Descriptive writing, whether for scenes, villains, heroines and other plot points can be accomplished easily. Writing topics abound. Pick your writing topics. If you’re writing a novel, a few simple rules to follow when writing your first chapter are given here.
Presented here is Chapter 1 of my new novel, Down to the Needle, in its entirety. This novel is due for release in Jan 2010 after which the book cover will appear.
As we examine this first chapter, keep your attention directed at…
How to make your verbiage interesting, exciting.
How to give your characters personalities.
How to start your story with excitement which promotes readers turning pages.
Does the first line, even the first words, incite interest?
Instead of ho-hum verbiage or dialogue, jump into the action. This is a thriller full of villains and strong heroines. When writing a novel, in any genre, make something drastic happen.
Descriptive writing happens with the proper use of action words and phrases
How many points can you identify as foreshadowing?
This is important. No matter how long or how short your first chapter; it should be loaded with foreshadowing, events that tie to other events later in the story.
See how many points identify the characters, how they are dressed, even their personalities?
You’ll get a feel for whether these story people are likable or unlikeable if you pay attention to these clues.
Let’s analyze this chapter for descriptive writing when writing a novel.
Down to the Needle
A woman’s long search for her abducted child leads to a young woman on Death Row only months away from lethal injection for a crime she didn’t commit.
“The perp torched himself,” a fireman said, shouting to be heard over the clamor.
Descriptive writing involves the six senses if you count intuition among them, and you should never leave it out. Can’t you just see the action of the next paragraphs?
Angry red and orange flames from the still burning back half of the warehouse licked at the night sky. Glowing yellow embers, blown by April’s night breezes off the nearby ocean, took flight. Fire trucks encircled the building. Firefighters scrambled over strewn equipment. Men wearing army fatigues darted about. Two ambulances waited for the injured.
An officer cupped a hand around the side of his mouth and also yelled. “The perp’s inside?”
Abigail Fisher and Joe Arno nudged in closer to hear the conversation between firefighters and the police.
A fireman pointed to the front section of the building where the flames had been doused. “Burned himself into a corner.” He shook his head. “Still got the gas can in his hand.”
“How soon can we get in there?” the officer asked.
“You aren’t going to ID this one right away,” the fireman said. “He melted like wax.”
Abi carried some of Joe’s peripheral filming equipment though only to make her look acceptable so she could tag along. He was a part-time stringer for Seaport’s major TV station. Abi stayed on his heels. She would indeed help now that they were there. The work they did when called out to cover a story was meaningful, though it paled in comparison to what Abi envisioned would happen when the greatest predicament in her life would be solved.
While anticipating a happy and momentous culmination to a personal tragedy, she always helped others when called upon. The hope she held inside never dimmed but seemed detached from her everyday life. Presently, she worried about the reason for the numerous fires. Seaport and neighboring Creighton had an average number of fires greater than most same-sized cities.
Spectators had gathered, held back by police. From where had they all emerged, considering this was a building at the edge of the industrial section of Seaport? The crackling of the fire and rumbling of the building collapsing drowned out most other sounds.
“Look out!” Abi said, screaming to be heard over the chaos. She gestured frantically in the direction where a portion of a front wall began to shift.
“Coming down!” the Fire Captain yelled into a loud speaker as everyone fled.
Two firefighters dashed out of the building just as the outer wall and roof beams collapsed, propelling a gust of air that sent sparks flying. Caught off -guard, Abi and Joe wore dinner clothing when unexpectedly called out from the restaurant to film yet another burning. Abi frantically dusted hot embers off Joe’s jacket and then noticed a couple holes had burned through. “Say so long to this Ralph Lauren,” she said, almost smiling. She dusted ash from her silk slacks and knew she would soon be shopping to replace them as well. This wasn’t the first time their clothes had been ruined at a crime scene. But it was just clothing, replaceable and not forever lost, like a human life snatched away.
Tin sheets began sliding off the collapsing roof. Firefighters jumped out of range of the razor edges.
Joe kept the lens directed toward each new event and moved about quickly. He whirled around suddenly, “Abi?” he asked, looking for her. “Over here,” she said over the noise, having paused to snuff a hot ash that had settled on her sleeve.
Joe pulled her aside. “I ought to hire you,” he said. “Where’s the rest of my crew?”
“You give new meaning to the term dinner and a movie,” she said, shaking her head.
“Glad you could help again.” He flashed a ridiculous grin. This was not the first time Abi and Joe raced to a news event. Actually a photojournalist, Joe picked up jobs whenever he could get them. Crews covering breaking stories in the fast-growing towns of Seaport and Creighton were often unavailable. Way too many fires had happened over recent years, way too many.
Though Abi found it stimulating, even rewarding trailing along at Joe’s side, only one occurrence yet to happen could provide the fervent excitement for which she hungered. It would be the highlight of her existence and would heal a heartbreaking tragedy and set her life back on course. Excitement filled her days, but hope was what kept her alive.
“Look at us,” she said, laughing. “Our clothes are ruined again.” She swatted at ashes in both his and her hair.
“Wouldn’t want life to be too dull, would you?” His humor helped keep her emotions on track, always buoyed her when her own problems seemed overwhelming.
They picked their way through the area and got a few shots of the gutted ruins. From a distance, Joe zoomed in on the charred body.
“All these fires, Joe,” Abi said. “I’ve even thought about moving back to Lawton again. She looked around at the all too familiar scene and shook her head in dismay. “The gang violence here, it’s gotten way out—“
“Ha!” he said. “You haven’t lived in Lawton in five years. “The gangs there are worse than here.”
Finally, they were on their way to the TV station. Seaport had not enough news to employ full-time stringers like the hotshots down in Lawton who used satellite power to relay their video clips.
Inside Joe’s Range Rover, Abi said, “Strange how the army guys cleared out so quickly.”
“Why stay?” he asked.
“A lot of people wear camouflage these days,” she said, pausing. “Does the Army really send people to help?”
Here is my list of additional writing topics and events that hint at action deep in the plot. All of these points offer great opportunities for descriptive writing. They cement the story in an area, in the time of year, sets the emotional mood of the characters – so much is included.
men in army fatigues
Abi (the protagonist) pretending to help Joe
Joe being a free-lance photographer/stringer
Joe’s Ralph Lauren jacket
human life snatched away
Abi’s personal tragedy
hope kept Abi alive
A 2nd mention of Army guys in the same chapter.
Did you get a certain “feel” about this first chapter? Did you identify the descriptive writing? Can you see where the plot may lead?
Only a teaser is left about Abi in the first chapter, but you’ve already read the Logline above and know the story is about her and the search for her daughter.
If you hadn't read the Logline above, you can see that she can be funny and easy going (about their damaged clothing) and yet, she harbors this deep wish to have a personal dilemma resolved.
If you had not read the Logline above, by the end of Chapter 1, you should be wondering what could be so dire that forces Abi to create happiness in her life in spite of what she holds inside.
Hopefully, all writers hope the reader starts to like the protagonist and feel some empathy. But it is not necessary for readers to instantly like the protagonist. What’s important is that the descriptive writing and story overall is enticing enough to convince the reader to turn pages.
The rest of the descriptive writing detail in this chapter sets up the “background” and builds the plot around her. The story is about Abi’s search for her abducted daughter. Everything mentioned in this chapter will affect her search.
Some points to note:
The first chapter is not the only place where foreshadowing takes place in descriptive writing. It can happen in any chapter and surely will as the plot develops. However, in descriptive writing, foreshadowing MUST begin at the beginning or your story will put your reader to sleep.
When writing a novel, my advice is not to be too conscious about what you put into your first chapter – or any chapter, for that matter. Choose your writing topics, scenes and actions and then proceed.
What you must do is apply your best descriptive writing and get the chapter written. Only then should you go back and heighten any action and excitement. When writing a novel, or any genre, you do this with the use of the proper words, exciting verbs that describe the scenes and action in a heightened way.
I do not write the first chapter and then set it in stone before moving on to the next. Many people do this, but to refuse to change any chapter once it’s written drastically limits your ability to foreshadow plot twists or have the story write itself and change direction. Where in would you find descriptive writing, if not to go back and rewrite to improve upon your work?
For me, nothing is set in stone until I have made numerous changes to any chapter or character long after I considered that part finished. When writing a novel, or any story, only when I feel each thread runs smoothly through the story do I feel I am close to perfecting it.
Once I wrote succeeding chapters, I always reflect on the events and which ones should come first, which ones set-up others. I reflect on the villains and heroines. After writing successive chapters, I went back and re-worked this chapter and others.
But that’s not all. Once the entire story is written, many things may still change. Maybe it’s the succession of action events. Maybe a different character should to do this or that, say this or that. You cannot get that far without having written the whole story to first draft.
Descriptive writing happens when you give your muse free reign and simply write what comes out. One of the worst things writers do to themselves is to edit before they’ve developed their writing topics. Editing and polishing can’t be done unless you have a story to work with.
People say they love my heroines and villains. Writing true-to-life novels is my passion. Descriptive writing is what makes it exciting.
Good luck with your descriptive writing!