In my opinion, it’s more important to start with these details than a mapped out idea of your plot or even a premise because the nature and emotional need(s) of your character will help the story come together organically. If you try to begin with a plot instead, you’ll end up trying to force your character to do or say things that might not be appropriate, and you’ll most likely end up with a stilted, contrived story with a character who feels very artificial to the reader.
So, once you’ve profiled your character and, most importantly, figured out what his or her perceived and actual needs are, you’re ready for Step Two: Writing the First Chapter. My chapter prompts are going to be much sparser than the sentence-by-sentence prompts from Hannah Tinti’s class because it would be far more difficult to work your way through a complete novella or novel one sentence at a time. Plus, I found that by about halfway through the week in Hannah Tinti’s class, I was going well beyond the requirements of the prompts. They were a nice starting point, but if I had actually held myself back to stick to them religiously, I wouldn’t have ended up with a draft as far along as I did.
So instead of the one sentence at a time approach, I’m creating minimalistic prompts that will allow you to go at your own pace and let the story guide you. The prompts offer overall guidelines for the chapter, and my hope is that each chapter prompt will be enough to get you going on the chapter and push you to keep going from one chapter to the next. However, if anyone does get stuck at any point, please feel free to leave a comment on the respective prompt you need help with. I’m happy to offer more detailed, specific prompts and requirements if it will help.
Okay, enough blabber. Here’s Step Two:
All Tracks, Step 2:
Write a chapter introducing your character in his/her world. This chapter will function as the set-up of the overall story arc.
1. The chapter must be 10-20 pages long.
2. The chapter must introduce the setting.
a. In the first three pages of the chapter, you must provide details from at least three of the five senses.
3. The chapter must get across the following details:
a. The character’s name.
b. The character’s starting point (i.e. the character as he or she exists prior to the change or lack of change that will occur in the story).
c. The character’s perceived need.
d. The character’s actual need.
4. The chapter must include a complete story arc:
a. Set-up (2-3 pages)
b. Inciting Incident (1-2 pages)
c. Escalation (5-10 pages)
d. Climax (1-2 pages)
e. Resolution/Conclusive Lack of Resolution (1-2 pages)
5. The story arc in this chapter should represent the typical ups and downs of this character’s life.