Comment to 'First Chapter Review'
  • Hi Blakeney – thanks for posting up your first chapter. This opening has me assuming this is women’s fiction with your character’s journey of overcoming her past and reclaiming her life. 

    Have you heard the mantra of ‘show don’t tell’? For me this is the biggest issue with the piece. You very much have a narrator, looking in on a scene and telling us everything that is going on.

    For example you have ‘it excited her’, ‘she was becoming anxious’, ‘she was eager’, ‘Kelly was relieved’, ‘Kelly was glad’. And so on. This are simply from the first page.

    The problem with telling rather than showing is that you’re telling the reader what to think. You’re not allowing them to use their imagination at all. And it’s when a reader uses their imagination that they begin to engage with and be sucked into the story.

    So don’t tell us the character is anxious, have her stomach do little flips. Don’t tell us she’s excited, have her restless and suppressing a smile.  From these physical reactions the reader can infer her anxiety. And they’ve had to use their imagination to make that connection.

    Here's a link to an excellent blog from one of Jericho’s self edit tutors that will hopefully help you get to grips with the idea of showing.

    That’s the basic blog for show don’t tell, but there are two further ones about this subject on the website. In fact all her blogs give excellent writing advice. 

    The other effect of telling is that you keep the reader distant from what is happening. As I said above, the narrator is looking in on the character. I feel you need to move us closer to your character so we’re in the story with her, experiencing and feeling what she is feeling. That will start to engage the reader. It’s the difference between being told about an event and actually being there and seeing it for yourself.  

    If you can get us into the character’s head, you can then start offering the reader her thoughts directly. By doing that you make the reader feel almost as if they are the character. They are fully experiencing what is happening.

    I’ll try and give you an example of what I mean about being in your character’s head as well as the show don’t tell, but this will be in my style and not right for. Hopefully it will spark some ideas.

    ‘Kelly took a slow breath, pushing away the fizz of excitement that was building in her stomach. She had a whole twenty four hours to wait before the interview. But if it went well, maybe, just maybe she could get her life back on track. Show damn Stephen that she was so much more than he had forced her to be…’

    Here's a blog about free indirect style (giving the character’s thoughts directly to the reader.)

    The other thing I would suggest you look at is something called filtering. This is when you use words like hoped/thought/wished. They distance us from the character/story because you’re dropping the character between the reader and what is going on. Because you’re in the MC’s POV, you don’t have to say it is them thinking or feeling something. It has to be them.   Getting rid of the filtering will help get us into the character’s head. Here’s a good blog about it.

    One of the effects of the telling and distance is that it stops the all important and illusive voice of your character coming through. For me, the lack of voice makes this piece feel flat. The good news is that dealing with all the above should strengthen the voice and your character should begin to pop off the page.

    I hope some of the above is helpful. I know my comments come across as quite negative but these are all issues that can be fixed with a bit of knowledge about writing craft.

    Of course they are just my thoughts and opinions, so take what works for you and discard the rest. Good luck with the editing.


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    • Thank you for your comments, Kate.  Of course, showing rather than telling isn't always wrong and if I've done it too much it's probably because of a need to set the scene and avoid too much tedious narrative, which may be off-putting to the reader.  Enlargement can come later - but I accept your comments and will have a look at that aspect again, including the links you have sent.

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      • I had a look at Jojo Moyes's Me Before You first chapter after reading your extract. Worth a look if you've got it. It's a very good demonstration of voice popping straight off the page as well as the introduction of the players and the problem in a very active way. 

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