Author Topic: Is my first chapter a turnoff to agents due to topic?  (Read 287 times)

Offline MelanieLang

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Is my first chapter a turnoff to agents due to topic?
« on: January 17, 2022, 01:44:54 PM »
Serious question: Is my first chapter a turnoff to agents due to the topic?

I have a 77,000 word/33 chapter survivor memoir. The end of the 1st chapter ends where I question what to do after just being molested at age 7 by the man I thought was my father. (spoiler: he is not) I do not go into graphic details! But since the memoir outlines life with 6 fathers and 1 mother, and the theme is parentage, is this TOO much for a 1st chapter?

I've read mixed reviews about how to grab your audience early. I would love your thoughts.

Offline Tallis

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Re: Is my first chapter a turnoff to agents due to topic?
« Reply #1 on: January 17, 2022, 03:05:46 PM »

First, before any comments about the book... my heart goes out to you as a survivor. 

Second, in answer to your question:  my opinion is that it depends on the writing.  First chapters, or even first sentences, can contain devastating news.  If your voice is compelling and the reader is confident that you'll handle a complex and sensitive story well, they'll follow. 

When I was in graduate school, we saw a fair number of memoirs that touched on difficult subjects.  My own concern was never how the story started.  It was whether the writer had enough emotional distance from the trauma to manipulate the narrative elements dispassionately, and write about them as an act of literature and reflection, not therapy.  To put it bluntly:  therapists are paid for their attention, while readers give it voluntarily.  Or even pay.  I'm assuming (and also hoping as a fellow human) that you are healed enough from your own emotional wounds to do so.  In which case, the answer to your question lies only in how well you write.

I wish you all the best with this, and all your future stories.

Offline MelanieLang

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Re: Is my first chapter a turnoff to agents due to topic?
« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2022, 03:19:43 PM »
Thanks, Tallis! Yes, I am healed from all of the traumatic instances within the book. It is because of what I learned from them and how I survived that led me to write the book. How well I tell my story might be the issue. I'm not floral, nor is my writing deemed beautiful. It just isn't my style. The style is more conversational, as my editor puts it. I sit down with my reader and tell them my story, use imagery where needed and allow them to hear my inner thoughts along the way. I guess what I am getting at is that the stories are not beautiful, so the voice does not reflect that.

Thank you for your insight! I greatly appreciate your expertise and experience.

Offline Tallis

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Re: Is my first chapter a turnoff to agents due to topic?
« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2022, 04:11:30 PM »
Hi Melanie,

Very glad that you're in a better place now.

As for beautiful writing... the older I get, the more I think it's overrated.  Beauty tends to call attention to itself, and if you don't use it judiciously, you can obscure the story.  I used to work as a singing teacher, and often met students who added every color to every note.  They knew how, and they liked the feeling, so they did it.  But the result of such hyper-local focus is that the listener's attention is equally drawn to that single pitch... thus missing the drive of the whole phrase, and the expressivity of the larger arc.

Prose, like music, moves forward through time:  you don't want to arrest the reader too often.  It sounds like you've found the right tone for telling your story.  Some books that have moved me tremendously -- for example, Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time -- have used simple prose to heighten the reader's emotional engagement.

I hope you get your story out there.