My New Year’s Resolution was to finish my first novel in 2017, and I’ve just taken a big step towards that: I completed the draft of the first chapter. It’s a little over 6,600 words and takes up ten and a half pages in Microsoft Word (12-point, Times New Roman, single-spaced, one-inch margins). If that seems a little long… well, it may need some trimming. It is, after all, only a draft. On the other hand, I am writing in a genre (fantasy) where long chapters are not exactly uncommon.
I’m pretty excited about this, because even though it’s just one chapter, it feels so much bigger. In my personal experience, I’ve found that the first chapter is almost always the hardest to write. Once I’m over that hurdle, the rest follows much more naturally, even when I end up going back and fiddling with what I’ve already written. I suspect that the effect is psychological: having a chapter already fully drafted makes it that much more believable that I can write the rest. It’s still daunting, but having an example helps me to stop second-guessing myself.
This was actually the kind of process I saw when I wrote my senior thesis. My thesis was an examination of mythical themes in Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura, a didactic text of the Epicurean school of philosophy (which, among other things, holds that myths relating to gods are almost entirely untrue). I spent a great deal of time outlining, but what really made me feel capable of finishing was that moment when I put the final words on the introduction. The first chapter was a much bigger milestone in terms of content analyzed and points made, but having a whole section done made it real.
Of course, novel writing is necessarily different from academic writing. I still have research to worry about, but I don’t have to include quotes. Footnotes are a non-issue, and contractions are much more acceptable, but suddenly I have all sorts of styles to choose from. It can be a rough switch.
In the interest of fun, though, I’ve decided to talk about some things I’m already observing about the draft. First, I think I’ve identified one of the floweriest similes:
Her long, wavy hair was the color of freshly-cut oak heartwood, though the evening darkness and bright torchlights lent it a richer cast of polished mahogany.
It probably needs some trimming, but I do want to keep the “wood” theme in the final draft, since the scene in which this occurs is set in a logging town. If it had been a mining town, I would have exchanged the oak heartwood for a simple “brown” and said that the highlight made it appear gilded.
(And to think I used to be all snooty about how I didn’t care that much about figurative language, and how we should all just let stories be stories… gah, I was so pretentious as a teenager.)
Although I try to keep off the self-praise, one thing I’m kind of proud of is that I think I did a good job of establishing the main character’s introversion without making her seem like a doormat. She gets lost in crowds, and her extroverted childhood friend pulls her around a bit, but she still manages to be pretty forceful on her own or with people she knows, even calling out said friend when she got a little too pushy. She also takes initiative on her “quest,” so to speak, and it’s established that those close to her knew that she would do that. She has her nerves, but when she makes up a mind to do something, she gets it done.
I also really like writing her dad, even though it can sometimes be hard to come up with his lines. He’s very reasonable. I want to trade stories with him over a nice cup of tea.
One thing I definitely think could use some trimming is a bit of description surrounding the moons. The world of my novel has three moons, which has resulted in a rather interesting form of astrology. I went into this a bit because the midsummer festival described in the first chapter ties into it; however, I think what I have now is a bit too close to an infodump, and I’m not quite sure how to fix it. Getting carried away with details I find interesting is kind of an Achilles heel of mine. It probably comes from the same part of my brain as the Random Research Projects.
Chapter Two is now in the works; in fact, I have almost a page of it written already. I don’t know how long it will be relative to Chapter One, but I do know that it will take much less time to write.
From now on, I’m shooting for the Stephen King 2,000 Words Per Day Minimum. I had already greatly exceeded that quota for the day before I started on this blog post, but really, what’s the point of cutting it off at the minimum?
The answer, of course, is none. None whatsoever.
I am going to keep going while I’m ahead, and I am going to DO THIS THING.