When your novel is progressing nicely and you finish a chapter, the next chapter is calling but you procrastinate, you do your laundry and you avoid your next chapter.
Writing a novel is difficult. It takes time and persistence.
There are many rules new writers are unaware of. When I was writing my first draft for, A Time of Stones, I finished each chapter and stared at the blank piece of paper, confused at how I could start the next chapter.
If this is you, below are three ways to start that next chapter and three dead-end ways to start a chapter. These rules aren’t set in stone but more of a guide to make your novel the best it can be.
How can you get started on that next chapter?
Sensory details. I like to imagine where my character is in the next chapter, then close my eyes, put myself there and try to imagine all the things the character might see, hear, touch, taste or smell.
I push hard to find an interesting detail and I start writing there. The danger is that you might start with too much description. That’s OK, you can take care of that during revision. The goal here is to get started.
Action. Alternately, starting with a great verb can help jumpstart the story. Think beyond the usual: walk, run, turn head, whirl. Instead, go for something distinctive: bolted, pondered, leaped, dodged.
Avoid adverbs – slowly, quickly etc. It’s lazy writing and a weak sentence.
Get your character in motion and keep him/her in motion for a page or so, and you’ll figure out where to go next.
Dialogue. One of my favorite openings to a novel is Tom Sawyer, which opens with his aunt calling: “Tom!”
When in doubt, begin a new chapter with a bit of dialogue. Keep it going for about ten exchanges and then move on to the description, setting and character interaction.
Dead End Ways to Start a Chapter
On the other hand, there are some dead-end ways to start chapters:
Waking up. I haven’t seen this executed properly and I believe it rarely works to have a character start a chapter in bed, then wake up.
Backstory. In my last post, I discussed how back-story information dumps and long explanations of a character’s history rarely excite the reader.
Readers don’t need to know about Mary’s uncle’s horse and how it escaped and caused Mary to jump into a ditch where she broke her leg. Instead, show-don’t-tell how she is dealing with that broken leg. Past action is boring; current action is exciting.
Dull vocabulary. If there’s a place for the brilliance of voice, phrasing, interesting vocabulary, it’s the opening of a chapter. Here is where you want to catch a reader’s attention.
You don’t want it to be so overblown that it is out of character with the rest of the story; however, you do want it to catch a reader. And, the beauty is that if you do overwrite, it’s just a first draft.
I hope these ideas help you get something—anything—on paper. There’s plenty of time for revision. But that first draft has to get written, one chapter at a time. Stop procrastinating and keep writing.