First chapters hate me

My critique partner busted her fanny to read through A Cut Above and get it back to me quickly so I could take my time with rewrites. She made me ecstatic when she told me that she liked it so much, she stayed up to one a.m. to read its end. She works early hours, and it’s a sacrifice for her to lose sleep, but she said she loved the story. Then she added, “But your first chapter is crap.”

Now, some people might not take that well, but I always worry about my opening pages, so I was happy to get an honest opinion. And isn’t that what critique partners are for? She and I have known each other way too long to mince words. But bless her, she told me what I did wrong and THEN, she told me a great way to fix it. A win! And once I looked at the pages again, I knew she was right. And now I know what to do to make those pages better.

While I was waiting for her feedback (I still need comments from my second CP), I struggled with plot points and ideas for a straight, serious mystery that I want to write: VOLUNTEERING FOR TROUBLE. And I got excited about what I’ve come up with, so decided to write a few chapters to meet my characters and “hear” them speak. The ideas were flowing and the characters were walking and talking, so I made it up to about chapter 6. And then I realized the beginning of the book was too “happy.” It set the wrong mood for the story I want to tell. So guess what? I fiddled with the first few chapters, and then I fiddled with them again. I’ve already played with them so much, I’m not sure at this point if I’m making them better. Only time will tell.

First chapter crap syndrome is something I know well. I almost always end up having to rewrite the beginning of my books. I dump too much info too soon. I give away clues I should hide for later. I try too hard, and it shows. So it’s back to the drawing board. Many times. I write for a while, then look back at the chapter and tweak it, write some more and tweak it again, all through the book. Once in a great while, a miracle happens and the first words I write are the right ones. But that’s few and far between.

It’s worse when I start a new series. I haven’t hit a comfort zone with my style or characters yet. Beginnings get easier the more books I write in the same setting. A Cut Above is book one in the Karnie Cleaver series, and I tried for a different pace, a little different tone. It took me a while to settle into it. I haven’t written a serious, darker mystery for a long time. That’s been even harder for me. I had Laurel smiling and waving at her two neighbor girls across the street. No, no, no. I need the two girls to remind her of her daughters when they were little. They’re fully grown now, and when her husband died before Kendra graduated from college, that left Laurel alone. She volunteers now to fill her days, to give her life meaning.

I’m sure when I reread my first chapters once I’m halfway through the book, I’ll find things to tweak again. The only books that start easily for me are the urban fantasies I write for fun. I think that’s because they percolate in my mind and I ignore them until I can’t resist writing them anymore. I’ve already thought about them for months or more before I sit down to bring them to life.

I’m thinking about my middle muddles while I’m finishing this blog, and I realize that I complain about them, too. Hmm, maybe I’m masochistic. I enjoy writing so much, maybe I ignore how hard it is. But whatever! It’s worth it. Keep hitting your keys!