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How to get from concept to chapter 1

I don’t know about you, but coming up with ideas for stories is easy for me. I do so daily, sometimes hourly, and while many of my ideas are fleeting, or not something I would ever flush out, several are good enough that I have to stop and jot them down. I keep so many Word documents filled with story ideas, it would probably be intimidating to most people, but while I’m working on my next book, I want the ideas for the one after that, and the one after that, ready and waiting to be explored. Currently, you can read my next book as it’s being serialized on BWN, Life as a Teenage Vampire, and while that is still being edited and tweaked, I’m working on my next book, The Royal Spark, which is for the most part a jumble of notes and the first few chapters. Several potential story ideas for after that have their bare-bones notes written out, and when the time comes it’ll just depend on where my muse directs me. But the hardest part when working on a new story is going from concept to chapter 1—the beginning words, paragraphs, and even the first few later chapters of the story that have to be powerful enough to capture your audience so they want to read more. The answer is different for every story, other than ‘be engaging’, because not every story needs to start the same way. The Incubus Saga starts in the middle of the story, after Nathan has lost his brother and is willing to make a deal with a dark fae in order to save him, which consequently kicks off the rest of the epic trilogy, but throws readers right into the world from the first few words. Life as a Teenage Vampire starts with some exciting action, but not really anything pertinent to the plot, other than it helps introduce you to these hapless, normal teenagers who are about to enter an adventure of very not normal circumstances. For Spark I’d like to share with you the first section of the story, and then explain where I plan to go from there, which is actually different than my initial draft.

Knight filled the syringe to the brim. Every last ounce needed to be injected into the subject in order for his plan to work. He had synthesized the formula to match the one he had given himself exactly, with one variation. Undetectable unless someone knew what they were looking for, the miniscule nanomachines he’d added produced a substance that would react like a time release drug over several months, manipulating the subject’s personality to such a small degree the change would seem natural. A man slowly losing his mind, growing colder, harder, and more twisted to his base desires. Satisfied, Knight replaced the cap on the syringe, and slipped it carefully inside his jacket pocket, where it would wait, as he watched the subject throughout the day, until the ideal opportunity presented itself. Knight had chosen the subject after years of careful planning and insinuating himself into the man’s life. The subject wasn’t the hero type upon first glance. Tall but altogether too thin rather than well-muscled. Not a natural Power or a Mage. Merely a man, a high school teacher, pushing thirty. He had few close friends. Minimal family. No romantic attachments. He lived alone, and kept his schedule clear most nights save the time he spent on classwork. Yet despite this, anyone who knew him loved him deeply. His charm wasn’t in being the strongest, or the smartest, or best looking. His body was weak, often sickly. His talent for biochemistry reached no further than the classroom; not the type to make new discoveries or affect drastic change in the field. And while some might consider him handsome, he hid behind thick black-framed glasses, tousled hair, and cardigan sweaters that made him look more like a twenty-something grandfather than a lonely young man. It was his sincerity that swayed people who got to know him. His stalwart belief in others. His ability to triumph over obstacles and tragedy in his life with an unwavering smile. He also desperately, his entire life, had always wanted to be a Power. An unassuming good person who would never squander any abilities he was granted. And that was the most important detail of all. Because who would ever suspect a hero with the best of intentions?

Originally, what came next in the story for the first chapter was introducing the readers to Reid and Jerry, the main characters who, for the most part, alternate perspectives throughout the story and share the lead role, while Knight only gets a few snippets of POV as the villain. I like those initial scenes, and still plan to use them. It helps build out their world, their lives, who they are and why you should care about them. But as I’ve been working toward moving deeper into the plot, I haven’t been able to shake that something seems off about the beginning. It’s too slow, too…boring (even if I know I’m being unfair to myself) to really grasp readers and hold their attention. If you’re a writer, you know that world-building needs to be organic, and it can be the hardest part of starting a new story, especially if your world has elements that drastically differs from the real world. You want the reader to understand everything without lengthy exposition. While my original scenes aren’t exposition heavy, they still feel stilted in how I introduce everything, so I want to find a better way that will allow me to clean up those scenes for later, maybe shorten them to drive the plot forward faster and keep readers better engaged. So I have this idea of doing a flash forward to when Reid is already a superhero, already Spark, as the story is named after, facing his nemesis (Jerry, or Prime) for the first time, and ending on a bit of a cliffhanger for chapter 1 that isn’t resolved in chapter 2 because chapter 2 flashes back to those original scenes I wrote. Starting in media res for readers, there will be several things I can remove from what will now be flashbacks that had felt heavy-handed to me, and the reader will have extra incentive to read more because they’ll want to catch up to that moment where I left things hanging in chapter 1. It’s not a new concept by any means, plenty of books and TV shows and movies have utilized this method, but in my case, it works to bring readers into a new world much better than my original plan. And that’s the hard part, but also the crux of getting readers invested in your story—finding the most resonating way to tell it at the very beginning. There isn’t an easy way to stumble upon what opening is best for your story, but chances are, if something nags at you or feels off about what you’ve written so far, you’re probably right. My solution? Share it with as many of your close friends, writers, editors, etc., as you can before you’re officially editing the story. See what people’s reactions are, talk things out, voice your concerns about what isn’t working to you, and eventually you’ll discover how to fix things and make your first chapter one that your readers will remember for a long time.

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