. Another set are voracious readers; they can discuss a variety of cool topics or brainstorm story ideas. They love the whole literary scene.
We know taking breaks optimizes work-and-create flow. But what are the best practices and under what conditions? Some people advise mindful breaks. Others suggest full-blown hour-long naps. Much depends upon your circumstances and your desired ends.
For writers, reading may seem as essential to life as breathing. But did you know reading has actually been proven to have surprising health benefits? So the next time you feel like your creativity has quit and your writing has wilted, reach for the remedy: your favorite book! Here are five remarkable ways that reading can improve your sense of well-being and keep you healthy:
Life is conflict. Story is conflict. One of the reasons we seek out great stories is for help dealing with conflict in our lives. We learn lessons from our characters, look for inspiration from heroes that have to risk everything to achieve their goals. After experiencing that level of conflict, sometimes our own are easier to keep in proper perspective. If they can make sense of their crazy worlds, we should be able to make sense of our own.
By the end of the twentieth century, its origins forgotten, brainstorming had become a reflex approach to creating in many organizations and had entered the jargon of business as both a noun and a verb. It is now so common that few people question it. Everybody brainstorms; therefore, brainstorming is good. But does it work?
The words stop flowing and we can become desperate. There could be a deadline looming or just our own daily goals. Writer’s Block – fearful words. How can we overcome it and move forward? Try these tips from the pros:
Melodrama makes people think of bad soap operas. In fact, melodrama is about emphasising the emotional aspect of a story, but when you do that you can very easily tip over into hysterical characters who overreact to every little thing.
It’s a bit like overacting in a movie; a big performance can be enthralling if done right, and ridiculous if pushed too far. Melodramatic stories suffer a similar problem, although, like bad acting, they can still be entertaining when preposterous.
However, emotions are important in all stories. You want the reader to feel connected to the character and to empathise with their plight. And there are a number of techniques used in melodrama that can be applied (in moderation) to your story and help those feels reach your readers.
Firstly, I’m going to repeat a snippet of advice I dispensed in the first article and that is novel lengths are dictated by the story itself, not the writer or the editor or a specific written formula. Secondly, writers don’t have to fit their word count into generic set amounts. The story will dictate how long the novel will be.
But plenty of writers still fret about the length of their chapters, let alone the length of the novel.
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