2nd chapter woes & an #ROW80 check-in

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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20 thoughts on “2nd chapter woes & an #ROW80 check-in

  1. Denise, thanks for the Beat Sheet. I almost always get stuck in the middle of my stories. It gets to the point that I have to tell my characters, “Somebody – do something. Burn the house down if that’s what it takes to get you guys doing something.” So they caught the kitchen on fire.
    I know what you mean about getting stuck. I got stuck on the wip I’ve been working on. I made the mistake of reading what I had written and told myself that it wouldn’t work. I should have just kept going and left it all, instead of scrubbing 2k words out of the file. Now I feel like I am about to start over. Hope the rest of your weeks goes better.

    • Linda, now that I’m on chapter three, where there’s some real action happening, the writing is going more smoothly. It’s just something about second chapters for me. Happens every time. I hope you get as much use out of the beat sheet as I am.

      I LOVE that you actually had your characters catch the kitchen on fire. I will have to remember that the next time I can’t get my characters to stop sitting around, drinking tea, and talking about their pasts. That’s one way to get them moving!

  2. I’ve heard it said that once you hit 10k in your story, it becomes more work than fun because you’re more enmeshed in your story world and must play by the rules you set up. The enthusiasm and excitement of starting a new story has worn off.

    That said, I have a tough time *starting* new stories. I endlessly rewrite the first 5k till I’m satisfied (and sometimes that 5k doesn’t even end up in the final draft!) I just need to feel like it’s working.

    The beat sheets look really, really helpful. Especially for the book I’m rewriting right now. One of my editor’s comments was that my pacing was off.

    • First chapters I’m usually fine with. It’s the rest of the first act that gets to me. With this story, the third chapter is coming much more easily. I just need to get Chapter 2 to a better place, that’s all!

      I hope you find the beat sheet as helpful as I did. It should help with the pacing issue.

  3. I had to go with ‘other’ because it’s usually the middle. I typically have the ending written shortly after the beginning, I get the stage set, and then… flounder. Just keep putting words down and power through. That’s my motto of late. I keep reminding myself I can go back and fix it later. Then, characters happen…

    • Middles can be tough, too. The first and last chapters have clear purposes–introducing characters, setting up the central conflict, resolving it, etc.–but the middle scenes don’t have such a clear blueprint. As long as you get the words on the page, you can fix them later, though!

    • Ditto. If my characters are running for their lives or fighting off baddies, I’m good. As soon as I’m in one of those in-between scenes, though, it gets rough. I’ll think “I know this needs to be here, but how do I keep things interesting?”

      LOL. I’m trying. But I think I might have been overly ambitious. It’s taken about a week to write and another to revise. I’m hoping the process speeds up once I get into the groove of this story.

  4. Congrats on the words, and I hope each chapter gets easier to write. I find starting the hardest part. Once I get into the flow, I hit my stride and my fingers can barely keep up with my ideas. Thought it was interesting that your poll shows ch1 and ch2 tied. Guess we all struggle with the beginning. Oddly enough, I’m most critical of endings as a reader. I’ll read through a weaker beginning with hope, but a bad ending can ruin an otherwise good read.

    Great post!

    • A lot of people say the beginning is the most difficult. I’m usually okay unless I can’t find an obvious place to start the first chapter. But man–I can rewrite a second chapter forever.

      Endings are sooo important. I wonder if that’s because by then end, you’re really committed to the story and engaged–you have an emotional stake in what’s happening.

  5. Besides the first page the ending is the most important part to me, especially when I am reading. If I don’t like the ending I don’t want to read the next book. I think knowing that makes it the hardest part for me to write.

    Wonderful job with your goals!

    • Definitely. From a reader’s perspective, first pages and endings are crucial. You have to hook them at the beginning, and you don’t want to disappoint them at the end. I’m one of those writers who can see the ending pretty clearly and I often have a good idea of where to start, but man, can I get lost in those in-betweens.

      Thanks, Morgan!

  6. I used to struggle with saggy middles, but I used Rock Your Plot it was much better. The method really helped this pantser become a somewhat free-form plotter.

    Endings, though – I’m the type of reader who never wants a good story to end. I think I’m also that kind of writer. I don’t want to let go, and miss out on what I know is the unwritten part of their lives.

    Also, I never revise during the writing. I need to keep my momentum going, until I have a draft, and then I need to set it aside for a while, so it can rest and my mind can churn and simmer for a while.

    I’m glad you got through. Maybe there is some power, at least, in knowing what parts of the process are the most likely to trip us up? =)

    • Yeah, there is power in knowing where you struggle the most. Now that I’m through that section, I’m hoping the writing moves faster. I also feel like I resolved a lot of issues that could have held me up in the middle, so that should help move the writing along.

      By writing a chapter and then polishing it before moving on, I’m actually trying a new approach with my writing. It might not work as smoothly as writing the whole way through, but so far I’m pleased with the results.

      I haven’t tried Rock Your Plot. I will have to check it out. Thanks!

  7. Pingback: Muted Popcorn Play -ROW80 Update 1/20/14 | shanjeniah

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