Back to the Drawing Board

Lost CreativityRiding Herd‘s first chapter is killin’ me. I’ve never done a series before, so I’m having trouble knowing how much info from Give the Lady a Ride needs to go in to Riding Herd to orient my readers to the setting and backstory. I know that I don’t have to totally rehash Ride, and there isn’t that much that needs to come in to the new manuscript. But what I do need from the first novel is giving me problems.

First bit of really good advice I got from my one of critique partners is to treat the first novel as backstory. Give the Lady a Ride is backstory and should be dribbled in like that of any other novel. I don’t know why this didn’t dawn on me to begin with.

Second tidbit of advice was the reminder that backstory is best delivered in dialogue, especially if you need large chunks of it. I don’t really need a large chunk, but even the little bit I need is best presented in dialogue. And, I’m pretty good at writing dialogue (huff on nails, polish on shoulder), so I think I nailed that part after it was pointed out to me.

Now, we come to the third word of advice: even though the first chapter primarily orients the reader to the setting, reintroduces some characters, and introduces another, I still have to give the POV character a goal and present the basic conflict of the story. Or at least present the conflict better than I did.

And therein lies the rub. My best presentation of the conflict was in the first version of Chapter One, and that scene got scrapped along with the rest of the first version of Chapter One. So, my question to myself is: Do I salvage the scene from the scrapped version–and if so, how?–or do I figure out something entirely different?

Since I still have roughly 30K words left to write to finish the manuscript, I shouldn’t be concerned with this right now. But what I shouldn’t do and what I do are frequently two different things. It’s on my mind. What I hope is that while it simmers in the background, I can both finish the manuscript and discover a killer way to open the novel.

I have till the end of May. No sweat.

About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
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6 Responses to Back to the Drawing Board

  1. Linda, I’ve just started Greg Iles’ newest, The Bone Tree — second in a huge trilogy set in Natchez, MS. I think what he’s done in this book is masterful, though I don’t know how well it would work on something with less dramatic action from page one forward. But if you’ve read Natchez Burning, I’d suggest you get the sample from The Bone Tree and see how he handled backstory. He basically made it an integral part of his intro to the new book, while building momentum for his characters’ newest problems. Good luck! I’m sure you’ll work it out. 🙂 — Janet


  2. hopeclark says:

    Linda – I feel your pain. But over time, I learned how much “backstory” can be blended into a sequel and still let the new book have it’s own “standalone” vitality. Not sure if you’ve read Tidewater Murder or Palmetto Poison (sequels to Lowcountry Bribe), but I get great reviews on the fact readers can read the books in any order and it works. But knowing you, you’ll figure it out.


  3. K.M. Weiland says:

    You know I’m totally feeling your pain (even though I partially caused it). 😉 The first chapter is *always* the hardest part for me. I think I’m going to attempt a trilogy next time around, so it will interesting to have to face some of these challenges you mention for myself.


    • Well, you didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know about that first chapter. It stinks, but it’s better than the first go-’round with it. This is trickier than it looks, but then, I may be making more of it than necessary. Looking forward to writing the 3rd draft of Ch One! 😀


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