While I doubt that the real Fräulein Maria ever sang about starting at the beginning, my mother’s obsession with Julie Andrews made me feel, while growing up, that this was good advice. Subconsciously, I think I have always tried to follow it. Perhaps, while writing, I shouldn’t.
NANO is now one-third finished, but my novel is not. I am determined to follow the organization’s advice: to produce a draft of a novel, no matter how badly written, entirely during this month. After all, if I wrote Olivia of Olympus to 36,000 words during the 3-day Novel Competition, shouldn’t I be able write Death Imitates Art given an entire month? I should be: provided that I don’t get too hung up on the problems I’ve had writing a strong first chapter. No matter how carefully I plan and outline, it seems that I can’t get any real momentum going in my narrative and dialogue until–you guessed it–around the middle.
I’m sure we’ve all read what the agents want right from Chapter 1: “Characters that jump off the page,” “Voices that make me fall in love,” “Narrative that exhausts me from the first page,” and a hundred other emotive metaphors that really aren’t very helpful in defining how to start. As authors, how often do we really “hit our stride” right around the middle of a novel? What, then, if we wrote Chapter 1 in the middle of our… hate to use the word… process? What if we started the struggle to reach our stride, instead, during Chapter 6 or 7 or 8?
Let’s take my Young Adult mystery, Labels, as an example. I tapped into my experience with students to write a story about a teenaged girl who awakens from a brief coma to see the wrongdoings of others in their eyes as a single word, or ‘label.’ She might see that someone is a Misogynist, or a Kidnapper, or (of course) a Murderer, but be unable to determine exactly what they have done… until she and her small posse of awkward teens work together to expose those crimes. The novel was precious to me: it used an adventurous premise to tell an emotional, often humorous and nearly realistic story of every girl’s discovery that the guiding adults around her are imperfect. I was as proud of this project as of anything I’ve ever done.
I was, that is, until dozens and dozens of agents rejected it.
Of course, it could be that I am deluded, and that Labels (which one friend says should be re-titled Too Much Information) just isn’t very good. I acknowledge that possibility. Based on what little feedback I’ve received, though, it seems that it is that first chapter, and maybe the second, that is putting the agencies off.
That is why I started Death Imitates Art at Chapter 6. I don’t know if it will help, but I am determined to have achieved something before January, when President Luthor is certain to pass legislation that makes life even harder for writers. Another very good friend has suggested that I start in the middle, to save my momentum for those early chapters. It is worth a try.
After all, Julie Andrews was my mother’s hero, not mine.
I would love some feedback from authors who have tried this strategy. Also, is Labels a better title for my YA novel, or is Too Much Information? Check the other pages on this site soon, for a sample.