Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What's Behind Door Number One?

Tower of London, 2010

Two years ago, I spent a couple of weeks in London.  It was the first time I had ever been to London, and I fell in love.  There's an entire street dedicated to book stores, and the tiles at the Baker Street tube station sport Sherlock Holmes' silhouette.  I won't even mention Poet's Corner.  The city is built for bookish types.  

While there, I took several pictures (like the one above) through doorways.  I loved the mystery and the intense focus on a single object (normally whatever is right beyond the door) framing a picture this way created.

I'm starting on my next book which means I have to face things like The First Chapter.  The Inciting Incident.  I have to write something that makes the reader want to Turn The Page and keep on reading.  As I was writing today, I remembered my London doorway pictures, and I started thinking about first chapters and other scary things. 

I'm a visual person and the picture above helps me think about how to structure my first chapter.  The beginning of the book is the setup for everything else.  It needs to entice the reader.  It needs to have a bit of conflict and suspense about it, something that says, "Keep going, there's more just around the corner." 

Look at the picture above.  Note that the viewer is not out in the courtyard.  They are in the Tower, looking out at a blue lamppost.  There's a hint of the world beyond the doors, but nothing more than a hint.  The viewer wants to walk through the doors to find out what else is outside.  It looks good.  Enticing.  But this is the Tower of London and the viewer knows nothing is what it seems.  Beyond the door could be the crown jewels or the spot where Anne Boleyn was beheaded.  To find out the viewer must walk through the door.

That's what a good first chapter does.  It places the reader in an intriguing doorway, one they must walk through.  The chapter provides enough of a view to what's beyond the door that the reader simply must walk through to find out what's on the other side.  Note that the view is narrowed, focused on one thing--the other side. 

The first chapter is typically a more focused or limited view of your novel's world.  It provides bits and pieces of the world before opening it up to a more panoramic view.  In later chapters you can pull back and show the reader around your world.  But in the first chapter you just want the reader to walk through that door.

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