The First Chapter Rabbit Hole

Everyone talks about the importance of the first chapter. And there is truth to it – the first chapter is very important. It’s probably the most important chapter that you’ll write. With that kind of pressure, it’s no wonder that many of us want to get our first chapters as perfect as possible. But that can prove to be a slippery slope. You don’t want to fall down the first chapter rabbit hole.

When you first start drafting a novel, it can easily seem a daunting task, no matter how much outlining and preparation you’ve done beforehand. Add on the pressure of the first chapter, and you can find yourself wanting to get it right the first time. But that will cause you to cripple yourself before you’ve even started. A first draft is also called a rough draft for a reason: it’s rough! You don’t need to try editing as you go along, especially not the first chapter. If you allow yourself to get sucked into the vortex of perfecting the first chapter before you’ve even finished writing the entire manuscript.

Your first chapter will inevitably have to be changed anyways, so why not just get the entire book written first before you worry about what will have to be rewritten? Don’t let the fear of not getting it right stop you from actually writing. The first chapter rabbit hole is just the manifestation of our fears. Don’t worry about getting it right on your first try. Just focus on getting it written. 

Signs You Should Delete a Character

Writing new characters can be a lot of fun. But this isn’t always the case. We might find ourselves looking at certain characters in our cast and wondering if they should even be in our story. Cutting out a character entirely from the story can be 

They don’t add any value to the story. Every character, from the main cast to the side characters, should advance and support your plot. If a character is holding your story back or is not adding anything to it, then you should probably take them out. The bottom line is if your story still makes sense without a particular character in it, then you should probably delete them from the story all together. 

You forget about them.If you are constantly having to squeeze them into every scene or if you find it difficult to find a place for them in the story, then you should probably delete them. Each of your characters should be fun to write and you should always be wanting to fit them in. If your characters are forgettable to you, then they certainly will be to your readers. Don’t give your readers a forgettable character, so just delete them. 

Writing them is difficult. Writing a character should be fun. It shouldn’t feel like a chore. Yes, writing can sometimes be a process and building up a character takes time and work, but it should never feel exhausting or boring. If a character is getting on your nerves or is feeling like a pain to write, then you should probably delete them from your manuscript. 

Finding Plot Holes

Plot holes are something that no writer wants to find in their manuscript. Not only can they be extremely embarrassing if you discover them after publishing, but fixing them increases the amount of rewriting that has to be done. Sometimes they are minor and easily fixed, other times they’re major and end up costing us big time in terms of having to do major revisions or deletions. No one likes to find plot holes in their work, but sometimes they will happen no matter how careful we try to be. 

But here are a few tips that might make them easier to spot:

Don’t edit before you finish. This is a hard one. It’s almost impossible not to want to edit as you write, but it’s important that you resist. You could actually end up doing more damage to your manuscript trying to fix potential plot holes along the way. If you fix a plot hole before you even finish writing your story you will inevitably end up with several more plot holes that you’ll have to fix by the time you’re finished writing. 

Notes and lists are great. While you shouldn’t edit as you go, there are other ways that you can ensure that plot holes don’t happen in your work. By making copious lists or notes related to the plot – especially before you start actually writing – you can help yourself to cut down on the potential plot holes that may arise. 

Beta readers are your new best friends. Having a second pair of eyes on your manuscript is so incredibly important. Sometimes, there are some plot holes that are so minor, they can slip through the cracks – especially when you’ve been staring at the same story for months on end. Bringing in a fresh pair of eyes from someone who has never read your story before can be wonderful for finding plot holes – particularly those that might have been overlooked. Beta readers are free and they can be so invaluable, especially since they can also make helpful suggestions as to how to fix any potential plot holes. 

How to Write Side Characters

When written correctly, side characters can actually be some pretty interesting people. Plus, they add a lot to the story. Yes, we all have to put effort into making our protagonists and antagonists multi-dimensional characters, but that doesn’t mean we’re allowed to forget about our side characters. While they might be minor characters in the grand scheme of things, they’re still vital to the telling of the story as they serve many functions such as revealing key details, motivating the protagonist or foiling the protagonist, and sometimes helping to outline certain plots in the story. These secondary characters can either interact with the protagonist through dialogue or through a memory that the main character has of them. 

Whichever way you choose to have your main character interact with your side character(s), it’s important to remember the main function of the side character: to help progress the story forward somehow. 

With that in mind, here are some tips to making sure your side characters are not one-sided.

Don’t get stuck on the little details:

Yes, writing a rich backstory is important to understanding your side character. But not everything has to be in your story. Just include the parts of the character’s backstory that are relevant to the plot and that move it forward. Don’t get stuck on the little details that don’t matter. It’ll only end up confusing your reader. A good tip to bear in mind is to ask yourself “does this add to the main story or distract from it?”

Don’t make them solely good or solely bad:

The best way to add dimension to your characters is to avoid making them one-sided. If they’re completely good or evil they’ll read completely flat. What I like to do for all my characters, including the side characters, is to give them three good virtues and three negative ones and work from there. The way I see it, if you mix black and white you get grey – and grey is where things get interesting. 

Don’t create too many characters:

Creating characters is fun. That is why it’s so easy to get swept up in the desire to write more and more characters, leading to your story to become very convoluted. If you ever read War and Peace, you know just how long that list of characters is. And if you read Tolstoy’s masterpiece, you probably had to refresh your memory a couple times while reading as you tried to keep up with all the characters. While Tolstoy somehow made it work in 587,287 words, most of us are probably working with a much smaller word count goal. Therefore we shouldn’t make it too confusing for our readers to keep up with our cast of characters. 

The side characters are there to develop the main character(s):

No matter if you have one side character or five, they all share the same exact purpose: to develop the main character. Side characters can be used to expose key plot points without you necessarily going into exposition mode and “telling” what is happening, but rather “showing” it through the characters. A side character should never be just background noise, each side character should be an active participant in the story and either support your main character or provide an obstacle for them (without necessarily being the antagonist). 

Use them to help bring the world to life:

This is particularly helpful if you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi. Secondary characters can be tools used to help bring the world you built to life. Physical descriptions, personal experiences, these are all ways that the side characters can help to better illustrate the world you’ve created. 

Try to keep them in one space:

In order to make it easier for your readers to keep up with your secondary characters, it’s a good idea to tie them to one location whenever possible. That means that your side character exists in one spot, like the bar, school, the library, etc. and they never venture beyond this point. But remember, even if they only exist as the woman in the coffee shop, they still need to serve a purpose to moving the story forward. It’s easier for your reader to learn character names etc. when they are in one location. But if you do move a secondary character around, do it with purpose. 

Give them a reason for being in a scene:

Speaking of purpose, you should make sure that your secondary character has a purpose for being in a scene. Like I said in the previous point, your side characters should really be kept to one location if it can be helped. But if you do end up moving them around, make sure that there is a reason for them to be in a different scene with your main character. If there is no good reason for your side character to be in the scene then it’ll just read as awkward and confusing. 

Preptober Plotting Tips

Welcome to Preptober! If you’re like me, you’re probably gearing up for November, which for lots of writers is simply known as NaNoWrimo. I’ve spent the last four years participating in every NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo, but I’ve never been able to fully finish a challenge. After much careful consideration, I’ve concluded that it’s probably because my writing habits could use a change and a little more self-discipline. I’m very much a pantster when it comes to writing – I just start writing by the seam of my pants and hope for the best.

While this method might be great for getting the creativity flowing, it also means that you’re more likely to encounter roadblocks to the plot. I find these happen most often in the middle of your book. It’s easy to write the beginning and the ending of a story, but the middle is where you’re most likely to drop the ball if you don’t have a set plot with a linear continuity already planned out. And if you’re participating in a writing challenge like NaNoWriMo it’s so easy to give up halfway through because you don’t know what you’re doing. 

That is why it’s a great idea to try and become somewhat of a plotster. You don’t have to detail out every single minor event or occurrence, but having a general idea will definitely help get you from point A to point C without giving up when you hit point B. And this year for NaNoWriMo I’m determined to finish a full 65k manuscript, which is why I’m spending Preptober coming up with a solid enough outline to help me next month.

I’ve been following a simple three-act outline that focuses more on the character development. The setting isn’t something that you need to worry about as it pretty much writes itself. But the plot and characters are pretty intertwined. I personally like to outline my characters’ reactions to certain major plot points. And if you follow the traditional three-act plot, it’ll create a pretty easy-to-follow outline that you can turn to when you’re in the middle of NaNoWriMo.

Check it out below:

Act One

Opening/Narrative Hook:

  • Introduce character 
  • This is also the place where you can do a bit of world building as you set up and Introduce your character’s normal world
  • Introduce your character’s unfulfilled desires or what’s holding them back

Inciting Incident:

  • What happens to disrupt your character’s sense of “normalcy?”
  • Character can react to either want to change things or escape things

First Plot Point:

  • The moment the character makes the full commitment to whatever the inciting incident has called them to pursue
  • Character struggles with fears or a lie they believe about themselves/others/the world

Act Two

Rising Action:

  • Your character begins the proverbial “hero’s quest” and along the way must confront the things that make them uncomfortable such as fear of failure, fear of their own shortcomings, breaking down long-held beliefs, etc.
  • Your character’s fight against the antagonist begins
  • This is also when your main character begins to see that their fears/beliefs are wrong

Midpoint/Second Plot Point:

  • This is the biggest part of your novel so far, in which your character comes face to face with the antagonist

Post-Midpoint Rising Action:

  • The main character devises a plan to defeat the antagonist
  • They make a small step toward their goal
  • While continuing to grow as a character, they still struggle with previous fears/old beliefs

Act Three

Character’s Darkest Moment:

  • Right after that small step toward their goal in Act 2, the main character suffers a major setback that forces them to confront the fears or misplaced beliefs that have been holding them back the entire story
  • The release of their repression further fuels them to defeat the antagonist

The Climax:

  • The conclusion of the character’s arc is complete with the defeat of the antagonist (but keep in mind if this is Book One in a series then the smaller antagonistic force is stopped, but not the overarching antagonist of the entire story)

The Resolution:

  • Your character returns to “normal” but having experienced change they can’t return to the status quo, so they begin their life in a new way