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Why You Should "Lose" Chapter One

Before a work of fiction is published, the author should “lose” the first chapter and start the book in Chapter Two.  This was an early lesson from my first writing teacher, the late Lenel Moulds.  He said that the story often starts in Chapter Two because the author has used the first chapter to “write their way” into the story.  This background manoeuvering is important for the author’s process of getting started, but after the book is finished these early pages are often overwritten, give too much away and lack the sharp impact needed for a first chapter.  It’s hard to “lose” the first chapter, because the author has inevitably sweated many days, weeks and months to produce it, never thinking it’s destined for the cutting room floor.  And they must never imagine it’s going to get ditched or it loses its purpose — they must write it as if it’s the most important thing they’ve ever written and in a way it is.

With “The First Lie” I wrote dozens of first chapters, trying to write my way into the story.  Some of them were easy to lose, but others hung around for ages turning into favourites.  A first chapter that lasted for several years had Selkie interviewing for an office manager — so the reader was getting to know Selkie, as Selkie was getting to know a massage-therapist-turned-receptionist called Jade.  I finally “lost” this chapter — and Jade — when I realised that new-age Jade was upstaging Selkie.  As soon as Jade was gone, Selkie’s character and the rest of story started to take shape.  But just like Lenel said, that old Chapter One did help me write my way into the final story, because Jade’s personality traits were still needed as a counter-balance to Selkie.  So I put bits of Jade into Derek’s character, and I gave Selkie a quirky flatmate called Wanda.