My two fellow campers and myself sat through the downpour, happily dry in the Big Meadow Lodge but with worries about our campsite. The storm tracked along the Blue Ridge Mountains and put it directly over our tents which were comfortably snuggled among the trees of the Shenandoah National Park. But who could pull themselves away from the second craft session on First Chapters to the futile task of saving our camp? Our tents were staked down, so no threat of Wizard the Oz II. Fellow Slushbuster Stephanie, the engineer amongst us, had strung up a tarp over our picnic table the day before. It withstood a very windy night so we hoped it could survive this summer thunderstorm.
Again Alisha Niehaus, Senior Editor from Dial Books for Young Readers led the session. Her advice on what needs to be in your first chapter came in three pitches: show who the characters are emotionally, plant a seed of where the plot will take the reader and create a clear and unique voice. Hit all three and you’ll have the bases loaded.
On the matter of voice, she described it as heart, made from melding together the voices of the author and characters.
As examples Alisha used two novels she edited, showing the before and after rewrites. This was a real treat of the s’more variety. The two books were Savvy by Ingrid Law and The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. Her edits included changes in plot to build more tension, scaling back characters so as not to overshadow the main character, creating other characters and, of course, grammar corrections.