What’s the hardest part of a novel to write for you?

For me, with each of my manuscripts, it’s been the first chapter. Hooligans in Shining Armour follows two POV characters, Fiona and Danny. Danny’s first chapter has never been questioned. It’s solid. Fiona on the other hand….

frustratedThe first several drafts, nothing changed with Fiona’s. Then a number of people from my writer’s group, including a bunch who read the whole thing, said the first chapter was too slow and introduced the readers into a world that they promptly left and never saw again. Too much “ordinary world” before “inciting incident”. That it didn’t feel connected to the rest of the story. So I cut the first chapter entirely and stuck little bits of important stuff from that chapter elsewhere. Fiona’s first chapter was basically a paragraph hinted at ordinary world then BAM! inciting incident. Then I sent it to the editor. She said that she didn’t feel connected to Fiona’s old life or her quest to return home (ha now, inciting incident too soon, not enough ordinary world). She wanted to get a sense of her life in Madison before she went to Belfast.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to get a first chapter together, knowing that that’s the first thing agents will read. It has so many jobs to do: establish tone/voice/genre, introduce protagonist and other main characters, show us what Fiona looks like, give us a glimpse into Fiona’s psyche, hint at what the Fiona’s journey will be, show us the world/s she lives in, and other things, too. All while being engaging and having some kind of tension on every page to keep the reader going. If the first page, the first paragraph, the first sentence isn’t attention-grabbing, you risk turning off agents and readers.

Anyway as I was sitting at the airport waiting to welcome my sister to the wonderful world of Singapore, I think I figured out how to solve both issues at once.Β  I always get this giddy feeling when I finally solve a story conundrum and I really think I’ve done it this time with a little mix of both. Hopefully I’ll get Fiona finalized soon so I can post it!Β  To learn more about Hooligans and read Danny’s chapter, click here.

Snl-so-freakin-excited

What’s the hardest part to write in your novel? The beginning? The sagging middle? The perfect ending?

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51 comments

  1. agrrosewood · June 11, 2014

    For me, it is probably every chapter that is not as action-packed as the others… I know stories need pauses to allow both the readers and the characters to breathe, but I do not find it that interesting… Those moments always end up in fights between characters, at least for me.

    Like

    • sjoycarlson · June 11, 2014

      Yeah, those chapters can be tough. You’re right, you still need tension. Which, of course, fights create πŸ˜› Thanks for the comment!

      Like

  2. coldhandboyack · June 11, 2014

    I outline quite a bit. I think this is why I always get bogged down in the middle. I know what’s going to happen and want to get there.

    Like

    • sjoycarlson · June 11, 2014

      I’m an outliner as well. I have to be or I get bogged down with characters. It can be hard to focus on the middle when you just want to get to the climax!

      Like

  3. ntdavis181962 · June 11, 2014

    The hardest part for me is the beginning. Once I establish a plot, the story usually starts to roll for me, but it’s getting the beginning down that’s tough. I’ve started a sequel to my sci-fi novel, and I’ve found that it is a little easier because I can begin where I left off with relative ease. I’ve also found that the end can be tough until you know which direction you are going to take.

    Liked by 1 person

    • sjoycarlson · June 11, 2014

      I totally agree on both counts! Beginning is hard, as I’ve said, but endings can be tough as well, especially if you’re planning a sequel. Then you have to be careful what you resolve and don’t resolve. I recently started work on a prequel. In that case, the ending was easy, but then knowing where to begin, that was a bit trickier!

      Like

      • ntdavis181962 · June 12, 2014

        Another novel I plan to do in the future has to do with reincarnation, and that’s where I’m going to run into a problem of knowing where to begin as you say.

        Liked by 1 person

      • sjoycarlson · June 12, 2014

        Interesting!! And a unique set of challenges! Good luck with it πŸ™‚

        Like

  4. Marcus Case · June 11, 2014

    For me, the hardest part is waiting for my characters to take over. When they’re running the show, I’m a lot happier.

    Like

    • sjoycarlson · June 11, 2014

      It does make writing a bit easier, doesn’t it? Then, if they’re good characters, they almost seem to write the story themselves, like you’re just the conduit expressing their thoughts and motivations!

      Like

  5. Jennifer Austin - Author · June 11, 2014

    Sagging middle!!!! My beginning and ending are solid, with a little editing, but to get from Point A to Point B there has to be some growth and development and a realistic passage of time. Still, I have to keep it short and concise. Aaaaaahhhh! Frustration.

    Like

    • sjoycarlson · June 11, 2014

      Yeah, the sagging middle can be tough too. I’ve found one thing that can help me is having multiple plot points and conflicts, not just the climax. Also repeatedly asking myself, what’s the worst that can happen? Then incorporating that into my story πŸ˜›

      Like

  6. S.C. Jensen · June 11, 2014

    I find that my first drafts go fairly smoothly. The challenge for me is usually deciding what to cut once the editing starts (I always, always, always overwrite, haha). I just cut 31K words from my original MS to get to the version we are publishing. Ouch!

    Like

    • sjoycarlson · June 11, 2014

      I have a tendency to overwrite as well then sculpt and cut during re-writes. And then end up re-writing substantially at times. πŸ˜› Happy writing!

      Like

      • S.C. Jensen · June 11, 2014

        Sounds like my process. It’s always tough to decide which are details that the reader needs, and which are there just for you (as the writer) to visualize your own world. They are surprising NOT the same thing, haha. Thank you, and happy writing to you as well πŸ™‚

        Like

  7. Writer_Indu · June 11, 2014

    Reblogged this on The Pen Life and commented:
    The hardest part for me to write is the sagging middle part. I have strong characters in unique situations. Introducing that with a strong start is easy. However, keeping the momentum from Part A to Part B is a challenge.

    Like

    • sjoycarlson · June 12, 2014

      Yeah, it can be hard to keep tension through the sagging middle! I have to remind myself to keep asking, what’s the worst that can happen? Thanks for the re-blog:) And happy writing over across the pond πŸ™‚

      Like

      • Writer_Indu · June 12, 2014

        How’s life over the island? I love your website. The header looks great. This was a good topic.

        Like

      • sjoycarlson · June 12, 2014

        Thanks!! I’ve been working pretty hard on it πŸ˜‰ And you’re the one who inspired me to start it in the first place! You guided me through the birthing process, if you will. Life on the island is…hot lol. And pretty much the same. We’re moving forward with the new and improved SWG!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. teannadorsey · June 11, 2014

    I find the middle always goes the slowest for me because I usually just want to get into the ending but I think the beginning is the hardest to get perfect. Its not really into the plot yet but has to be interesting enough to capture the readers attention.

    Like

  9. Harliqueen · June 11, 2014

    I always find the beginning the hardest to write, there is so much pressure to make sure it’s good to catch a reader’s interest πŸ˜€

    Like

  10. christineplouvier · June 11, 2014

    I didn’t write the first book in a linear fashion, so by the time I got around to writing the first chapter, I had a pretty good idea of what needed to happen, and I just needed to tweak the continuity. The hardest parts to write were the unpleasant scenes (characters behaving badly).

    Like

    • sjoycarlson · June 12, 2014

      That’s a good point! I would think that’s particularly hard if they’re characters you’ve grown to care about. And I would imagine having written other parts of the book first made it easier to know where you had to start πŸ™‚

      Like

  11. themadgayman · June 12, 2014

    Everything. It seems like I don’t add enough description to the setting or I add too much in terms of world-building. It sucks!

    Like

    • sjoycarlson · June 12, 2014

      Yeah. I have a hard time with that in some novels, too, particularly the sci-fi one I wrote a while ago (where I had to build the whole world) and Hooligans because, although I’d been there, I still didn’t know the setting super-well. I think what I’ve found helps me is not focusing as much on world building and setting in the first draft and then really focusing on it more in subsequent drafts…..

      Like

  12. phantomwriter143 · June 12, 2014

    Definitely the beginning for me. And because I float around and write different sections at a time, finding how to connect those sections is also quite difficult, especially if they’re completely unrelated.

    Great post!

    Like

    • sjoycarlson · June 12, 2014

      Thanks! And I agree, too (about floating around, not the great post lol). Although I plot at least loosely the whole thing, I do tend to skip around and write different scenes as I get inspired. Then connecting, that can be tough. I’m starting a new novel, and this one’s going to be different in the sense that it’s going to span like an entire school year, so they’ll be jumping forward in time. I’ve never written like that before (usually my stuff covers a few action-packed weeks). This will be a new challenge!

      Like

      • phantomwriter143 · June 12, 2014

        Good luck! I write quite a bit in the timeline you’re going to be venturing into. Writing a book based on a few action packed weeks would be a challenge for me! Maybe I should do it, then we’d be able to commiserate on the different styles.

        Like

      • sjoycarlson · June 12, 2014

        Haha. Any advice for transitioning between different times in the novel? I.e. these are high schoolers, so we see them at the beginning of the novel, then may hope a month or two ahead to homecoming.

        If you do try my way, let me know and we can throw ourselves a little commiseration party!

        Like

      • phantomwriter143 · June 12, 2014

        Now THAT is a party I’d go to!! πŸ™‚

        Before I make any transitions, I do a lot of set up for things to come so it doesn’t look like I pulled some event out of thin air. Then I’ll write something like, “Four weeks, three football games, two math projects and one crippling case of cramps later, homecoming week reared its ugly head.” Then a short review if anything crucial happened during those weeks. If not, just pick up where you left off. And the chapter before the jump always ends with a bit of a cliffhanger.
        Feel free to use my transition. Unless you hate it, since I don’t know what your book is about. πŸ™‚ I’ve never used that before.
        And since they’re in high school, emotions and gossip will run rampant. So set up a bit of that before big transitions. Does that help at all? Clear as mud?

        Like

      • sjoycarlson · June 12, 2014

        That does help actually!! Writer friends are awesome!

        Like

      • phantomwriter143 · June 12, 2014

        Yay! I’m glad it helped! That’s what I love about WP. I’ve met so many awesome writer-type friends.

        Like my pun??? πŸ™‚

        Like

      • sjoycarlson · June 12, 2014

        Well-played!

        Like

  13. Kiera · June 12, 2014

    Same with me! The first chapter is still taking me the longest during this editing phase. Maybe because it’s what most agents ask to see with my query letter?

    Like

    • sjoycarlson · June 12, 2014

      Yes exactly!! That is totally what adds to the stress. How much of a chance will they give it? Like if they don’t like the first page, first paragraph, first line even will they just throw you in the slush pile? Or will they even read it period after reading the synopsis? So stressful! So much at stake with such a small sample of writing!

      Like

      • Kiera · June 12, 2014

        It IS stressful! And the pressure we put on ourselves doesn’t help either. But it makes me feel a bit better to know I’m not the only one focusing on the first chapter πŸ™‚

        Like

      • sjoycarlson · June 12, 2014

        Omg no way you’re not the only one! We can throw ourselves a pity party πŸ˜›

        Like

      • Kiera · June 12, 2014

        I’ll bring the cake πŸ˜€

        Like

      • sjoycarlson · June 12, 2014

        I’ll bring the champagne lol πŸ˜€

        Like

  14. Desiree B · June 12, 2014

    The HARDEST thing to write for me is the middle. I know how I want my story to end but the question is “how do I get the plot from point A and point B”. Ugh–the possibilities! At the same time, I kinda like the challenge!

    I can sympathize with you on beginnings but they don’t pose much of a problem for me as the middle..

    Like

    • sjoycarlson · June 12, 2014

      Yea… that’s tough too. Plotting and continually asking myself what’s the worst that can happen? How can I make my protagonist make bad choices that lead to conflict? Or make things happen that push him/her to the brink. All that helps me some.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. winterbayne · June 12, 2014

    Just three parts are difficult for me: Beginning, Middle, and End πŸ˜‰

    Like

    • sjoycarlson · June 12, 2014

      Haha!!! Well at least it’s equal opportunity so there’s no part you dread most?

      Like

  16. cmalley · June 18, 2014

    I outline till I’m blue in the face and still struggle hard with what feels like a constantly crumbling middle. But yeah, the beginning runs a pretty close second. The ending is a not too distant third….

    Like

    • sjoycarlson · June 18, 2014

      Haha it’s all hard! The beginning has just been torture on this novel. Happy writing!!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Rae Venn · June 18, 2014

    The hardest part, for me at least, is a) getting the first chapter done, yes and b) getting everything to look the same! By that I mean making the voice and style of writing that I use consistent throughout the novel. In the beginning, I don’t have a good sense of the narrator’s voice, but as I get deeper into it, the character (narrator) starts to develop and have more of a sense of voice, and because I’m writing in first person, the voice of the character vastly influences my writing style. So by the end, I’m writing with a distinct style, and I have to go to the beginning and try to rewrite it using the same style. It’s so difficult…

    Like

    • sjoycarlson · June 20, 2014

      This is so true! You do discover the character’s voice as you write! I’ve found myself trying to rapidly edit entire sections to keep the voice consistent in my head……. Thanks for comment!

      Like

  18. Carlo Armanni · June 26, 2014

    For me is the ending… I need always a lot of time to ending a story. Unitl I haven’t no problem with begin and middle, the end is always problematic: happy ending, open ending… wrong ending?!

    So this is really frustrating πŸ˜‰

    Like

    • sjoycarlson · June 26, 2014

      And then you have to consider if you want to write a sequel or not, as this affects how much you want to wrap up the end! Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  19. paulareuben8 · August 5, 2014

    First chapters are hell. You put in so much that has to be cut out. It’s like amputating a body part. I am considering writing the last chapter first — or at least the last paragraph and the REAL AND FINAL first chapter last. That way I know what I want the grabber to be.

    Like

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