How to Write your First Chapter if you are Overwhelmed

This week:

  • We go in late, out early
  • I completely skip my opening line
  • I’m a simple soul and like simple stories
Photo by Retha Ferguson on

A lot of people are too overwhelmed by the task ahead to even start writing their book.

There are several reasons why people get overwhelmed about writing, and I’ve suffered from a few of them:

  1. You know where you want to go in your story but not how to start it
  2. You can’t think of the best opening line to hook your reader
  3. Your story is complex and you don’t know which part to begin with

The good news is, there are ways you can combat these problems.

You know where you want to go in your story but not how to start it

Start writing the earliest thing you’ve planned. 

Don’t build up to it.  It’s the most interesting idea you have, so open with it. 

You don’t need to slog through a hundred pages of build-up, you don’t need to give the life history of every character and you don’t need to set the scene by showing exactly how the world works in minute detail (that will naturally come out during the course of the novel).

In order to start writing your story, I would suggest sticking by the old adage: in late, out early.

Dive in right before the action.

Either you’ll end up writing more than you thought as you come up with new ideas, or you’ll have a firm base for building on.

If you’re a discovery writer (or pantser), your characters will find interesting ways to deal with the situation that will lead down a new path. 

If you’re an outliner (or plotter) you’ll be able to review the scenes you’ve written and decide who your main characters will be, what their ambitions are, what promises you’ve made the reader and what the tone of this book is going to be.

You can’t think of the best opening line to hook your reader

The best advice I can give for this is: don’t write your opening line.

I know you have to write an opening line, but it doesn’t have to be the one.

When you’ve written your story, developed your characters, discovered your world, then you can go back and write a really killer opening line that sums up your book and lets the reader know exactly what they’re in for.

Muse on it as you write and jot down any ideas you have. 

Don’t worry if your amazing opening-line idea doesn’t fit your opening chapter, either, because you can go back and change that, too.

The opening line is a detail, and they can be tweaked in the edit rather than fretted over at the start.

Your story is complex and you don’t know which part to begin with

I have three tricks for starting a story that is too complex.

1. If you think it’s too complex, cut it down.

Instead of telling yourself that you have a massively complicated story, tell yourself that you have three fast-paced novels in a trilogy. 

Divide your story-lines according to character and theme, grouping ideas together in three sections to make three books.

Then you don’t have to be overwhelmed by a hugely difficult story, you can get on with the business of writing the first part.

You have the satisfaction of knowing that none of your ideas are going to waste – you’ll get to them later in the trilogy.

2. Choose one character and write their story, leaving the others out.

I have faced a story that I’ve developed and developed until it’s too complex for me to handle at the start.  I managed to start writing it by telling myself that, actually, I was only going to write about this character. 

Suddenly the overwhelming feeling vanished because I was focused on a single character with a single plot-line.  Obviously, other plot-lines were connected to them and I began to weave them into this character’s story but, because I was still only focused on one character, I felt much more confident in my ability to handle it.

This tip is more about your frame of mind than the actual story you’re writing.

You’ll probably find, by the end, that you’ve written a complex story with several plot-lines and different themes, but you thought it was simple while you were writing.

3. Pick your favourite part and start with that.

If you absolutely can’t cut anything out, then you have to write it all.  So you may as well write the bits you like best.

Choose the part you most want to write and do it.  Once you start, the story will flow and all the different elements you were afraid of juggling will fall into place.

You can always go back and write sections that need to come before that, or scenes that need to be slotted in.  You can do that.  You can write them and put them where they need to go but start with the scene you’re most excited about.

These tips make it sound easy, I know, and it’s not, but they are great for getting you started.

Let me know how you get on

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve used any of these tips to start writing.  You can follow me on Twitter @AlisonJanetBro1.  Let me know which ones worked for you and how your writing is going now!

If you have your own tips or tricks, please share them in the comments section below.  We like to spread the love.

See you next week

I hope you enjoyed this post.  Please come back and read next week’s.

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