The sum of Chapter 1 = 21 pages (or 5497 words + a whole lot of time & effort)
This is the mathematical equation for the very first chapter of my novel.
Chapter 1 was due to my mentor, Amanda Hampson, by 24th July, but since I've been excitedly squeezing in as much writing as I possibly can, I completed it way ahead of schedule. I'm hoping this is an indication of things to come - having once been the queen of procrastination at school and uni, it now seems I'm the inspired princess instead, with an uncontrollable urge to get my very own Gone with the Wind onto the page.
I was 1500 words into the chapter when I stumbled across my first dilemma. I had allowed a couple of loved ones to read my synopsis, thinking it would be nice to get some feedback from them. They thoroughly enjoyed it, but with one complaint - they were disappointed I was no longer writing a family memoir.
When asked her thoughts on this, Amanda replied:
Firstly, beware of asking for opinions/validation - it can easily set you off on a different path.Secondly, you will need to put hundreds of hours into this, it needs to inspire and excite you.Thirdly, a novel has the potential to be published and read by thousands, a family memoir needs to be self-published and has a readership of hmmm...5-10That answered my question....Amanda confirmed my exact thoughts and instinct, so I decided to stick to my guns. That makes for some great advice for all you aspiring authors reading this post - stick to your guns :)
So it was onwards and upwards from there...all the way to 5497 words and the glorious end of Chapter 1! I know, I know...I need to write at least 12 times that amount to finish my novel, but it's a fantastic start, don't you think?!
But what did Amanda think? Well, going from her response below, I think she liked it...
You've got off to a fantastic start, it's going to be a wonderful story!Amanda is right in assuming I have used my family history as inspiration, which does make it really hard not to put my characters up on a pedestal. I realise however, thanks to Amanda, that I must separate my fictional characters from my much-loved family members. They are not one and the same, and I am not writing a memoir.
I hope you are not discouraged by the feedback, it's hard seeing your work dissected - and realising there is a lot more work to do. Writing is not for the faint-hearted :) but I do hope this is not overwhelming.
As I mentioned, I recommend you don't start fixing this chapter but learn from the feedback, give some thought to the issue and push on with the next one.
I feel there may be an issue with the crossover from writing family history to writing fiction. There is a feeling in this story that everyone gets their own pedestal - which is completely natural when writing about your forebears. But in fiction we need conflict, conflict, conflict, we need to make life very difficult for our characters, bring them to their knees and raise them up again.
So that's naturally going to run counter to how you feel about your family story. It may help to change their names, after all you're using their story as the inspiration for this novel - then you can let it run its own course without feeling that you are betraying them in some way.
As Amanda says, it is conflict that is going to keep readers turning the pages, so you'll need to wish me luck in trying to create conflict, without feeling as though I've betrayed my family in some way:
Conflict - story is conflict, conflict is story. Don’t be in too much of a rush to resolve conflict and make everyone happy and nice - conflict keeps us turning the pages.One character I'm going to really struggle with in regards to this is a man based on my maternal grandfather. Stories I've been told portray him as a hero - a perfect husband, father and neighbour - who was loved by all who knew him. I didn't get to meet any of my grandparents unfortunately, so I can only go off what I've been told about them. But when it came to the introduction of this grandfather-like character of mine, Amanda said she "just didn't buy the guy!"
He’s like a dream father, never cross, always understanding and sweet. I’m sure if you interviewed half a dozen people who grew up in Lebanon (or anywhere) in this era, you would hear some very different stories. I know you mentioned he was ahead of his time and believed in education for girls, but he is so lavish with his praise - and so perfect. If he was tough (but also kind) we would have a much more interesting (and believable) character, some contrast and a stronger story. In fiction our loyalty has to be to the reader experience, not to our unconditional love of the characters - we need to show their flaws and weaknesses.
So, important tip #1 - create characters with conflict! So, they've got to be naughty but nice, get it? Got it! (I think!)
Now for important tip #2, which has to do with the setting of the story. Amanda was impressed with my "potentially exotic setting", but she's taught me that I'm actually the Baz Luhrmann or the Steven Spielberg of this blockbuster in my mind. My job as director is to get into the imagination of my readers, and this is Amanda's awesome advice:
Try and think of each situation as a scene. Step back and have a look, describe what you’re seeing. Often we are hearing things but we don’t know where we are, we can’t ‘see’ anything because there is no description. We don’t know where our main character is in relation to others in the house etc. As the writer, you are the director of a movie (with unlimited budget!) that we will generate in our incredible imagination but we need some help; it doesn’t need to be a lot - just a pencil sketch of the environment so we have our bearings, we’ll make the rest up.So tell me, are you inspired to start writing that showreel you've got playing in your mind? I'd love to hear what you think!