Switch or Amputate?

When you draft a novel, you’re sure to encounter some type of structural problem. For first-time novelists, that problem often presents in the first two chapters. Sometimes the answer is to switch chapters one and two. And other times the kindest thing is to amputate chapter one altogether.
Writing Tip For Today: When should you switch the first two chapters and when is it better to amputate chapter one?

  • Switch. Compare the action of the scenes in 1 and 2. Does chapter 1 feel heavy on narration? Back story? Setup (descriptions, exposition)? If you must read several pages into the chapter before an actual scene occurs, reevaluate the intro. The narrative/back story/expo stuff may be better off broken up and woven a bit farther down the story line. If chapter 2 has all the action and none of the explaining, it might be best to switch these. Readers will put up with questions about the story for much longer than they will typically put up with no action (scene).
  • Amputate. If chapter 1 does little to advance the story, it may be wise to amputate. Don’t worry, many, many novels start out with first chapters that are mostly a sketch of the character and the plot for the writer. By amputating chapter 1, you can still reveal any important info later. Resist the urge to put this information into the character’s mouth as dialogue. It almost never works. And we all know the rule about back story in first chapters–not a good idea. Again, readers are willing to discover the set-up as they read, as long as the story moves. Narration zooms out the camera , scenes zoom the camera close.

Try This! Write a short scene with high action and tension. Then, add some narration that describes the scene. Which do you prefer?

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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