I know this because I’ve been reworking it over the past few weeks.
The first chapter of any novel is a challenge. You have to balance action with information, find subtler ways of introducing facts than just slapping your reader in the face with a list. My novel also happens to take place in a realm that never existed, so I have to go a little farther establishing setting and rules.
And on top of it all I killed someone. Callously. Cruelly. From the moment this character was created, her only purpose was to tragically die so that everyone around her would suffer. I created her and her situation about a year and a half ago, long enough to have taken the edge off just how callous and cruel I am.
But then Saturday happened.
In the interest of description, I would like to say that Saturday was a remarkably lovely day in my hometown. April here was more like Winter 2: The Revenge of Winter, but then May swooped in to melt the snow and bring the sunshine. The house was empty and sunny, and I sat down to hammer out the last half of my first chapter. Again.
So while it was all sun and birdsong outside, I was inside, listening to a funereal playlist, imagining what it would be like to be a.) a twenty-seven year old man b.) a king c.) grieving the sudden loss of my infant daughter and the likely death of my wife.
Not the first time I’ve been here, not really concocting anything new. Just reworking and refining what had been there before – so the tears were kind of a surprise.
I was trying really, really hard to extract what that situation might feel like. I envisioned, I physically rehearsed gestures, I agonized over every word. My character was sitting alone in a mausoleum in the middle of the night, and I was sitting at home alone in the middle of the afternoon. And both of us were crying.
This has never happened to me before. I’m hoping it means that I’ve reached some level of authenticity, but part of me was also quite taken aback by it, especially when those feelings kept following me long after I had left my writing for the day. (Just ask my fiance who had to ply me with a Parks and Recreation marathon and a bowl of popcorn to lift my spirits when he saw me four hours later.) It takes a lot to make me sympathise like that. I can cry for selfish reasons no problem, but when it comes to human interaction, I usually try to just hug and let the other person get through their feelings without me piling on. And that’s with real, live human beings; not with made-up people from fictitious lands whose suffering I directly and purposefully caused.
I’ve put the draft away for now to let it settle. I’ll look back at it in a few days and probably just see changes to make, ways to improve. I hope the crying doesn’t become a regular occurence, because this is just the first chapter forgawdssake and, as the poem goes, I have miles to go before I sleep. The story does not get much happier from here.
On the other hand, I’ve been with some of these characters for six years. I know with great intimacy every painful memory they have, every joy, every internalized thought. Despite what I do to them over the course of the story, I do love them, even the ones who – to outsiders – don’t seem to deserve it.
And thus I soldier onwards! I’ve been scribbling up a storm, to the point where that book on my Currently Reading page is nothing more than more paper in my bag. My thoughts and efforts are with you, fellow writers.
Uhm… should I have started this post with a prospective spoiler alert?