Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Temper Tantrum Tuesday: Missing the forest for the trees

Every once in a while everyone makes such a bonehead mistake, which is so big that even people looking at it from outside can’t identify it, they just know it doesn’t quite work. That is what I did with my novel “The Pizza Diaries”.

I thought I had something that agents and publishers would snap up. I honed my query so that most people who saw it said they’d like to read the book, I had first chapter an interesting short story in itself, I’ve queried enough that I know all the agents little quirks and personalized my query for them. And I got back form letters or no response to it, even from agents that have quickly replied with personal notes to me in the past.

So what did I do wrong? The very first thing in writing a book. I noticed that when I came across this post. How to Hook Your Reader over at "A Book Inside".

I’ve saved that post and will refer to it for every book I write from now on.

I compared it to my original first chapter:

1. Establish who, what, when, where and why.

I established that my hero was a Pizza Delivery Driver, um, that’s about it.

2. Ascertain what kind of story you are writing.

The book is a funny urban fantasy idea story about a Delivery Driver who runs into all sorts of strange monsters in his job, I started off with a science fantasy romance piece.

3. Let the reader care about the character(s).

In the first chapter my hero is swept up by events that he, or anyone else, can have little control over. As a short story it works as the reader can see themselves being pulled along in that series of events. As the beginning of a book it sets the tone that hero is just being led along by events out of his control.

4. Set the tone of your book from the beginning.

I started the book with the idea of having a guy live in a city where all the cliché monsters of horror books lived and he met all of them by delivering pizzas to them. He took it all naturally which made for a funny surreal feel to the entire book.

My first chapter was the only humorless chapter in an otherwise funny book and the only chapter where the hero isn’t in some sort of control over the crazy things going on around him.

So by picking the wrong chapter to start with I did quite a few amazing things, I turned an Idea book into an event book. I turned the weak B plot into the A plot forcing the original A plot into the background so the little details leading up to the finish were overlooked. And I turned an interesting and funny character into a wuss whose actions are drowned out by the crazy things going on around him.

Immediately after reading Cindy A. Christiansen’s post I had to do a facepalm as I did the exact opposite of what she recommends.

I’ve written a new first chapter that I will post tomorrow which A) is funny B) Gives insight into the main character and C) Moves the comic relief character from the end to a place where she gets more attention, which she needs.

By Darrell B. Nelson author of Invasive Thoughts


Stephanie Barr said...

I personally think the start of the novel is the absolute hardest part. I know it's not my strength either, but I keep trying. You should do so, too.

Project Savior said...

On Invasive Thoughts I worked and worked to get those elements right in the first chapter, My second one I put a decent amount of time into it. My last two I seem to have forgotten everything I knew about writing a first chapter. Those were the ones I most heavily pitched to agents.
Oh well live and learn, forget and relearn.