I want to kill my first chapter.
I know that's harsh, but I've lost track of how many times I've rewritten it. I'll take off in a direction, certain I've finally nailed it, only to read those words days later and wince at the flat characters and stilted dialogue. I walk away in silent self-condemnation. (Writers tend toward the emotional. At least, this one does.)
I have all the pressure of knowing the first chapter has to be IT. It has to have the hook that grabs the reader by the throat and throws that person onto the couch, never to rise again (at least until they've finished it). Characters must shine. Dialogue has to snap. It must be well-crafted, seamlessly showing (never, ever telling) the Main Event. And it must have voice, that elusive ingredient that no one quite defines well, but you know it when you read it.
My biggest problem is that I feel like so much of the chapter is simply a set up to the Main Event, which happens at the end of the chapter. It pretty much reads that way, too.
So today I made a list of what the reader needs to see in the first chapter. It boiled down to this:
1. Stick Main Character in Main Event
That's pretty much it. Everything else can be woven around that. Of course, this means that my first chapter is now cut by two-thirds. Perhaps this means that my Main Event was not nearly big enough, and I still have to pull off the high-wire act that a first chapter must accomplish. I only hope that a couple days from now I don't pull this iteration out and wince again, but I think I might be getting a little closer to where it needs to be.
How do you handle revising your first chapter? Any tips?