Starting With What

This is a guest post by Kenny Kemp.Kenny Kemp is the author of eight books, all of which touch upon thespiritual quest. He has written memoirs, sci-fi, parables, and historicalfiction and has won many awards for his work. He is also an attorney,filmmaker, and avid recreational pilot. You can find Kenny online at his blog, website or on Facebook.

When you write the first chapter of a novel, there is a temptation to create the world you will later populate with characters and plot.

As with all evil, resist temptation.

Instead, start your book off with what and let where and why sneak in later.

For my latest book,The Wise Man Returns, I did a massive amount of research about ancient Alexandria. I was so enamored of these fascinating details that the first draft of the first chapter included two pages of description that I considered essential to the story.

However, since the purpose of the first chapter was to grab the reader’s interest, I had to excise most of that glorious detail and be content with the following:

I had a long, curved knife with an ivory handle in my hand. Perfectly balanced and honed, it was a work of ancient art. I had waited a long time for this moment. Today, I would deal death, for I was immortal.

I looked toward the harbor where the Soma Street ended. Ships rocked in their berths, and the morning breeze caught flags atop the Pharos light. The morning sun turned the Green Sea silver and white. A gaggle of albatross lifted off from the rocks. The air was chilly, but a brisk walk would take care of that. I smelled sea, salt, and certainty. Today, I would fulfill my destiny.

I headed up the Soma: wide, marble-paved, and colonnaded. I felt my golden amulet bounce against my chest, a reminder of my limitless power.

I turned onto the Canopic Way, already thick with vendors, buyers, and slaves. I held the long knife loosely in my hand, swinging it back and forth as I walked, my face grim with purpose. Merchants saw me and fell to their knees, gesticulating. Children’s eyes were covered by anxious mothers. A woman closed her shutters. I heard someone cry my name out from behind a closed door. I kept my eyes focused ahead and my chin raised. I am Death, I repeated inwardly. All I do, I do for the glory of Serapis.

Suddenly you don’t care about anything except: Who is this? Is he crazy? Why does he have the knife? Has he killed someone before? Why doesn’t someone stop him? Can they stop him? Where is he going? Who is his intended victim?

Wise man, Christ child, Christmas books

What is going on?

Notice the key word is “what,” not “where.”

To this charged opening, add the dissonance of the benign title, The Wise Man Returns. Is this the wise man? If not, is the wise man the killer’s intended victim? We’re already taking sides. Jeopardy is in the cool, salty morning air. There are sides to take. To choose, we must know more.

Ray Bradbury says, “Find your main character and follow him.”

By the way, his name is Melchior and he is one of the magi.

What, you say, this delusional, potential murderer is one of the three wise men?

I lean back and smile. Now I’ve got you.