Monday, October 18, 2010

Using Law & Order to Write

So I don't think it's a secret that I watch a lot of TV. I enjoy Law & Order quite a lot. The original or SVU are my faves.

And I sat down to write a new WiP a couple of weeks ago, I just sat there. See, I can't write in order. I don't know where to start. So I just wrote the scene in my head. The next day, I wrote the next one--and no, it didn't immediately follow or precede the one I'd already written. It was just another scene I'm going to have to surgically insert into the book. Somewhere.

After I have a whole bunch of scenes written, then I can usually write the beginning. This happened yesterday. And you know how you've read in various places about the importance of the first sentence? The first paragraph? The first page?

The first chapter?

Yeah, me too. I think that's why beginnings are so hard (for me) to write. So I've got my document open, at the beginning, ready to write. Law & Order had just started. (Yes, I write to the TV, pandora, whatever.)

And it hit me. My opening chapter needs to be just like the first five minutes of a Law & Order episode. (Click to hear the sound. You really want to live inside this brainwave, I know you do.)


Law & Order Gavel for ringer sound clip

So in the first five minutes of Law & Order, we're introduced to the murder/crime. We're hooked. The rest of the episode is spent solving the crime/murder. And often, it's the mundane that introduces the conflict. People taking the trash out. Someone going into their office. The housekeeper opening the garage. That kind of stuff. And then bam! The dead body.

That's what I need to do in my first chapter. I need to introduce the reader to the world, to my character, and to the "dead body." I need to have them hooked by the end of the five minutes it takes them to read my first chapter.

Easy, yes? Um, sure. But it really helped me get the words down that will probably be my first chapter. (Since I write it after I've written a bunch of other stuff, my first chapter generally stays fairly close to what I write the first time.) Thank you, Law & Order and TNT for playing copious episodes of L&O.

So you tell me: How do you write your first chapter? What needs to happen? What's been your inspiration for writing your first chapter?


Oh! And I'm helping out the Florida Writers Foundation by offering at 50-page critique. Go bid if you can!

65 comments:

Gail said...

I wish I had a chapter.

I had a brilliant idea last night, wrote it down in the dark, decided not to get up and write...This morning the thrill of the idea is flat and I cannot read what I wrote in the dark!

Laura Pauling said...

I do start with my first chapter but usually go back and work on it several times over the course of the rough draft. Not. Easy. I love the idea of watching how tv shows open.

Misha said...

Since I am now a pen-and-paperer, I write everyting in order with the knowledge that I'll cut a lot of it out later on.

Currently Doorways starts with a clear indication that James has an attitude problem. The rest of the series will be about him getting an adjustment. Still, I did start him off on a sympathetic note, so that people can empathize with him even if they can't like him...

:-)

Ted Cross said...

I tend to keep the characters and various scenes in my mind until they flesh themselves out more. For the first chapter I try to figure out where that character's life suddenly changed from their normal routine.

Renae said...

I thought I was the only one out there that wrote out of order. If I start with the first chapter, I end up sitting there and staring at the screen. I'm like you, I have to write whatever is in my head and insert it later.

Great post...love how you tied it to the set of of SVU. That show is addictive!

Natalie Aguirre said...

The first few pages are definitely the hardest. I try to start with some action and introducing the character. I've heard at conferences that it's best to introduce the character, some conflict, and something of their life before introducing the major conflict of the story.

Jessica Bell said...

I write a first chapter I know I will never keep. Sometimes I even write a prologue I know I will never use. Then I continue, chronologically, with my outline. I write and write until I have a flash. Oh my god! I go and rewrite my first chapter. Then that's it :o)

Theresa Milstein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Theresa Milstein said...

I like hearing about your method and inspiration. And I'm glad you're writing again.

I always start in the beginning, although sometimes that changes drastically. But I don't necessarily go in order. Sometimes there's a scene I really want to write, so I'll write it and connect it later.

salarsenッ said...

This is perfect for me. Yeah, I tend to write out of sequence, too. And currently, I'm rewriting my first chapter. So three things:

-intro the reader to my world
-intro my character to my reader
-and produce a dead body

Hmm...I think we can mix-up the order of these, too. ";-)

Jen Daiker said...

Law & Order ROCKS! I'm one that watches television, listens to music, listens to traffic while writing. Different stories like different atmospheres.

I'm one that starts from beginning to end. That means it can take me several weeks to get the full story in my head before I write. I'm not good at mixing things up or writing them down. The minute I write the story down I better be ready to devote time to knocking it out, because if I don't then it'll be a lonely half story.

Bish Denham said...

I have to write in chronological order. I'd get so confused if I wrote a scene here and a scene there I'd give up. That said, a lot of the time it's the first sentence that comes to me that starts the whole ball rolling.

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

For me its the first chapter that inspires it all.
I think a Greys Anatomy would make a good beginning.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Good question!. But since I'm about to trash the one I had on the project I was querying (based on an agent's critique), I have no answer for you yet. ;)

I've been studying Hooked by Les Edgerton and have assigned myself homework for today. I'm analyzing first chapters based on his suggestions. :D

Christi Goddard said...

I get inspired, then jot down the idea. Over time, I think of more things, plot twists, characters form in my head, and all of it gets scribbled down on paper. Then, when I have it together enough in my head, I write in chronological order. I use each point in the plot as a sort of connect the dot. Each paragraph is one more step towards the next twist or turn. I don't outline. I just connect ideas in the order I've stacked them on my desk :-)

Michelle McLean said...

ahhh awesome advice! And now I have that "dun dun" sound in my head LOL

Christine Fonseca said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE this analogy! and dude, after all these months - we have yet another thing in common...Law and Order! Who knew!

Hannah Kincade said...

OMG! SAMESIES!! I write to TV too! And movies and pandora and itunes. Not all at the same time mind you but you know. I think that's a perfect way to begin. My current ms I started at a random scene and then I Tarantino'd it. Yes that's a word.

Ishta Mercurio said...

My method is a lot like yours, Elana. I'll start with an idea, and I'll write the scene that comes from that idea. Then I'll think I know how to begin, and I'll write a really dog-poop first chapter.

Then I'll write another scene, then several scenes, and at some point in there I'll realize I have no idea how to get where I'm going anymore and I need a map, so I'll write a (ROUGH) outline. Then I'll realize where/how the story REALLY starts, and I'll go back and write a real first chapter.

But first, I refer to my First Chapter Formula, and I make a list of all the things/people/places that need to be introduced, and as I write I'll check them off.

I write to the sound of my fingers clickety-clacking on the keyboard. Sometimes, if I'm having trouble getting into a scene, I'll write to music for a while, but I always end up turning the music off. TV would be too distracting for me - I think it's kind of amazing that you can do that.

Anna said...

Ha, I think you're totally right. I just started a new project recently and I was thinking of the big event that would go a little later in the story and really get things rolling. And then I realized, why don't I just put that big event on page one? I'll have to work harder on character development, but it sure gets things going right from the start!

B.E. Sanderson said...

I'm a straight-through writer. Not that sometimes my straight-through doesn't end up getting snipped and moved around on occasion. I write the first chapter with the idea in the back of my head that it'll probably change. For me, first drafts are for getting the words out, and if they suck, I can fix them later. I can't remember the last time a first chapter stuck around as is through all my revisions.

E. Arroyo said...

I now use pen and paper. I am a blog addict and find it too distracting on the computer!! Also, it helps me write a bit slower. It helps me with the first draft.

Matthew Rush said...

Hmm. I've only written one novel but really the opening scene was the first one that came to me. Just a sort of way to introduce the characters, the setting, and a hint of the mystery involved.

I love the LandO openings. They really do work well to entice you, but don't give away so much that I can even remember if I have seen that one before.

Jamie Burch said...

Not writing in order sounds like walking on the wild side. I might have to shake things up and give it a try!

I'm always focused on doing what I've learned in writing books and magazines, so I tend to focus on the hook in my first paragraph.

One of these days (maybe today!) I'm going to step out on my own.

Thanks, Elana!

Meredith said...

Oooh, this is such a good method! I have a dud of a first chapter in my current WiP--nothing is introduced the way I wanted it to be. So I'm taking out my journal and scribbling a completely new first chapter in it. Hopefully that will be better!

lynnrush said...

Wow. You write out of order? I couldn't imagine doing that. Holy cow. But then again, some can't imagine sitting in front of a blank screen with no kind of structure other than a few fleeting thoughts roaming around the brain.

But that's a total rush for me.

How do I write my first chapter? I sit down in front of my computer, let my fingertips hover over the silver keys, take a deep breath, and start typing.

I usually get a story idea in the form of the first sentence. So, I write it, and then let the words flow. Eventually it turns into a chapter one, then two, and so on.

Write on, my friend.

Erica M. Chapman said...

Awesome. I write to tv, Pandora, iTunes too ;o)

It's hard for me to write out of order, I usually do that toward the end of the book, at least for my current one. I have a really hard time with beginnings, it's usually the 3rd chapter ;o)

I guess I just try and take the point where, as a reader, I would want to know first and that's where I choose to start. I hate when there's too much backstory, give me action!! LOL

Thanks for sharing. Good luck with the rest of the WIP ;o)

Deni Krueger said...

I have to have a good starter sentence. Or a sound. Or an image. But definitely something to ground myself. Sometimes if I get stuck I write a future scene to give me something to work toward.

Sara McClung ♥ said...

Oh man, see... I HAVE to write in order. Which sucks. Because with my first manuscript, my first two chapters ended up completely scrapped because they were all the backstory that *I* needed to know, but not the reader at that point.

Thankfully, what I learned from that is that I need to outline. So I did with my second WIP, and because of it I think I have a first chapter fairly close to what I'll end up with.

I usually can't start writing a story until I know what the first line of the first chapter is... Which can be a real pain ;-)

Valerie Kemp said...

This is how I write too. I discovered writing out of order during NaNoWriMo last year. I write every scene I know and usually that helps me to know additional scenes.

Usually I know my beginning pretty well though. And start with writing the opening (which I then end up editing a lot later on). But for NaNo this year I have a few ideas where I'm not exactly sure where they start so I might try writing and finding the beginning later.

paulgreci said...

I usually write my first chapter first. That said, sometimes it changes during revision. But I usually don't write my scenes out of order. I writer more like a snowplow:-) Sometimes I have to back up and regroup but I rarely jump around.

Nichole Giles said...

Yeah, I'm actually a consecutive writer for the most part, so my first chapter changes and changes and changes in revision. But you're right. Open scene, see character, *bam* find body. Great way to put it.

Elena Solodow said...

I still wake up in a cold sweat when I think of writing out-of-order. Tried it once. Couldn't do it. But I think having some meat to the story BEFORE you start it could be helpful.

Colene Murphy said...

That is a really great way to think about the first chapter. (not because I adore Law and Order or anything...:) )

I usually do exactly what you do, write some random scene down I have in my head and go from there. Usually the beginning comes when I have the scene's details figured out.

Sara B. Larson said...

I actually do tend to write in order, so I start with chapter one. I try to think of "where does my story start? What is the day that is different?" And that is where I start it. ;)

Elana Johnson said...

Well, I can see I'm in the minority as far as writing in order goes. I seriously don't know how those of you who start at the beginning and just GO do it.

Like you, Lynn, I sit down and flex my fingers. Then I just type. None of this outline business. I do have to stew for a while so I have a loose scene in my head. Then I type it up.

I'm really more like a surgeon than a writer...

Shannon said...

Interesting post, Elana.

I usually start at the beginning and end up taking several turns and detours before looping back to the beginning and changing it once I know where the story's going. Random and chaotic, but it works for me. =)

Nicole Zoltack said...

Usually I write in prder but for some reason, my latest story, the opening scene refused to cooperate. It still isn't. I tried to force it and it just ain't happening. I think I'm going to just start writing later scenes. The beginning will come to me eventually.

I tend to write and rewrite my openings anyhow. Beginnings are the hardest part of a story for me to write.

Talli Roland said...

I'm so glad someone else uses the telly as an inspiration! I use 'Friends'- I love the quick comedic elements and the changes of POV.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I just start with the first chapter and write until the end. Yeah, boring I know. Oh, and I often do it with the TV going. Sometimes music as well.

Patti said...

I'm like you, I just write what's in my head knowing it will change. That's a great concept because you are hooked in the first five minutes. You want to know who, what and why.

L.T. Elliot said...

I frickin' LOVE L&O SVU. Have you ever seen that clip from The Love Guru where he creates the Special Victims Unit Memorial and the little button that makes the gavel sound? So awesome! "Marishka Hargitay, Marishka Hargitay!" LOL! Okay, I'll stop. But I love L&O, just so you know.

Excellent point about where to start our first chapters. I think I need more trash-going neighbors discovering my dead bodies. Not personally, of course. ;)

Lisa_Gibson said...

Oh, I was right there with you watching the L&O marathon. They hook me in right away and then I can't tear my eyes away. So yes, good formula to follow for your first chapter. Right on! :)
Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

lotusgirl said...

Chapter one is when the story actually starts. When the MC's life is thrown for a loop. My trouble is getting the next part. Getting the main conflict of the book into the first chapter. Mostly the problem is that my POV character doesn't figure it out until chapter 4-5. I'm trying to make that work out. I'm still not there though. I'm wondering if I should just throw out my current approach entirely and start over.

Krispy said...

I used to jump around and write the scenes I wanted to write, but it made it SO HARD to write the connecting pieces because those weren't as fun. So I end up not writing them. So I'm trying to chronological now. Usually, I'm pretty good at openings; they help me set the tone of the rest of the story and point me in the right direction. But it sucks in that if I can't get the opening right, I have a really hard time proceeding with the rest of the story. :P

On another note, I LOVE L&O. Still so miffed they canceled the original! I'm not that enamored of L&O: LA so far. :P

Marsha Sigman said...

OMG, I love Law and Order too. I mean like freakishly so. The original or SVU are the best ones by far although I admit to a certain fondness the the reruns of CI.

We found Law and Order UK on the BBC channel the other day. It was wierd but strangly hypnotic.

Great comparison with the first five minutes to the first chapeter. I agree!

Carolyn V. said...

I love writing the first chapter. I always start in the middle of some action of some type. Good Luck Elana! =)

Karen Lange said...

Sometimes I'm organized when I write. Other times I'm all over the place. This is a great way to get a beginning going. I think this applies to some non-fiction too. Thanks a bunch! :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I usually start somewhere in the first chapter and write forward. Later I come back and give it a proper beginning.

Lydia Kang said...

The first chapter just kills me. But I'm learning as I go along. Set up the status quo, and introduce the thing that will change life as the MC knows it. Easier said than done!

Larissa said...

I've never tried writing out of order... My current wip, I did start with a scene in my head that wasn't the beginning. But, I sat back and figured out how the MC got there, and still started writing at the beginning.

And thanks for the auction shout-out! :) I'm still trying to decide if it's ethical for me to bid ... I'd really like some of these critiques!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Love it!

I've been heard to mutter "conflict, conflict, conflict" as I try to figure out chapter 1. :0)

The Golden Eagle said...

I usually write things in order, and I actually find writing the first chapter one of the easiest things to do. I love jumping into a new world.

Donna Hole said...

Well Elana, I write like you do. Mostly. It is usually the end that hits me first. A character in a situation. Its rare for my first words on the page to be the beginning - and not get rewritten later.

But having a bunch of scenes to go by helps me focus on what is important IN the first chapter, page, line.

I'm getting better at writing consequetively; but thats boring, huh?

I love Law and Order, and SVU. Oh, that sound is so wonderful :)

I like how L/O doesn't start with the murder. May not be as easy to pull off in a novel though. But gotta start somewhere . .

........dhole

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

My current MS I wrote out of order, and I think I've written the first chapter about 30 times. But I'm hoping to write the next book chronologically. (maybe then I won't go through so many drafts. We shall see.)

Also--Law and Order FTW! :)

Holly Ruggiero said...

Good point. I wonder if writing the first chapter last is easier 'cause you know where it's going. You know?

Mary said...

I usually have an idea that forms into a first paragraph or scene. Most of the time, that jump-start scene has to be cut because it starts the story in the wrong place but it gets me going.

I have to say, I'm a very linear writer. I have to go in order. Even if I have an idea for a scene farther down the road, I have to keep plugging along (though I make note of my scene so I won't forget what I was going to do once I get there).

CMOM Productions said...

I love the comparison to writing a first chapter and L&O/SVU. I tend to write in order, but then I get a different idea for the beginning or end and alter it. I'm a big SVU fan btw! Love it!

Tabitha said...

Well, I don't write my first chapter until I've handwritten a big ol' mess of notes, scenes, and journal entries from my MC's POV. Then, I take that mess and put it in order so that I have at least a rough road map. After that, I can sit down and write the first chapter.

SusanLower said...

Writing a story for me is like putting together a puzzle. I write a bunch of scenes then start putting them together. Eventually, I find one that starts the story and mark it my first chapter.

Dominique said...

I tend to write in chronological order. That can be a problem sometimes, especially in a situation like I've recently been in. It hit me a week ago that I didn't know how my next piece, which I'm already planning, was supposed to start. Usually, I just puzzle these things over until something comes to be in a flash of light. I think I've got mine now.

Indigo said...

I write in order. I think that's probably why revisions are baking me alive. I'm having to take out and revise whole chapters and it's out of order in a sense. The end results are gold though.

That whole, first sentence, first paragraph, and chapter drove me insane for awhile. I do agree it's exactly like Law & Order. Set the scene to draw them in and build the story from there. (Hugs)Indigo

Stacy Henrie said...

There's only been one time I wrote my first chapter and it stayed that way. The rest of the time I had other chapters I needed to say goodbye to before we got to the real first chapter. I think /hope/ as my writing skills continue to improve I'll nail those first chapters sooner.

WritingNut said...

I usually start with the first chapter. It always seems to be a random line that will come to me out of no where, and from that one line, I can usually hash out the first chapter. I'll almost always go back and revise the heck out of it though :)

Taffy said...

Always start your book when the ordinary day/world changes, right?

Dan Wells rights his last chapter first then the first chapter.

I use to watch L&O all the time. Now I watch Castle.

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