Recently I have struggled with trying to get my novel started off the right way from my second and third chapters onwards. I hope what I write here may help others save time. It may be long but in the end, I hope it may be helpful. The point of this post is to help others avoid a couple of pitfalls I have fallen into. It is a bit long but I think it is useful and those who are more skilled at writing or not can tell me that these lessons I have learned are what they have been taught or learned themselves.
We have all heard somewhere that conflict in our stories is good. It is almost as if the more conflict you have the better and I am going to believe that in most cases this is true, but the question I have, or maybe what I have learned is that less is more, and not all conflicts are necessary. In fact, it became a huge problem for me as I tried to introduce a conflict on top of another conflict that was more important to the character’s arch.
Now, here is how I learned this important lesson. My prologue was solid. I got fairly decent feedback after several edits and I felt great. My first chapter, (after several edits) is now much better. The prologue begins with a Prince who fears that he is fated to suffer a horrible death and seeks magic from a place of magic in the forest which edges his province and he is willing to break all rules and laws and etc. to attain it. He is told by a mysterious man with a black eye patch that a farmer holds the key to finding this place. Pretty solid start.
The first chapter begins with my two heroes (humble farmers) waiting to face the new King, the Prince from the prologue, for crimes they allegedly committed. Our hero regrets not taking his friend’s warning more seriously, and not acting sooner. (Two separate choices that are the results of two conflicts that are related to each other but are not the same conflict.) As a result, he and his friend were now in a precarious situation. The second chapter details their walk up the main hall to meet the new King who is intimidating and well-described. I am happy with how the prologue, the first chapter, and the second chapter ended.
However, here is where I ran into a problem. I hinted at it before. I hope it will help you if you are still reading.
I wanted to return to the beginning of my hero’s adventure, back to the farm where they were happy and all was good. Then have their lives slowly become upended leading to them getting arrested. Chapter 3’s aim was also to fill in some holes with world-building that were alluded to in the prologue and Chapter 1 along with some foreshadowing of what was to come. I also wanted the reader to connect with my hero and his humble world as a farmer. I also knew that I needed to introduce the greater conflict with the King and conflicts between my heroes themselves. Not a bad goal. However, it’s a tall order for one chapter.
In my first post, my third chapter began with lots of world-building and exposition. There were a bunch of internal thoughts, descriptions of routines, etc. from my main character. I described things well and many liked that aspect of it. I brought him into contact with his family, his relationship with his daughters and his sons, the importance of his farm, the legacy left to him, and the role his faith and religion played in his daily life. This would be part of what helped him make a decision later. But, it was way too much. (That is a mouthful just to read and write!)
I ended the chapter with his friend telling him about things the King which may be a problem later, but Kiran doesn’t believe him and downplays it. So, all the world-building and just a dusting of conflict. There was no tension. There was no pushing the story forward. It was merely world-building. The feedback was clear. I needed ‘Conflict!’
In the second posting of the chapter after feedback from the first, I didn’t cut the world-building from the first part too much. I made slight adjustments to my heroes interaction with his family, and added elements to it. Still, too much world-building. Then in the second part of the chapter, I added the friend coming to the main character’s home. They have a sit-down and discuss what the King is doing. This discussion had two conflicts at once. The first conflict was whether my main character had to believe what he was told by his friend or not. His friend believed it and was angry my hero didn’t and felt that my hero thought he was a fool. His friend also wanted him to leave with him immediately but my hero wasn’t going to leave either. The friend’s anger at my main character was twofold. In the dialog, I had to weave world-building and make references in and out to give substance to each of the conflicts. The problem is I hadn’t laid a foundation for the world to have the conflicts work within it. It was a mess, and I thank the critters who endured it immensely because it must have been a headache to read through.
Now, in the third posting, after getting the feedback on the first and second, I realized that I had to break the entire chapter up and only focus on conflict. I removed 95% of the detailed world-building and made vague references to things. It was much shorter, but this created other problems. Some critters were like what is ‘x’? Who is ‘y’? Why is your character acting this way?
So, I posted a 3rd time without the world-building etc. It became an empty shell so to speak. The hero’s friend was still emotionally upset and angered. But it was hard to understand or readers as to exactly why. When he arrives he first demands that they leave in a panic. My main character wasn’t going to leave because he didn’t see the threat his friend did. So then his friend had to try and convince him of the threat, in this panicked almost unhinged state, and to do so would require making reference to things he had heard about the King, which meant I had to do this ‘dueling banjo scenario. First, it was whether my hero even believed it, and did his friend feel that my hero thought he was a fool, and second, if my hero did believe him could he or would he would decide to leave? It’s just another mess as far as trying to write it out attempting to hit the right notes effectively.
( Again, I thank my critters.)
Now, I hope you can see the problem. I added a second conflict which was whether believes his friend. When I did some thinking, I didn’t need that conflict. But, I was just so prone to adding conflict into everything that it just complicated the story and didn’t really help with anything as far as pushing the story forward or helping in character building. I was really frustrated. I couldn’t identify what it was. But now I do.
So, here is what I have done. Thanks to the critter who broke things down simply for me. He really helped. My main character’s friend and him sit down over wine and bread. My main character’s friend tells him what he hears about the King and that he is convinced that he himself must leave. My main character doesn’t doubt what he is told and is as concerned. He sees the risks to his family and his farm. Through some world-building in dialog, and reference to things that are not out of left field, my main character sees that what is rumored to be true has not happened yet, there are others who depend on him, so he cannot leave immediately. In addition, there are other institutions in the world that exist that he trusts should prevent the King from doing such disastrous things. Meanwhile, he and his best friend must still make plans to leave soon as they plan for the worst but hope for the best.
This will be up and coming.
But, what did I learn? Too much world-building and little conflict don’t move the story forward. Less conflict is good when trying to get the story of your character moving forward. No world-building and dialog making references to things in the world make it hard for the reader to even know what is happening and why he should care.
If you read all of this. I hope that it helps you and saves you time. I have learned quite a bit from it. Thank you critique circle