First Sentence/First Chapter Exercises
Posted by Nathan Major on Friday, March 2, 2012 at 10:59 PM
So here's a fun writing exercise you can try if you are feeling like you don't know what project to do next or just feel like you have a bunch of ideas bottled up, waiting to get out, but don't know how to best address them.
For this, you have two options. You can do a first chapter exercise (this is for when you have too many ideas), or a first sentence exercise (when you don't have enough). For both of these, doing them with a writing group all together makes it more fun, though it isn't necessary.
First Chapter Exercise is simple. Simply sit down and write a prologue or first chapter. Often the first thing I think of when I'm writing a book, after a premise, is how awesome a first chapter will be. So sit down one afternoon and write a couple! You have no commitments to these works; you are just trying to see if anything good comes from it.
I did this a year ago. From it I wrote a teen vampire first chapter, a chapter about a modern-day punk Harry Potter ripoff, a chapter about dogs vs cats but written like an overdrawn epic fantasy, and a story about a man called the Ragged One who dragged a sword across a desert world until the line in the sands connected.
If that last one sounds a bit familiar, it's because it was the direct inspiration for my current WIP, A Straight Cut. It was just a hop and skip from this line that covered the entire wasted earth to a canyon somehow forming from it, and making a world where this Ragged One is a being of mythology who split the earth open, allowing them to all live inside. This prologue chapter will not be in the actual book, but I still read it from time to time to draw inspiration.
Once you have all your chapters done, you can either decide to elaborate on the one you like best, or put them all aside. I put all mine aside for about a year and a half before picking Canyon Story back up.
First Sentence Exercises are more common. They also work better if someone picks a sentence for you. The idea is simple: You have a first sentence, and your goal is to write a first chapter based on it. For me, no planing was allowed; I went with whatever first came to mind. For others, they might have to plan a little before jumping headlong into it.
This is especially fun if you have a writing group, and give everybody an hour to write, and after you are finished you all compare the differences between what you gleaned from that first sentence. It's pretty fun!
I have a particular fondness for these because the entire Steelgods story started with a first sentence: "I never minded the Peacemakers, until they tried to kill me." Death's Aria's first sentence (which has since been changed) was originally a first sentence exercise that never got workshopped ("Tiasa wove across the strings or her violin as Death looked on, enjoying the melody." from the file "Violin Death Girl.docx"). I got a lot of other garbage ideas from this, like a Dresden Files knockoff and some other awful attempts, but as a whole they are great for getting creative juices flowing.
So try 'em out! You never know what you'll find buried inside that head of yours!