I decided to break this day up into separate postings, as some may find it easier to read shorter pieces of information rather than one large post.
The reason I’m breaking down parts of this chapter is to bring notice to the things I focus on when writing the first chapter of any book. Of course, your book idea is going to be different from mine. This means that what you need to focus on are chapter basics while I’m breaking things down. Later when you’re writing, think about your book idea and the genre you will be writing under. Then you’ll want to think about your main character and think about a way you can introduce a dilemma into this character’s life that they must solve and survive. That is my first main focus when I’m writing fiction.
I opened the chapter with a brief explanation, because I actually heard the voices telling me this explanation before I knew what else would transpire, not only in this first chapter, but basically the entire book. Once I had that part typed out, I saw the scene unfolding. Sometimes I don’t hear voices and I see what’s happening instead.
I saw Edouard and his mother talking. Remember when I said I am opening with a dilemma and with tension? I think I have done that well enough in my opening chapter, and throughout the rest of the chapter as well. I’m actually satisfied with what the voices told me and the only changes I can seem making are correcting grammar or possibly adding a new detail later on, as I find that the further I usually get into a book there’s a twist in the plot and I have to go back and revise something in the beginning to make this plot believable.
While I’m writing, I’m always mindful to keep conflict flowing, because readers love reading about conflict. I think I’ve done that in the relationship that Edouard has with his mother. As this chapter unfolded for me, I saw what was happening and then the voices readily chimed in to let me know what Jenna and Edouard were thinking. By including their thoughts, I’ve made these characters come alive to the reader, because their predicament is something a reader can identify with (the dysfunction between two family members). Jenna wants her son to commit murder. What the readers will wonder is if he will do it. This is what I call a hook. As an experienced bestselling author, I want my readers to wonder what is going to happen next. When I’m writing the last sentence of a chapter, I like to mention something that will make the reader say, “Oh my, God. What’s going to happen next?” This is what I call a kick, a mental stimulation that drives the reader to want to read more.
In my first chapter of any book and genre I write under, I want to set up the theme of my story. I call a theme the paragraphs that you open with that tells the reader what the book is about. In this case, the theme can be seen as contention inside a family that can lead to one of the family member’s death. What I also focus on is making sure the reader have what I call ‘good’ questions being asked in their minds.
Will Edouard tell anyone what his mother told him in secret?
How will he handle the dilemma he finds himself in?
Is he wondering if his mother will give the brass case to his nine year old sister and have his sister poison Aunt Sarah?
What exactly is in the brass case? What effects will it have once someone drinks it in a liquid?
Will Aunt Sarah drink the poison unknowingly?
Will Pierre find out about his wife’s murder plot and if he does, what actions will he take?
When readers have questions like these, they must keep reading to find out. What I don’t ever want them asking themselves is what’s happening? I don’t want them to get confused. I don’t want to give away the plot too early, but I don’t want to keep information from them that they must have.
My main character(s) always have something to offer. It can be a skill, like a detective good at solving cases, or wit that enables them to get themselves and others out of trouble. Another thing that I keep in mind is that whatever my main character(s) has to offer, someone inside my book can usually either benefit from it or they want it for themselves.
I know when I’ve written a chapter properly, because what I end up with can lead the story in many directions, but I want to choose the right direction for the plot. The last thing I innately keep in mind is right away the tone of my story reveals itself. If I had to describe the tone of my first chapter, I would say anxiety. Jenna needs someone dead and is anxious to get it done. Edouard’s behavior seems a little anxious. I think the slave girl’s reaction when she sees Edouard and his mother talking hints that she possibly knows something about the two characters that isn’t mentioned in the chapter.
Here are a few tips that I can give anyone new to writing.
Tip 1: Try limiting your first chapter to the introduction of one dilemma and this dilemma becomes the reader’s focal point.
Tip 2: Explain only when something needs to be explained and don’t explain often. Let what you write tell the reader everything they need to know in each chapter.
Tip 3: Only describe things that need to be described. Notice how it’s not important for the reader to know what the inside of the mansion looks like in this chapter. They also didn’t need to know what Edouard or Jenna is wearing. By mentioning either, it takes the reader’s focal point off of where I want it.
You won’t learn everything you need to know about writing in one day, but you may learn sometimes more than you can handle by simply listening to the voices.
Why not start your book today? It doesn’t matter how much of the book idea you have.
What is your book idea about? What genre are you writing? What kind of personality does your main character have?
Sit down and listen to the voices even if you don’t have all of the answers up front and see what it is you come up with.
I do have a writing guide that I’ve written for anyone interested in it. You can find Anyone Can Write on my home page. And I also will offer writing courses in the soon future on writing your first chapter and the differences I’ve discovered when writing Romance or Science Fiction and Fantasy or Thriller Suspense. But again, this is only for anyone who feels they need to know a little more before they tackle their writing project. I hate to sound like I’m pitching sales at you, but I’m thinking about the people that take writing seriously and need someone to help them now and then. I also offer critiques for a very small fee. This is where I read up to five thousand words, then offer suggestions on how I believe you can make your chapter better, and hopefully, bestseller better.
But above all, have confidence in yourself and make 2018 your year to write a new book. As a thank you for reading the first part of this blog, I have included the next chapter, as I wrote several today. The voices just couldn’t keep quiet! LOL. But remember…What I’m posting is unedited. I haven’t even reread it, so I’m sure you’re going to find errors here and there, possibly throughout. I always go over the chapters I’ve written and make changes, but only after the voices have quieted a little.
Okay, that's a cheesy GIF and I don't look anything like that, but that's what I can see myself doing, rubbing my hands together. I only started this new book today, but I am sooo excited to write more. I actually have the voices of Jenna, Sarah, Pierre and Edouard fighting to get my attention about a scene they want me to include. I have a three-ring circus happening in my head, but once I do share what the voices are telling me, I'm sure it will be a very good tale of murder, revenge, love, heartbreak and a broken family.
At this stage in the game, this is the rough draft and I'm sure once I do reread this chapter, I'm going to see a lot of things that I need to fix and possibly change, but pasting it like it is now shows you what writing is all about. It's writing, and rewriting until you get it right. Now while you're reading this next part, I will be writing more parts to this story! Leave a comment if you want, but there's no need to point things out, such as the ages of the children are different on different pages. But this happens to me all the time as a pantser. I started out with Edouard being twelve, then figured out a few more chapters in that he's closer to fifteen. But hey! I think I also mentioned him as already being seventeen in one sentence. LOL.
“Where’re you running to?” Sarah’s son, Andreu, yelled, then threw up his arm in question when Edouard passed him in a mad rush and ran toward the start of the trees that led to the sugar cane fields. He knew Edouard couldn’t have heard him, because not once did Edouard stop or look his way or slow down even. Before climbing down from the pony he sat on top of, Andreu stared back at the mansion to see what Edouard was running from.
Aunt Jenna stood inside the rear door with her eyes on him rather than in the direction her son ran. The way she looked at him, Andreu could feel her need to harm him. It’s why he no longer went inside the plantation’s main mansion, but always waited for Edouard outside. Her looks made him jumpy. They also made him constantly look over his shoulder, even inside of rooms that had plenty of lighting. But light or not, her looks made him feel like he was surrounded in darkness and something hiding in the shadows waited to jump out and attack.
“Get in here,” she said, then took one step back inside the house.
He looked where he last saw Edouard, but Edouard was long gone.
Climbing from his mount, his riding boots hit the ground. As he walked toward the house, although he didn’t look directly at them, he noticed that the slaves tending the jardin or had chores nearby had stopped what they were doing and watched this moment closely. None whispered or said anything to the slave closest to them. After he had taken many steps and had gotten closer to the rear door, he looked back and saw them hang their heads low, purposely not wanting to see more than they already had. At times like these, he felt the same way the slaves did, as if the main mansion was one huge secret and everything that happened inside it shouldn’t be uttered to anyone, although no one had told him this was true. It was simply something he felt in his heart, and fear caused him to follow these unspoken instructions, as if his life depended on it.
When he reached the door, Aunt Jenna stood just inside it wearing the expression the nuns wore whenever he went to mass.
“It’s hot today,” she said. “I’m sure you can use a drink. Follow me inside the petite salle. There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”
“Yes, Tante,” he answered, his eyes darting around the hall. The mansion had more servants that worked inside it than the maison where he lived, but he always found this hard to tell whenever he came inside. Although sometimes he heard servants moving about or saying a few words, he rarely laid eyes on them and when he did see them it was always the back of them as they rushed to a part of the house that his Tante Jenna had deemed off limits to him and his mother’s other children.
The petite salle was more than comfortable. After all, his father was still the wealthiest man inside the entire South. The softest cushions covered with the softest fabric pampered his rear as he sat on the settee his Tante had pointed at. With her back to him, she walked to cafe trolley that sat in front of two open French doors.
He watched as her hands moved frantically in front of her and out of his sight. Tante Jenna is pouring me a cup of café? When was the last time he’d seen his Tante do something that a slave was meant to?
Just when he almost looked away, it looked to him like she had reached inside her sleeve and had pulled something out.
“The reason Edouard is upset is because he doesn’t want to get married, but he will and soon,” she said.
“Married?” He sat forward on the settee. Creole men weren’t married until they reached the age of thirty. Before that age they took on placées for sexual gratification and sometimes other reasons. He and Edouard had discussed this at length, and how they couldn’t wait until they were fifteen, because usually around fifteen or sixteen Creole boys were given their own apartments, because no Creole boy of this age was expected to live under the same roof as their mother.
“To an Américain girl.
He heard sadness in her tone, and sadness had come over him as well. To be married so young was bad enough, to an Américain girl could only be worse. Now he understood why Edouard had run like he had. Marriages were often arranged between Creoles, but usually this arrangement involved a daughter and not a son.
She turned to him with two cups of café. The one in her right hand shivered a bit as she drew closer. A pleasant smile spread across her face as she handed it to him. Out of habit he looked toward the door, but looked down suddenly before he noticed anyone standing in it, because for the first time he didn’t feel threatened and like his Tante wanted to hurt him. It almost felt the same way when he was home. This thought made him feel guilty for thinking that his Tante secretly hated him.
“Merci,” he said, taking the saucer and cup gently, then as he was taught, waited for her to be seated before he spilled café onto the saucer. All Creoles drank café this way, as spilling it onto the saucer helped it cooled, and all Creoles knew that eating or drinking anything too hot brought about illnesses that sometimes led to death.
He happened to look up when his half sister walked into the salle, holding the hand of Madame Fortier.
“Dreu!” Alexandrine squealed, yanking away her hand and running to him.
He stood and folded his arms around her. At nine, Alexandrine stood almost as tall as he did at ten. Extreme height ran in their family. Their father stood above seven feet, making him one of the tallest Creoles in New Orléans, as most French Creole men barely reached five feet. Alexandrine also possessed their family’s traits that made the Jennings stand out in the city: albino white hair, gray eyes and bronze hued skin. “Isn’t it time for your piano lessons?” Jenna asked, lifting the saucer and taking a nice slow sip.
“Shouldn’t you be in the music room learning to play the piano, Alexandrine?” Jenna asked.
“Madame Fortier promised that I can have refreshments first,” Alexandrine answered softly, doubt suddenly showing in her eyes, but they lit up the moment their father stepped into the salle through the French door.
Jenna saw him and rose swiftly to her feet.
Although the mansion had high ceilings, Pierre had a way of filling a room. At seven-feet-three-inches tall and had the muscle mass to match, he looked indestructible underneath his embroidered over coat. Black Hessian boots reached far above his calves. The silver-gray of his eyes made them capable of looking through someone rather than at them. He was a man that wore wealth well. Whether inside his home or in the Quarter, people couldn’t pull their eyes away when they saw him.
“You are in here,” he said, his eyes on Andreu, then he looked at Jenna, studying her attire and the expression on her face. Andreu didn’t like coming inside the mansion; he knew this. And although Jenna pretended she had no qualms about his other children coming inside the house, he knew this wasn’t true. So seeing Andreu inside this room not only moved him as odd, he thought it highly suspicious.
Jenna spoke as if on cue in a somber voice. “I was hoping to talk with Andreu about…” She stopped midsentence and looked at Alexandrine. “Run along. Your lesson first and only when it’s done can you have refreshments.”
Alexandrine giggled, her face twisting into an ugly expression of glee. “Are you sneaking off to the lily fields again? I heard Desie tell Cyril that’s where you run off to when you’re dressed like you are.”
“The lily fields?” Jenna’s spine pulled upright and as rigid as an arrow. “Why haven’t I been told about these jaunts?”
Pierre ignored looking at her and fixed his gaze on Alexandrine. “Off with your lesson.” He then looked at Andreu. “You’re not getting out of this trip and using Edouard as an excuse to stay behind isn’t going to work this time.”
Andreu also ignored Jenna as he walked closer to his father.
Pierre patted Andreu on the shoulder, a gesture that meant he should wait outside for him.
Madame Fortier gripped Alexandrine’s head and escorted her out of the room.
“The lily fields?” Jenna asked. “Tell me you’re not still looking, Pierre. The twin daughters my sister gave birth to are dead. They drowned at the age of two in the Mississippi River less than a mile from where we stand. Today I thought you were meeting with Mr. Vaughn.”
“That meeting has ended,” he answered. “My seventeen year old son will not be getting married anytime soon to any Américain girl.”
Jenna had agreed to the arrangement so Mr. Vaughn could act now. Green Lea, the plantation she inherited from her late mother, currently sat in ruins. No one had lived on the land since the day Sarah decided not to marry a man by the name of William Murray and instead secretly began having an affair with Pierre. By the time Mr. Vaughn was told that their children weren’t to be married, he would have done something with the fields and started renovation on the sprawling mansion that now sat nearly hidden in tall weeds and overgrown trees. But telling anyone of her plan and everyone would begin again to believe she had turned back to her old ways. It was that she couldn’t risk, especially now. Sarah had to die and it had to be Edouard that killed her. Only Edouard had the ability of getting inside the maison whenever he wished. If Pierre did find out Edouard was behind Sarah’s death, the worse Jenna could think of was him agreeing for his son to marry Ingrid Vaughn. No other punishment could be more severe, except death. But surely Pierre loved all of his children too much to even think of such a thing.
“I’ll walk with you,” she offered and reached with a hand to hook her arm through his, but Pierre wasn’t a man of false pretenses. Not even when they were alone did he dare hint at any kind of intimacy between them.
Facing her, his grey eyes became stern. “Why was Andreu here? Why did you call him inside?”
“Have you spoken to Edouard? Maybe he wants to marry this girl?”
“A girl he never met,” Pierre said. “That’s what you want me to believe that our son wishes to marry an Américain girl that has scars all over her face? No, Jenna. You can lie to anyone else, but not me. I saw the look in Mr. Vaughn’s eyes and in his eyes I saw that the two of you have been having private conversations that have somehow come to an end with a promise you have given him. A promise that ensures he gets his hands on what he wants. Green Lea sits adjacent to his land. Renovating a mansion as big as the one that sits abandon on your land is cheaper than building one from the ground up.” He drew closer, his eyes threatening a thrashing the closer he got. “I’m seeing the old Jenna return. I don’t know what you’re plotting, but I do know that since my children have been born you have more victims to choose from and it seems Edouard isn’t excluded.”
“I will never hurt my son,” she hissed, then pulled back from him slowly as if in a delayed reaction from a harsh blow. Malevolence shone in her eyes. It had been a long time since he’d seen it last.
“And there you are.” He spoke in a harsh whisper. “The same woman I met many years ago then walked away from on our wedding night. I knew then how well you can keep a secret, especially when that secret benefits you…”
Leaning closer to him, she spoke gently, sincerely. As he looked into her face he saw beyond the makeup she wore and saw a woman pretending to be alive.
“For close to twenty years I’ve lived inside this house while you slept between the trees in my sister’s bed. Can you imagine how many times I imagined what that looks like, you lying there with her ad if the two of you are talking and laughing and telling each other things you trust to tell no one else? I’m your wife, Pierre, but you won’t even hold my hand. How often do you hold hers? How often do you kiss her lips and tell her you love her? Secrets, you say? The biggest secret I keep concerns you and my children and how their lives can be ruined on any part of Américain soil. Yet that’s where we live, in América. Even now there are mentions of war. Over what? Who has the right to own slaves? That is something I care not about. What I care about since you’re standing there looking as if you truly want to know is what have I given up to that you can be happy with my sister and how you have given nothing in return except a son and daughter of whom I truly love. So don’t stand in front of me ever again and accuse me of having the capability of hurting the only two reasons I find living for.”
Her eyes wandered out into the yard. Walking past him, she stepped out onto the galerie as a coach pulled in front of her home. The curtains over its door were closed, but still she knew. Her sister and all of her children sat inside. The sister who had stolen her husband’s love and provided him with a home so sweet he rarely left it unless he had a moment to spare.
Pierre stepped outside beside her and lifting his hand waved at the servant driver.
Jenna looked back at him when Jeffy jumped down from the driver’s seat and opened the coach’s rear door. No one sat inside. Cushions upholstered in vibrant red cloth invited her inside. It wasn’t often when Pierre came to the mansion for her, but when he did, she always felt like a young girl. “I thought you were going off with the family you love.”
“That hadn’t been the plan.” Doubt showed in his eyes. His thoughts caused his eyes to narrow and for his lips to purse as if forcing them to say nothing more.
She walked closer to him in a rush and with her hope in her eyes. “You mean…you planned this for me? Isn’t Sarah and the children going away?”
His eyes averted out toward the direction of the jardin. “Andreu hates going to Biloxi. He planned to come here for Edouard, and then the two of them running off.” His eyes found hers. “I have been looking forward to this day, Jenna. Sarah and the children will be gone for two weeks.” His hand reached toward her with the palm turned upward.
A voice inside told her not to take it, but then she thought about the nights she dreamed of lying in someone’s arms. Didn’t she deserve love even if only for a few days?
Taking his hand, he helped her inside the coach. Jeffy closed the door once both of them were seated. It was then she realized what she was wearing and pressed a hand against the bodice of her gown. “Where are we going? I’ve lost sense of my faculties. I’m not dressed properly to leave the plantation.”
He smiled kindly at her then glanced away. “When are you not dressed to attend the most prestigious ball?”
Flattery from him was unfamiliar and made her uncomfortable and good at the same time.
He sat closer to her to hold her gaze. “I want to show you something.”
It’s the way he said those words that made her forget about anything and everyone else. Her lips parted and her breathing increased when he reached a hand for breast. “I want to share something with you that I can’t share with anyone else.”
Absentmindedly, she gave a nod. Since she was a girl, she loved no other man like she loved him. When his arms drew around her and pulled her so she leaned and became enveloped in his embrace, it all seemed a dream.
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!