Thursday, February 04, 2010

First Chapters and The Central Conflict

Yet again taking words I've written elsewhere and tucking them in my cheek pouches and bringing them home --

In a discussion of whether stories should start with the central conflict
or not . . .

My characters hit the ground running. They are immediatrly in action that is directed literally or metaphorically towards the main plot conflict.

The last couple chapters solve the central problem.
I want my first chapter to open the central problem of the story.
And just to be holisitc and fancy about writing, I want an 'echo' between the beginning and the ending chapters.

If the conflict is resolved when (a) the hidden plans are disposed of and (b) the villain is foiled . . .
I want to open the story with the heroine being tortured by the villain in re the whereabouts of those plans. 
(The Spymaster's Lady)

If the conflict is resolved when the heroine succeeds in (a) freeing the hero and (b) saving what is most valuable from the wreck of civilization . . .
I want the story to open with the heroine's determination to free the innocent and the wreck of civilization still smoking in the background.
(Forbidden Rose)

So, the first chapter is not just a hook, not just interesting action, not just: 
this is where everything changes;  this is the point of no return; this is the hero's worst day ever.

The first chapter sets the protagonist point blank against the central problem of the story. And he, (or in my case, she,)  is taking action.


  1. Anonymous11:54 AM

    Sigh. I can't wait for Maggie to save Doyle...and civilization while she's at it.

  2. @ Anon --

    Lots of saving back and forth, pretty much. But I'm also trying to be deep and metaphoric in a minor, not-too-ambitious way.

    It may not come off. We'll see.

  3. Elisa Beatty1:59 PM

    Wow! Fabulous way to describe the relation between beginning and end. Very helpful, as you always are! Thanks!

  4. @ Elisa --

    I don't say anyone should do this, but I find it a great 'prop' in visualizing that first chapter.

    And, just so I can drop Dorothy Dunnett's name . . .
    If you look at the first scene of the very first book of the House of Niccolo series, you can relate characters and comment, point to point, to the ending of the last book.

    I do not presume to even imitate but I find this so cool.

  5. Another great craft post, Jo. I do hope you'll compile all these into a handy how-to book one day. :)

  6. @ Linda --

    *g* There are many good craft books out there already.

    What I MAY do someday is get organized enough folks can find all these rambling, nattering posts in one spot.

  7. I want the story to open with the heroine's determination to free the innocent

    So the rabbit scene is really very metaphorical, isn't it?

    See--we knew you should keep it. [g]

  8. @ Beth --

    I think the whole 'extended metaphor' bit is something that happens in the back of your mind as you write along. I know I am trying to use a lot of storytelling themes whenever Maggie is on stage.