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John Everyman

I am an aspiring fantasy writer, and I must say my idol is Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time series). I am always willing to take in advice from succesful writers, but some ideas in this article seem to conflict with his. I write like Jordan in the way that the first few chapters have small conflicts, leading up to the main conflict, and are mostly used to get a feel of the characters and the world itself. Is this an acceptable way to begin?

Crawford Kilian

Thanks for your comment. Of course the initial conflicts and challenges will be relatively minor, especially in the context of later conflicts. The first conflicts are, as you say, to establish character and to give us a sense of the story's world.

It's also important not to be in a hurry. A novel is a very roomy place, and you don't have to cram everything into the first chapter—or even, as some novices do, into the first thousand words. Just give us some interesting characters in an intriguing situation that's appropriate to the theme and direction of the story, and let the background seep in a little at a time.


I'm always amazed on the amount of good tidbits I find in your blog when I'm gone for a while. Thanks again!

mike delosreyes

i'm in the process of writing a fantasy novel - going on five years now - and i also find myself going back to the beginning to modify it to make it bleed into the rest of the novel. What i like to do is have the first line be something of a paradox; "when he closed his eyes, he woke." i follow this with a short sketch (nothing more than 2-3 lines) of what's around the character. i begin a new paragraph, repeat the opening line and then write another sentence that not only firmly sets the first line but also creates a new terror; "when he closed his eyes, he woke. he wanted to scream, but could not open his mouth." or something like that.

i also try and give a brief personality description of the main character - after all, the reader needs to be invested in him/her. i try to avoid "telling" the reader what the character's personality is; it's better to "show" through some kind of action or through some thought; "Vanity is my virtue."

once you have the reader hooked with the first line, give them a glimpse of the main character (through virtue or vice), and present the character with a problem (hopefully one that relates to the character's flaw), then you may be off to a good start.

good luck to all aspiring writers. and may your days be wonderful.


crawford: thank you so very much. this is wonderful. i'm heading off to cape cod this summer for a revision workshop and this is just the kind of insight i'm hoping we'll get into during the class. personally, when i sit down to work on my novel i remind myself of the importance of that first chapter by reflecting on my own rule for every book. i call it the ten page rule. if in the first ten pages i'm bored stiff, disengaged, uncaring about the charachters and their conflicts or just plain sick from stilted dialogue, i put it down. i don't feel obligated to keep reading and struggling through any story. i know most people feel the same way, whether it's film or narrative. kind of keeps me on my toes.


Naba Barkakati

Crawford, Your blog is so helpful! I have written some computer books, but never any fiction. Just recently I started my own blog and then stumbled upon your excellent fiction writing blog while searching for writing tips. I subscribe to your blog now, so I'd be sure to keep up. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!


I've just discovered your blog, and I must say, I'm learning a lot. I worry that my initial conflict is not enough to carry the work.

Crawford Kilian

Think of your initial conflict as "the expulsion from Eden"--something goes horribly wrong with the status quo of your main characters, and the story that follows is about how they deal with that expulsion--whether by regaining the garden or going on to "the Holy City": some different but acceptable state of affairs.

The expulsion should also reveal some deep insecurity in your protagonist, something that will provide an intense motivation to do something besides sit and mope.

Of course, the characters may fail to get back to the garden or to create a new heaven; the uncertainty about the outcome is what keeps us reading.


I have been writing and working on my novel for the past one and half years now. What is the time limit one decides... or keeps in mind to say okay, now my novel or idea is complete? Is there any?

When does one decide, no more changes.. lets get to wrok and finish the thing, instead of dilly dallying around and working about it... you know coming to a conclusion. hen does one decide that the manuscript is complete? What determines that.

Cos I'm still not sure where to stop right now and am also well aware that you can't just go on and on, you need to come to a desicion and write a "The End" to it.

Crawford Kilian

Every novel takes the time it takes. Some novelists finish in weeks or even days (in Vancouver we have a Labour Day Weekend Novel Contest, and lots of people finish with a book). Others take years.

Setting a deadline (or having a publisher who sets one for you) can focus your mind. You still make changes, but you make them on the fly; they're not the kind that require a complete new draft with a brand-new hero. I was nearing the last chapter of Greenmagic when an idea occurred to me that changed the whole mood of the story. It required some very minor tweaking in chapter 1, and gave the ending a real kicker.

Once you've dealt with the climax of the story, when we learn how your main characters meet their greatest challenge, you have the denouement to finish: tying up the loose ends, creating a new vision of the novel's world post-climax. Ideally, this ought to bring out some image or theme from the very early part of the story—something that now, in the light of the novel's events, we see very differently. The denouement of The Lord of the Rings is a superb example, with the postwar melancholy tempering the desperation and triumph of Sauron's fall.

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