Is it just me, or are second chapters hard to write?

Maybe it depends on the nature of the story, but I often find myself stumbling on chapter two, rewriting over and over and trying to figure out where to go next. Part of this problem tends to be that I don’t know exactly where to go. I started out strong with a fresh idea and characters I found intriguing, but now I’m getting into the heart of the story and I realize that I don’t know what they’d do next or I don’t know enough about the world to figure out what will happen next. In a sense, it’s that transition from “something really strange happens” in chapter one to the rest of act one that’s killing me.

This go-around, I’m trying to solve that problem by doing some plotting and writing backstory before I plunge in. Still, just because you know what needs to happen doesn’t mean that the words will flow—and they haven’t been coming easily.

That said, I managed to finish chapter two of my WIP and dash off the first couple pages of the third chapter earlier this week. Chapter two still needs some serious revamping, however. The dialogue feels flat and expected, too repetitive and lacking in tension and double-duty details. The chapter picks up at the end, but I need to rework the first two scenes—probably condense them. For a novella, it’s a lot of conversation and backstory that doesn’t get us very far, and the relationship between the characters feels off. I’m happy with the pacing in the first chapter, and chapter three is shaping up to be action-filled. I just need to get chapter two moving with romantic tension and snappy, engaging dialogue.

Still, the important part is that there are words on the page and I have a sense of how to rewrite those pages—freshen and tighten the dialogue, strengthen the romantic tension between the characters, and prepare them for the fast-paced sequence of events that will follow. I also need to convey the necessary world-building information in a way that’s concise and doesn’t feel like a data dump or repeat something the reader already knows.

In my quest to write more cohesive first drafts, I’m also using Jami Gold’s beat sheet for romance writers. If you’re a romance writer–and especially if you’re also a pantser–I highly recommend it. It’s a downloadable Excel spreadsheet, and you can customize it to your target word-count. That’s definitely helped me get back on track when I get lost in the forest of my story.

ROW80Logocopy#ROW80 midweek check-in

  • Write and revise one chapter per week of WIP. Progress: I’ve finished writing chapter two and am working on revising it. I probably won’t get chapter three revised this week, but I’d like to finish as much of it as possible. A finished rough draft of chapter three would be great, but that might be pushing it.
  • Read to hone my craft: I still need to read more in Julia Cameron’s “Walking in this World” and Roz Morris’ “Nail Your Novel” this week.
  • Post on the blog Wednesdays and Sundays: Today’s post complete!

I know that some of you struggle with first chapters and others with last chapters. For me, I think I struggle most with second chapters for reasons that aren’t fully clear to me. What’s the hardest part of your story to write? What tools do you use to overcome that stumbling block? Any advice for penning a well-crafted, engaging second chapter?

I hope everyone’s having a great week and making progress toward their goals!

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