Black's Nest - Chapter Dilemma

AnyaKimlin

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I have a sneaking suspicion I have asked this question before but it has reared its ugly head for an assignment. This book has been written and completed for nearly five years but I have never decided which chapter is the first one. The book has two stories running parallel in the first act. Either chapter can go first and the story make sense. Both Ian and John are protagonists but Ian is the one I am using in the logline for the story: A retired police detective must accept that fairies exist in order to save his great-grandson.

But now I have to hand the first chapter in and a decision has to be made. I've posted the first approx five hundred words of each and opinions to help me decide are welcome:

Chapter One
Dr John Black sipped his whisky and stared at his laptop screen. The reports were three weeks late and his boss was in arse kicking mode. Next to him beetroot juice and salad cream bled from a half-eaten sandwich that was hardening on the plate. He couldn’t muster the interest in the case of PTSD from pimples, just one of the many complaints of those wealthy enough to be treated at St Dymphna’s. He was rapidly becoming a stereotype, a psychiatrist with more problems than his patients. To celebrate his moment of realisation and self-understanding, he drained his glass and poured himself another.

The beeper next to him on the desk vibrated. It was going wild and skating across the glass surface by the time he acknowledged it. He blinked and shook the boredom from his mind and body. He finished the glass of whisky, pulled down his sleeves, button them and picked up his suit jacket from the back of his chair. His paperwork was forgotten as he left his office. He put on his jacket on as he walked, no matter how much he spent on his clothes they always hung limp on his lean frame, almost like they were still on the hanger.

He strode along the maze of identical corridors. Thick carpets, paneled wood and heavy damask drapes all combined to create an unnaturally quiet ambience. The watercolours of the Pennshire Moors allowed the clients to experience the environment without ever having to don a pair of wellies. He turned right and the light lavender scents that wafted through the building, gave way to hospital cleaner and a faint smell of rotting burned popcorn. At the aluminium door he showed the panel his retina. The door opened with a shush that was so quiet you had to be listening for it. He took a deep breath and entered the space, his feet clanking on the metal stairs as he ran down them. As the smell of hospital grew stronger, adrenaline replaced the boredom that was his default emotion in the clinic above.

Ammonia, cleaner and the bad popcorn smell got stronger the further he went down into the bowls of the building. At the bottom of the stairs was one of those thick plastic curtains like you get in supermarket loading bays. He went through it into the generic hospital corridor. Down here it could be any normal NHS hospital – except for that weird undertone to the usual hospital smells. John pulled his tie open, removed it and rolled it up to stick in his pocket. He opened the door to the locker room.

“Hey, Dew.”

“John,” responded the fae who was changing into his peach scrubs. The colour was the choice of their boss who didn’t care that it made both the expensive hotel towel white John and, the so pale he was nearly blue Dew look like a pair of zombies coming to eat your brains.

CHAPTER TWO
Senility knocked on the door of Ian Erasmus Black’s mind. It happened at exactly eight thirty this morning. He invited it in and made it a cup of tea, so by two o’clock in the afternoon, it had made itself comfortable and had decided to stay. It was the only explanation he had for the sheer terror he had felt all day. If he hadn’t been babysitting his great-grandsons, he would have run home and hidden in a pillow fort until the fear went away.

He rearranged the sunshade over Tyke and tightened his grip on the pram handle. He checked yet another of Umber Bridge’s mediaeval closes for a demon of some kind. Holding four-year-old Beanie tight by the hand, he crossed the gap. Safe outside the artisan candlemakers, he let out a breath.
“Greatpa, look at this?” Beanie let go of Ian’s hand and ran to the window of chocolatiers.

Ian fought the panic with deep breaths, so he didn’t shout at the kid just for being a kid. By the time he reacted he was able to fake a smile. “Beanie, don’t run too far ahead.”

“I didn’t Greatpa, look.” He pointed at the chocolate replica of Umber Bridge’s park. “They’ve even got Mr Cob in the pond.” He directed Ian’s attention to the tiny white chocolate swan.

“Come on, kid. I want to be finished at the swings before the schools get out.” They continued until they came to another close and once more Ian was searching for Nessie, the Gruffalo or Smaug; all of whom were more real than Ian’s fear. It had all started at eight-thirty in the morning. He had been in the queue at the bakers, listening to the story of Mrs Arbuthnot’s daughter’s hysterectomy complications. The details would have struck fear into the heart of any man, but it didn’t explain his continued feelings of terror. Every lamppost, pillar box and hedge, felt like a creature from the deep was going to leap out from behind it.

He really did hope his mother didn’t gossip about him like Mrs Arbuthnot did her daughter. He adopted her old lady Highland accent, “Our Ian’s been castrated. The hospital was awfa’ good they even let him take his bits home in a jar.”

There was a tug on his t-shirt.

He bit his lip to stop himself swearing out loud.

The question he hoped wouldn’t come, came anyway. “Greatpa, what does castrated mean?” Beanie’s smile was innocent and full of question.

Ian swallowed and took a minute to think about how to answer the question. “Why don’t you ask your daddy? He’s a doctor.” With any luck by the time Harley picked up the boys this evening, Beanie would have forgotten the question.

As if an evil wizard had waved his wand over him, Beanie’s smile vanished. “Daddy is a pathologist not a doctor. He only deals with dead people.”

“He had to study to become a doctor of live people first.”

Misery wound round Beanie like a mythical beast eating him from the inside. “Daddy’s mad at me.” He hit his forehead with his palm three times. “I’m a really naughty boy.”
 

AnyaKimlin

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It's often said that the reader will latch onto the first POV character of a story as their main character. To follow that, which character do you want the reader to feel closest to?

This is thinking out loud:

That's the trouble - I don't know. Their stories are pretty equal throughout the book and they're separate stories for most of it. It probably should be Ian but it doesn't really matter if it's John. Kind of like Sherlock and Watson. It's a family saga.

For this story Ian should probably be the main one but in terms of the other two books I have written and the full story arc it might be better if it's John.

John's story came about because beta reader feedback was that there wasn't enough fantasy if I just did Ian's as he only really discovers and accepts it late on in the book, so I wrote the story from the point of view of 3 of Ian's sons and then I wove their stories into Ian's. John became the second main character.

I guess John's story is the real story happening behind the back of Ian who is technically the main character,

And I think that's the dilemma - John introduces the main story whereas Ian introduces the main character and baby that the story revolves around.
 

Wayne Mack

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I would narrow it down based on the first paragraph and even the first couple of lines. For me, Chapter 2 has the more interesting opening. Compare:
Chapter One
Dr John Black sipped his whisky and stared at his laptop screen. The reports were three weeks late and his boss was in arse kicking mode. Next to him beetroot juice and salad cream bled from a half-eaten sandwich that was hardening on the plate.
with:
CHAPTER TWO
Senility knocked on the door of Ian Erasmus Black’s mind. It happened at exactly eight thirty this morning. He invited it in and made it a cup of tea, so by two o’clock in the afternoon, it had made itself comfortable and had decided to stay.

I find I am much more interested in Ian Erasmus Black than in Dr. John Black.
 

CTRandall

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I also thinkg the second has the stronger opening. That said, the two are very different in tone, with 2 feeling more dramatic with the possibility of horror and 1 feeling a little lighter, slightly more absurd. If that is correct (and these being very short excerpts, I might be completely wrong), you might want to go with whichever tone you want to be dominant overall.
 

tinkerdan

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neither one does it for me.
It's not that I don't like the subject or particularly what is happening.
I think it is do to a bit of over use of words and too many pronouns.

For instance this paragraph.
The beeper next to him on the desk vibrated. It was going wild and skating across the glass surface by the time he acknowledged it. He blinked and shook the boredom from his mind and body. He finished the glass of whisky, pulled down his sleeves, button them and picked up his suit jacket from the back of his chair. His paperwork was forgotten as he left his office. He put on his jacket on as he walked, no matter how much he spent on his clothes they always hung limp on his lean frame, almost like they were still on the hanger.
Unless you are making a point that this is his and so is this and then this.
You could cut out extra wordage by letting the reader figure out what you are telling them.

If it were mine and I was doing the editing, I'd reduce this to ....

Indifferent to the beeper that vibrated next to him, gone wild and skated across the glass, he shook boredom from his mind and body. Finishing the glass of whisky, he rolled down sleeves, fumbled with buttons and picked up the suit jacket from the chair. Thrusting arms in the jacket, paperwork now forgotten, he walked from the office. No matter how much he spent on clothes they hung like they were still on the hanger.
 

sule

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My personal feeling is that the first chapter (from what I've read of the two excerpts and what you've said of your novel) makes sense going first.

My reasoning is this: I actually think that having the first chapter start the book would work better structurally because it introduces the reader to the world, then the second chapter has the implicit promise of "this is going to tie in somehow" and adds in a layer of anticipation for the reader. If your first chapter has no mention of a strange world, then the second chapter does I feel that there may be many readers who would reject it or even put the book down because it feels out of place.

I think that the reason most everyone else likes the second chapter better is because the opening is more catchy and the POV character stands out and is more relatable. In the end, I don't really think there's a wrong choice for which one will begin your book but I've given you my reasoning for why I think the first chapter makes the most sense. That being said, if you could find a way to tighten the opening of chapter one (the introduction of the fae was a little late, in my opinion) before you send it in, I think it would make the passage work better.
 

Wayne Mack

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AnyaKimlin

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I would narrow it down based on the first paragraph and even the first couple of lines. For me, Chapter 2 has the more interesting opening. Compare:

I think I have made a decision that if I ever publish it then John's chapter makes more sense but you're right in that Ian's is more engaging so I will be using it for the assignment. Thank you.

neither one does it for me.
It's not that I don't like the subject or particularly what is happening.
I think it is do to a bit of over use of words and too many pronouns.

I'll keep the wordage as it's my style but you are absolutely right about cutting the pronouns down. I'm not a fan of -ing verbs if I can avoid it but I'll rework and tighten it so it's less puppet on a string. EG The beeper vibrated on the desk. It was skating across the glass top before he acknowledged it. He drained his glass of whisky and shook away the boredom. From the back of the office chair he grabbed his designer suit jacket.

My personal feeling is that the first chapter (from what I've read of the two excerpts and what you've said of your novel) makes sense going first.

I think you're right - thank you, I think you put your finger on the issue.

By rights Ian's chapter should go first but when I think about beta reader feedback when I sent it out, bringing in the world as quickly as possible is what they asked for and John's chapter does that.

If I ever publish the story John's chapter will go first but I'll put Ian's chapter in for the assignment.
 

msstice

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I liked chapter two. The writing seemed more punchy. This is not the criterion for choosing, but that's what I felt.
 

TheEndIsNigh

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Ooo This is different.

Forgive if this isn't what you were after but...

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Opinion as to which, at the end.

Bear in mind these are all just my opinions.

I have a sneaking suspicion I have asked this question before but it has reared its ugly head for an assignment. This book has been written and completed for nearly five years but I have never decided which chapter is the first one. The book has two stories running parallel in the first act. Either chapter can go first and the story make sense. Both Ian and John are protagonists but Ian is the one I am using in the logline for the story: A retired police detective must accept that fairies exist in order to save his great-grandson.

But now I have to hand the first chapter in and a decision has to be made. I've posted the first approx five hundred words of each and opinions to help me decide are welcome:

Chapter One
Dr John Black sipped his whisky and stared at his laptop screen. The reports were three weeks (Most bosses would have kicked his arse a lot earlier if it was this late) late and his boss was in arse kicking mode. Next to him beetroot juice and salad cream bled from a half-eaten sandwich that was hardening on the plate (great imagery but it's not helping to grab me by the throat first chapter). He couldn’t muster the interest in the case of PTSD from pimples, just one of the many complaints of those wealthy enough to be treated at St Dymphna’s. He was rapidly becoming a stereotype, a psychiatrist with more problems than his patients (excellent but somehow it doesn't work with the next sentence rapidly becomming jars with moment of IMO). To celebrate his moment of realisation and self-understanding, he drained his glass and poured himself another.

The beeper (pager maybe) next to him on the desk vibrated. It was going wild and skating across the glass surface by the time he acknowledged it. He blinked and shook the boredom from his mind and body. He finished the second glass of whisky, pulled down his sleeves, button them and picked up his suit jacket from the back of his chair. His paperwork was forgotten as he left his office. He put on his the jacket on as he walked, no matter how much he spent on his clothes they always hung limp on his lean frame, almost like they were still on the hanger.

He strode along the maze of identical corridors. Thick carpets, paneled wood and heavy damask drapes all combined to create an unnaturally quiet ambience. The watercolours of the Pennshire Moors allowed the clients to experience the environment without ever having to don a pair of wellies. He turned right and the light lavender scents that wafted through the building, gave way to hospital cleaner and a faint smell of rotting burned popcorn. At the aluminium door he showed the panel his retina. The door opened with a shush that was so quiet you had to be listening for it. He took a deep breath and entered the space, his feet clanking on the metal stairs as he ran down them. As the smell of hospital grew stronger, adrenaline replaced the boredom that was his default emotion in the clinic above.

Ammonia, cleaner and the bad popcorn smell got stronger the further he went down into the bowls of the building. At the bottom of the stairs was one of those a thick plastic curtains like you get in supermarket loading bays. He went through it into the generic hospital corridor. Down here it could be any normal NHS hospital – except for that weird undertone to the usual hospital smells. John pulled his tie open, removed it and rolled it up to stick in his pocket. He opened the door to the locker room.

“Hey, Dew.”

“John,” responded the fae who was changing into his peach scrubs. The colour was the choice of their boss who didn’t care that it made both the expensive hotel towel white John and, the so pale he was nearly blue Dew look like a pair of zombies coming to eat your brains. (reads oddly Dew?)

CHAPTER TWO
Senility (Madness - or some medical name, senility doesn't work for me given the long stream of conciousness that follows) knocked on the door of Ian Erasmus Black’s mind. It happened at exactly eight thirty this morning. He invited it in and made it a cup of tea, so by two o’clock in the afternoon, it had made itself comfortable and had decided to stay. It was the only explanation he had for the sheer terror he had felt all day. If he hadn’t been babysitting his great-grandsons, he would have run home and hidden in a pillow fort until the fear went away.

He rearranged the sunshade over Tyke and tightened his grip on the pram handle. He checked yet another of Umber Bridge’s mediaeval closes for a demon of some kind. Holding four-year-old Beanie (confusing with the pram handle I looked up Beanie - its a hat) tight by the hand, he crossed the gap. Safe outside the artisan candlemakers, he let out a breath.
“Greatpa, look at this?” Beanie let go of Ian’s hand and ran to the window of chocolatiers.
(Pram - four year old?)

Ian fought the panic with deep breaths, so he didn’t shout at the kid just for being a kid. By the time he reacted he was able to fake a smile. “Beanie, don’t run too far ahead.”

“I didn’t Greatpa, look.” He pointed at the chocolate replica of Umber Bridge’s park. “They’ve even got Mr Cob in the pond.” He directed Ian’s attention to the tiny white chocolate swan.

“Come on, kid. I want to be finished at the swings before the schools get out.” (where is this and at four why isn't the kid in school) They continued until they came to another close and once more Ian was searching for Nessie, the Gruffalo or Smaug; all of whom were more real than Ian’s fear. It had all started at eight-thirty in the morning. He had been in the queue at the bakers, listening to overhearing the story of Mrs Arbuthnot’s daughter’s hysterectomy complications. The details would have struck fear into the heart of any man, but it didn’t explain his continued feelings of terror. Every lamp post, pillar box and hedge, felt like a creature from the deep was going to leap out from behind it.

He really did hope his mother didn’t gossip about him like Mrs Arbuthnot did her daughter. He adopted her old lady Highland accent, “Our Ian’s been castrated. The hospital was awfa’ good they even let him take his bits home in a jar.” (Has he been castrated - cos that raises the suspicion that that's his problem - I suspect not so maybe gaul bladder would be less confusing)

There was a tug on his t-shirt.

He bit his lip to stop himself swearing out loud.

The question he hoped wouldn’t come, came anyway. “Greatpa, what does castrated mean?” (Why he ask this? Mind reading? If so we need to know because otherwise we're off at a tangent) Beanie’s smile was innocent and full of question.

Ian swallowed and took a minute to think about how to answer the question. “Why don’t you ask your daddy? He’s a doctor.” With any luck by the time Harley picked up the boys this evening, Beanie would have forgotten the question.

As if an evil wizard had waved his wand over him, Beanie’s smile vanished. “Daddy is a pathologist not a doctor. He only deals with dead people.”

“He had to study to become a doctor of live people first.”

Misery wound round Beanie like a mythical beast eating him from the inside. “Daddy’s mad at me.” He hit his forehead with his palm three times. “I’m a really naughty boy.” (Not sure who this is about- the mind reading knowledge beyond his years four year old or the mentally challenged adult)

Given the choice the first is better, if only because the second didn't work at all for me. It just confused me.

Hope I helped

Tein
 

AnyaKimlin

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Given the choice the first is better, if only because the second didn't work at all for me. It just confused me.

Hope I helped

Tein

All feedback is welcome. I made some tweaks to the second extract and hope I have made it clearer. Children are legally required to start full time education the September after their fifth birthday in Scotland. They can start before but it's a parental choice.

I'm keeping senility as Ian is sixty-nine (a young great-grandfather) and his concern is that he is developing dementia but I worked on the other issues and added the next few sentences for clarity.
======================================================

Senility knocked on the door of Ian Erasmus Black’s mind. It happened at exactly eight thirty this morning. He invited it in and made it a cup of tea, so by two o’clock in the afternoon, it had made itself comfortable and had decided to stay. It was the only explanation he had for the inexplicable terror he had felt all day. If he hadn’t been babysitting his great-grandsons, he would have run home and hidden in a pillow fort until the fear went away.

He rearranged the sunshade over baby Tyke and tightened his grip on the pram handle. He checked yet another of Umber Bridge’s mediaeval closes for a demon of some kind. Holding tight to the hand of Tyke’s brother, four-year-old Beanie, he crossed the gap. Once he was safe outside the artisan candlemakers, Ian let out a breath.


“Greatpa, look at this?” Beanie let go of Ian’s hand and ran to the window of chocolatiers.


Ian fought the panic with deep breaths, so he didn’t shout at the kid just for being a kid. By the time he reacted he was able to fake a smile and his usual tone of voice. “Don’t run too far ahead.”

“I didn’t Greatpa, look.” He pointed at the chocolate replica of Umber Bridge’s park. “They’ve even got Mr Cob in the pond.” He directed Ian’s attention to the tiny white chocolate swan.

“Come on, kid. I want to be finished at the swings before the schools get out.” They continued until they came to another close and once more Ian was searching for Nessie, the Gruffalo or Smaug; all of whom were more real than Ian’s fear. It had started at eight-thirty this morning. He had been in the queue at the bakers. Mrs Arbuthnot’s was telling the tale of her daughter’s hysterectomy complications. The details of her story would have struck fear into the heart of any man, but it didn’t explain his continued feelings of terror. Every lamp post, pillar box and hedge, felt like a creature from the deep was going to leap out from behind it.

He really did hope his mother didn’t gossip about him like Mrs Arbuthnot did her daughter. He adopted his mother's old lady Highland accent and joked out loud, “Our Ian’s been castrated. The hospital was awfa’ good they even let him take his bits home in a jar.”

There was a tug on his t-shirt. He’d been so caught up in his fear that he’d forgotten about Beanie for a moment.

He bit his lip to stop himself adding a stream of fruity words to the child’s vocabulary.


The question he hoped wouldn’t come, came anyway. “Greatpa, what does castrated mean?”Beanie’s smile was innocent and full of question.

Ian swallowed and took a minute to think about how to answer the question. “Why don’t you ask your daddy? He’s a doctor.” With any luck by the time Harley picked up the boys this evening, Beanie would have forgotten the question.


“He had to study to become a doctor of live people first.”

Misery wound round Beanie like a mythical beast eating him from the inside. He found to keep the beast inside him and lost. He cried, “Daddy’s not happy with me.” He hit his forehead with his palm three times. “I’m a really naughty boy. I gave Oliver my Raffy.”

Why did you give Raffy to Tyke?” Ian stopped, parked the pram and lowered himself, grunting, down to Beanie’s level. He prayed he would be able to get up again without help.

Mummy says we can’t call him Tyke. His name is Oliver.”

OK, Why did you give Raffy to Oliver?” He had called them Beanie and Tyke all their lives and it felt uncomfortable calling the baby Oliver.

So he wouldn’t cry and wake Mummy up.”
 

Wayne Mack

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In the original post, I felt you merely asked for an opinion of starting with Chapter 1 or Chapter 2. I suggest a third option, start with a later chapter where the plot line actually starts to unfold. In the intro you indicate that the plot is:
A retired police detective must accept that fairies exist in order to save his great-grandson.
In reading either chapter, however, I cannot see any indication of either fairies or a risk to his great-grandson. As a reader, I would expect that the plot would start with its first conflict point by the second paragraph, however, I do have a personal bias towards action stories.

I like the starting lines of the Ian chapter and feel you have a good voice at expressing the inner thoughts of your characters. I think this is something that could be done more throughout both samples - they seem to stay fairly distant from the characters and thus do not pull the reader into the story as much as they could.

Try to see if you could utilize the inner voice of the characters more and also start closer to the initial action.
 

AnyaKimlin

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In the original post, I felt you merely asked for an opinion of starting with Chapter 1 or Chapter 2. I suggest a third option, start with a later chapter where the plot line actually starts to unfold. In the intro you indicate that the plot is:

In reading either chapter, however, I cannot see any indication of either fairies or a risk to his great-grandson. As a reader, I would expect that the plot would start with its first conflict point by the second paragraph, however, I do have a personal bias towards action stories.

I like the starting lines of the Ian chapter and feel you have a good voice at expressing the inner thoughts of your characters. I think this is something that could be done more throughout both samples - they seem to stay fairly distant from the characters and thus do not pull the reader into the story as much as they could.

Try to see if you could utilize the inner voice of the characters more and also start closer to the initial action.
I appreciate the feedback but as a book that is finished and unlikely to be published now (I've moved on), I'm not going to change it drastically. I like it the way it is.

The current first chapter is the aftermath of a battle in the fairy realm. There is a pact between the Fairy Queen and the Demon Grandmaster - it is sealed every 55 years by the sacrifice of the demon's youngest child. The trouble is he's a rake and hasn't a clue who is youngest child is. One of the candidates is Ian's great-grandson. Which is why it's probably the better first chapter as it sets up the story in the first 1500 words.

The second chapter introduces the main character and the moment the spell dampening his demon hunter powers is weakened. It also brings in the more mundane explanation he can follow when his granddaughter-in-law is murdered and his great-grandson goes missing. It still has its merits as an opening chapter as it sets up the character but I think the first one sets up the story.
 

Cosmic Geoff

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The 'Ian' chapter is definitely the more engaging. The 'John' chapter opening is rather bland and I felt some editing would improve the prose (but that was not what you asked.)
If this is a supernatural story, this ought to be indicated early on, which the 'John' chapter does, but it should be possible to insert something in the 'Ian' chapter.
 

thisreidwrites

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You're correct that they're both good! However, I'd definitely start with Ian since he's your logline. You want to lure the reader in with what prompted them to open the book in the first place. :)
 

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