View Full Version : Help! Need expertise/opinion on how to approach chapter one

07-01-2008, 09:57 PM

I'm looking for some much-need and appreciated advice from some experienced members of the board.

I'm working on a non-fiction/biography on a former heavyweight contender boxer. I've put together an annotated table of contents that I'm nearly comfortable with. However, I have one burning question and it begs for the advice of writers here.

Without getting into boring detail (at least at this point it would be to you) the book centers around a fighter, who while undefeated and being the top ranked contender at the time, suffered a brain injury at the end of the fight (a fight he ended up winning- for the record). The "meat and potatoes" of the book is near the end, when the focus comes down to his legal battle to get back in the ring.

In my original table of contents; it was to begin with a fight (not the one I just stated where he was injured). It was a fight in his hometown, a sell out crowd and being shown live for the first time on HBO. The first round knockout win (wow I"m giving away too much info!) led to a couple more lucrative fights, the second of which was the fight I've referenced with the injury and sudden halt to his career.

Do you think that's the right way to lead off the book? Or if it was you writing the book (opinions are HUGE to me right now), would you lead off in chapter one with the fight where he was injured and chas enused.
I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place, because I have two views.

1- By not starting off with the most dramatic part of the book, the part that leads to the conclusion of the story, I fear the book will be overly chronological and have a "book report" kind of feel to it.

2- My book is heavily chronilogical right now (well I should say the outline, I haven't really come close to completing the book). By starting with the "big" fight where he's badly injured, I'd not only have to figure out a way to backtrack into chronilogical form, but I fear I might be giving away the most significant portion in chapter one.

What I do know for sure, is that for the book to be successful and have the best chance of a nice shelf life; it has to raise two burning questions (and I'm confident it will)
1- Would the boxer have went on to become heavyweight champion if not injured.
2- Should he have been allowed to fight again and should he have risked further injury once he was cleared to fight?

I'm just really stuck in a big way on how to go after the first chapter.

I'd really love to know how you guys would do it. If it would help (not sure if it would) I'd be glad to include a quick book summary, as well as the annotated table of contents. Maybe that would help form a better opinion?

07-02-2008, 07:22 AM
I would suggest reading the first chapters of the closest books you can find - about both boxers and other sports careers cut short. Obviously the story (and the hero) have a lot to do with sales, but seeing what books did well and how the authors approached the first chapter could give you some ideas.

Another option could be a compelling anecdote from the boxer's youth?

It sounds like the book jacket or even the subtitle would give away that the career was cut short, since that's where you're focusing your two burning questions. So do you really need to worry about giving away the significant moment?

June Casagrande
07-02-2008, 08:06 AM
One idea: Foreshadow. Tease it.

Start with a reference to what will be a great climax. Then rewind to the beginning.

Yes, when the book comes out, everyone'll know the end before they read page one, but it still builds drama and suspense.

I've been reading "The Kite Runner" and the author lured me through 60-odd pages of stuff I couldn't really relate to just by sprinkling in occasional teases about "the day in 1975 when Hassan stopped smiling" and "that day in 1975." I knew something big was coming and, even though the story is pretty well-known, that approach still makes for a compelling read.

I know I'm comparing fiction to non. Still seems relevant to me, though.

Just a thought.

07-08-2008, 02:47 PM
If you start with THE fight, in which he gets injured, could you have him waiting to leave the dressing room, sitting in his corner waiting for the ref's signal, whatever, thinking about his first ever fight in bite-size snippets?

i.e. The guy he's about to meet looks mean. As mean as his first opponent? Mybe not, and he'd felt more comfortable being in his home town on that occassion.

07-08-2008, 09:53 PM
By the way, there's no strong reason to start off with Chapter 1 - unless you're seeking to provide a few chapters to an agent/book publsiher quickly. What I did for each of my 5 revision rounds was tackle chapters 2-13 first, then revise the 1st and last chapters as bookends to the entire manuscript. And all the while I was shifting passages in and out between these peripheral chapters and the inner guts! It was helpful for me to get a feel for the book each round before enhancing the leadoff and finale chapters - that both went hand in hand.

07-08-2008, 11:21 PM
I've blogged about this very issue (I called it "Begin at the Beginning") (http://brianjayjones.blogspot.com/2008/05/begin-at-beginning.html), because I get asked this quite a bit, too. As biographers, we face some unique challenges in storytelling. We have the luxury (or disadvantage!) of having the story plotted out in advance for us, so we have the decide the best way to begin our story so we hook 'em early.

Some books start in the middle of the action then flash back, others begin with the birth of the subject. Both approaches work, depending on the subject matter.

In my case, I found it helpful to write the first chapter last -- that way, I could see the whole story in front of me first. I knew where the dramatic high point was, and I knew where the "beats" fell. Ultimately, I still didn't get my beginning right on my first try and went back and did it again. But you'll know the right beginning when you get it. I know that sounds completely fluffy, but it's true.

In other words, while we can all make suggestions, only you'll know what beginning works best for the story you're trying to tell. And once you write it, you'll probably smack your forehead and say, "Of COURSE!"

07-09-2008, 12:26 AM
Again, my instincts would be to tell you to start off with the most dramatic chapter you can--you've got to pull in your reader (editor) at those first 5 pages, so make them compelling. (See Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages.) Other than that, I'd advise not to get too particular with it, as you'll likely end up rewriting it a few times after you've finished your book and have a better feel for it. (Chapter 1 tends to get rewritten most often, I think.)