Fiction Writing Made Easy

#127: First Chapter Analysis: The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

January 30, 2024 Savannah Gilbo Episode 127
Fiction Writing Made Easy
#127: First Chapter Analysis: The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

“It might seem strange to start a story with an ending, but all endings are also beginnings. We just don't know it at the time.” - Abigail K. Perry

In this episode, we’re talking about The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom to see how and why it works. Join Abigail K. Perry and me as we break down this first chapter to see how it hooks our interest and pulls us into the story.

Read the blog post here!

Here's a preview of what's included:  

[02:40] Chapter summary: Abigail reads a summary of the first chapter and talks about how (and why) the author gives away the ending of the story upfront.

[15:52] Macro analysis: We talk through the 7 Key Questions as laid out by Paula Munier in her book, The Writer's Guide to Beginnings, and how the chapter serves as a compelling opening for a character-driven story.

[21:42] Abigail talks about how this story is a great example of a novel with a unique voice.

[45:46] Micro analysis: We talk through the structure of the scene using the 5 Commandment scene framework as laid out by Shawn Coyne at The Story Grid, including the use of “postcard scenes”—a term they borrowed from Donald Maass.

[58:30] Final thoughts: The first chapter is essential in driving the story forward so writers should ensure that they are delivering enough of the big picture to engage readers.

Links mentioned in this episode:

Want to write a novel but not sure where to start? Click here to grab a FREE copy of my Story Starter Kit workbook that'll help you get clarity on your characters, setting, theme, plot, and so much more!

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Speaker 1:

For me, when I read this first chapter, how I feel is well, I mean, this is kind of a silly word, but I just feel emotional. I feel emotional about how they have big feelings. I think that longing, that terror of wanting to add value to life, and also, I think, even if you haven't been at some place in your life to feel this way, but feeling like you can reach a place of just exhaustion and acceptance of what your role is.

Speaker 2:

Welcome to the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast. My name is Savannah Gilbo and I'm here to help you write a story that works. I want to prove to you that writing a novel doesn't have to be overwhelming, so each week I'll bring you a brand new episode with simple, actionable and step-by-step strategies that you can implement in your writing right away. So whether you're brand new to writing or more of a seasoned author looking to improve your craft, this podcast is for you. So pick up a pen and let's get started.

Speaker 1:

Hey, Savannah. Thanks so much for analyzing the five people you meet and have been with me. I'm really excited to dig into this one. This book is one of my favorites from when I was younger. I don't know when it was published now I'm trying to find the quick copy right there but I know it's a much older one. One of Mitch Alvam's, one of his earlier books. His first book was actually, I believe, Tuesdays with Maury, which was a memoir, and this is his first fiction book. But I've been a big fan of Mitch Alvam since I was little, and this book in particular, so now it'll be fun to analyze it with a deep lens.

Speaker 2:

Yes, I'm excited too. And, for everybody listening, I have not read this book, but I did see the movie they made based on this book a while ago. I do have the knowledge of what the story is, but I haven't read it in depth like Abigail has, so it'll be fun to see kind of what we each bring to it, based on Abigail knowing the most about it and me knowing the least about it.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and I haven't read this one in a long time in its entirety, but I know it pretty well because I've read it several times. Yeah, if you like this first chapter, go for it. It's a quick read but an emotional one.

Speaker 2:

Yes, yep, I think you said it's only like 196 pages, so definitely a quick read. Do you want to kick us off with a summary of the chapter we're going to look at? Yeah, sure.

Speaker 1:

So in this first chapter it's actually titled the End and it's about the day that Eddie dies. So the story is about Eddie and he or Eddie the maintenance man as the children call him, and he works at Rubikierre, which is an amusement park by an ocean. So I always kind of thought on the West Coast, but it's not specified to my knowledge if it's West or East Coast. Basically, you just kind of go about through Eddie's day. His job is to maintain the rides at the pier and he goes through, and today is he's going to ride the roller coaster day. So he's looking at the roller coasters and fixing them. As he goes through his motions of the day he runs into certain people. One of them is a co-worker who he just has a quick conversation with, and his co-worker is excited about going off to vacation with his wife. So you can see some friendship there. Main thing that he runs into are young children. Young children really gravitate towards Eddie and he uses pipe cleaners to make little animals. He runs into one little girl specifically who you know is it Amy or Annie, he doesn't quite remember the name he makes the pipe cleaner bunny for her and then he's just going about going through his day he gets in a spat a little bit with a group of teenagers, kind of a grumpy man moment, which is funny because he talks about how he doesn't like teenagers. Then as you get further into his day of routines, each as we're moving along, we have a time clock taking down to how many minutes are left in his life. So we're aware that he's going to die.

Speaker 1:

In this chapter that we're taking down, we see that one of the rides, freddie's Free Fall, has an issue. It's up in the top and it looks like one of the cars that has four people in it is going to fall. Eddie realizes this and because of his knowledge of the maintenance he goes through, how to get them off safely, he has one of his co-workers get ahead and work to get those people out of the cart. As he's realizing with the evacuation, he realizes that there's a problem with the cable. Then if they release the brake the cart will fall.

Speaker 1:

He's trying to get everyone to move back because he realizes this almost in a moment. That's too late because they don't hear him not to release the brake. Not, people get back. But then the cart falls and he realizes right before it falls that there's that same little girl with a pipe cleaner who's going to be crushed by the ride as it falls to the ground. So he runs forward and he has also a limp, which is important with a cane. He runs forward to try to save her. The last thing he feels are two hands in his own and then he's crushed by the ride.

Speaker 2:

Right, that's where the chapter ends, which is really cool. There is also I want to call out some of the lines on the first page of the Kindle version where it says this is a story about a man named Eddie, and it begins at the end with Eddie dying in the sun. It might seem strange to start a story with an ending, but all endings are also beginnings. We just don't know it at the time. So totally giving away what's happening, right, what's going to happen. And then it also says on my Kindle version, on the first page, it also had a big new ride called Freddy's Freefall, and this would be where Eddie would be killed in an accident that would make newspapers around the state. So not holding anything back, which I think is really cool.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and that's one of the things that I've seen. That's really special with this book and I've seen people I've tried to do it in Amatate it myself and it's interesting to see when it works and when it doesn't. When can you give away huge details that are actually going to pull us into the story, versus when you give away too much that just kind of distracts us? Have you ever run into that Savannah where people give away too much information and actually decreases our enthusiasm to read forward instead of being the best you know.

Speaker 2:

Usually I see the opposite, where we don't have enough information and then it makes you not get invested as much as you want to be. But I think about it kind of what are we reading for? So we know he does die. I think we want to know, like maybe I don't know what it is life mean what it is life look like up until this point. How is this going to affect the people around him? We're not reading to find out how does he die. Other books I'm thinking like you know, action, fantasy stories or mysteries or things like that. We're reading to find out what. So like what's going to happen and how is it going to happen? You know maybe sometimes that deeper why, but yeah, this one's definitely like shifting it. We know the what right, so now it's just the background information.

Speaker 1:

Yes, and what I think is interesting about this is that this is also a tactic that can be used in a way to pull you into the story, that maybe it's something that you work towards the climax before you know it caused because it's causing that, why, why does this happen? Or what you're going to. Basically, the story for me, come about, how it actually gets to that point. As an example, if you have listened to me at all with anything that you know I love Hamilton that in the opening song of Hamilton it's Alexander Hamilton and you see Burr, aaron Burr, and he has the line of and I'm the man who shot him, and I think that that is what that story is about, like, how do we get from friends to friendemies, right?

Speaker 1:

That's what you're driving towards the climax in the story and this we had that big question of you know how is he going to die in this chapter, but one of the the interesting facts that happens by the end of it is did he save the little girl, right? And I think that's something that we hold on to to figure out. You don't know that and it's a question that Eddie continues to question throughout the story and it's really important. We'll probably get into this when we ask the question about what is the story really about? Yeah, too much into it, but I think that that is a really important factor of how we create the sense of mysticism within a huge event. That, again, is the beginning of the end, but aren't all endings just beginnings?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so I think, if I'm hearing what you're saying, it's about figuring out what question you want readers to read forward to and then giving us the information to answer some of the other questions, to start building that trust.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I think that not knowing the answer to everything, like whether or not we're trying to figure out why something happened or how it happened, is why we read forward, because if you give too much away without having those still unknowns, then there's no reason to move forward. But if you pull us in with character with this chapter does, and then you still have one of those why does this happen or how does this happen that is a reason to hold on and to read forward.

Speaker 2:

Right. So it's not about does he die, it's about what happens now that he is dead, both with the girl and with those around him. But the other thing I was just thinking too is we have to think about things from the reader's perspective, obviously, because imagine if this author didn't give us the fact that he died. So, let's say, the opening was still the same. It's like Eddie's at this pier, he's doing his daily job. Then we don't know for sure that he dies because the author doesn't tell us. Then we go into like backstory and him floating in the mysticisms of could be heaven, could be not, whatever. I mean we know it's heaven because it's five people you meet in heaven, but it would just be weird and it wouldn't, we wouldn't be grounded into anything because we don't know the answer to did he die or like what's going on.

Speaker 1:

That makes me think and this is an important question that I'd like to ask you. Savannah, I don't read this as a prologue in disguise. I read this as the first event. What you said just made me think of this, because if you were to start hypothetically and you were to cut this out, you could say sometimes stories start with backstory, and I think that starting with backstory can be meaningful if the intent of the backstory is to ground it as a character and establishing, rooting us really into what their fear is and why that fear bumps against their desire and how that can really start to establish character and make it character driven in the beginning, and I do think this first chapter does this. I don't think it's backstory because we are seeing this as the beginning and I'm trying to pinpoint exactly why. I don't see it as a prologue in disguise. So I'm wondering if you have Well.

Speaker 2:

I totally agree, because I don't see it as backstory either. But I know that in the upcoming chapters we do get into the backstory, right, yeah, yeah. So I think you're right. This is like we're in the moment with him, when his story starts, on the day that things change and his changes, that he dies, and then we go through hearts of his life and his current life in heaven. But I was saying earlier, imagine if we didn't have the fact that he died. So, because I see a lot of writers trying to leave too many questions open, and then it's almost like there's so many questions that we have no idea what's going on. So like pretend that he didn't tell us that Eddie died. And then it's like why are we getting all this backstory? Because we don't know if he died, right, but this gives us the opposite of that. We know for sure. Now we're reading to find out that why. So the backstory that's coming in the next few chapters makes a lot of sense.

Speaker 1:

Exactly OK. So to analyze this first chapter, as we have done in our other first chapter deep dives we'll do the seven key first chapter questions to look at that big picture means main font line, macro story, however you want to follow it, and then we will take a deep dive into the scene structure and we use the five commandments of storytelling from Story Grid in order to do that. So what do you want to start with, savannah? Do you want to read the questions? What me? To read the first.

Speaker 2:

Let's do the big picture questions first, and our very first one. So these come from Paul Munier's book, the Writer's Guide to Beginnings, which we are both obsessed with. And the very first question is what kind of story is this? So what's the genre? And remember, if you've been listening to these for a while, we look at genre in two ways. So what's the commercial genre? Where does it sit on the shelf, what's it marketed as? And then what's the content genre? So, abigail, you want to tackle commercial first? Sure.

Speaker 1:

So I would call this commercial fiction for that commercial genre. What I think is interesting is that this story is so character driven, but I do think it reads quickly and it is a while character driven. It's a lot about the plot that's happening to him in heaven. So it's interesting because I think that this would be marketed as commercial fiction. But if I were, I think that it's also a little bit more emotionally engaging.

Speaker 1:

Not that commercial fiction is not emotionally engaging, but I think that I see a strong pull of character driven in the material. So it's almost like for me personally, I see equal weights of character and plot. But it reads quickly and it is very plot focused as you go through heaven. So I'd probably say this is more of like a general fiction, commercial fiction area. And then I would say, for content genre, this is a story that I would actually classify as probably a worldview story. So I see it dominantly as an internal story and that's where that emotional drive, that character drive, is really important and you have life in that stakes. But those stakes are gone by chapter one right.

Speaker 2:

Yeah because we're not reading to find out. If he dies, we know he's dead, right, right.

Speaker 1:

Yeah Well, you have a lot of. Why I wanted to pick this one in particular is because one of my missions in life, I think, is to figure out how to tell these internally driven stories and balance all of these important external stakes equally. And this one exemplifies that in the sense that you can tell that we have really this internal arc. That is the point of the book. At the same time, we're going through a variety of external stakes as he goes through. But when I say, like the container of meeting the five people, so we have this container event of, okay, we're going through and we're going to meet these five people, that's the hook right, that drives the story forward.

Speaker 1:

But within that we're going to explore different types of content, genres. We're going to have a war genre, we're going to have a love genre, we're going to have different types of genres that are going to challenge his perspective of did his life have meaning? And that's where it's about worldview, his shift in worldview and the sense of did my life have meaning? And can I now proceed into heaven with satisfaction, peace, sophistication, wisdom, whatever you want to call that. I bet that great sense of I had meaning or I did not, and that's challenged by his conversations and reliving a bit of the backstories that we've learned that he's gone through in his life. Of the big moments in his life, I would say that define who, how he lived and why his existence mattered.

Speaker 2:

Right and I totally agree. I think it's a worldview story. I like what you said, that there's also external stuff that's driving the story forward, because we can't just have a character thinking to themselves about their life and there would be nothing to pull us through. So we want to find, as readers, the same questions that Eddie has. We want the answers to those questions. What did my life mean? Did I save the little girl? What does it all matter? And his worldview change helps us have a worldview change, which is really cool.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, I don't have stakes as a different question, but that just made me the question of did I save the little girl? I just want to save this now before I forget. I do think that that is a stake to him, tied to the sense of meaning, right, and he does not feel like his life was a meaningful life. And we get the sense of this early in the first life, page or two, where it talks about how he envisioned that he was going to do more with his life. But he ended up just working at the fear, like his father, right, and he's down himself for that lack of growth, I guess, in location and in role, of what he did professionally and personally after the war. He got pulled away for the war and then he comes back and I do think he desperately holds on to the stake of did I save her? Because it's almost like, if he can get confirmation that he saved her, there was some purpose to his life.

Speaker 2:

Right.

Speaker 1:

And that's something that both drives us forward to the end and also is confirmed in the end, and it is something that challenges us to see his definition of meaning and where there might need to be some gray zone that he needs to undergo, he lives this black life view right now and what is a meaningful life? And I know that's a big part of what engaged me going forward and also made me like him a lot, because you see this very heroic act. However, no person is defined by one act, even if it does make the papers across the town, you know.

Speaker 2:

Right. The other thing too is he was married and he lost his wife, right? Yes, yeah, so we get some of that in the first chapter and it's kind of like, okay, now that I am not the guy that I was in the war, now that I'm not a husband, what's it all mean? And then so, like Abigail said, he's just kind of existing. Then he dies and then he finds that meaning. So, yeah, totally agree about worldview. The second question we kind of touched on this a little bit. But the second question is what is the plot? And we usually take this to speak more to that content genre. So anything to add there?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so I'll elaborate a little bit as you go forward in the story. He's going to meet five people. You learn very quickly as you enter heaven that before you you know well, say, go through the gates of heaven, you meet five people that had a significant impact in your life and through that you kind of get insight as to what your purpose is or what gave your life purpose and challenges maybe some of the flawed worldviews that are holding you back from going forward with peace and closure. And you know there's not necessarily a hierarchy ranking of who you meet, but I've always I see it as there a little bit is a hierarchy of importance, a hierarchy of importance of how these people impacted his life, and it also in a way overlaps but goes in order of his life itself of who he meets as he goes forward. But all of that is going to challenge his very limited worldview that he doesn't believe that his life has had this sense of meaning, despite having actually had a pretty huge impact on everyday people. And that, I think, is what makes this first chapter so endearing, is that we see him going through the motions.

Speaker 1:

One of the things that you might hear in writing advice is don't go through the motions for an opening chapter. You can't just wake up and go through your day. That's quite boring because nothing happens. But something significant really does happen. In this first chapter we see his death like that's the start of the whole story. At the same time, how we go through the motions of his day reinforces the kind of person that any is. So it's becoming very care-driven and at the same time it challenges his worldview with what we're seeing that he might not see.

Speaker 1:

So how he interacts with children, there are little segues into his interiority that reflect on his life, like when he got in a fight and his brother being embarrassed about that. So you're kind of getting some insight of what matters to him, what his relationship with his wife I think it's Marguerite, right so I think that you see that there absolutely was a place of value for him. How he's kind to Dom is another interaction of these small interactions that he has by just being Eddie and what he doesn't see as value in how that can clash with actually the value that he gives to others. The plot is about bringing that to life in an externalized way, because I think that's something that, especially when writers set out to write these internally driven novels. They had the idea I want this to be the message, but they don't know how to actually create external conflict that manifests that change or that, you know, that shift in worldview.

Speaker 2:

Right, and I like what you said too about going through mundane things, because the setup in this book is that like, this is how he views his life. Right, he lives in this mundane world of I just repair things and I go through the motions and at best I get a little break to look out over the ocean and things like that, or I make a kid smile. It's a great way to put us kind of in his shoes, even though you know we do have a little distance with the omniscient narrator which we can talk about in a second. But it's not like you know. We see him waking up for the day and he's making his coffee and then he's going on the subway and you know it's mundane in the arena that the rest of his life kind of takes place in. So I think it's a good example of showing the mundane in an interesting way. Yeah, so we'll talk about that in the next question, which I think your answer is going to probably go to, is who's telling the story? So that's question number three.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I'm just looking for that. I always like to say. Alfred Hitchcock's line of drama is life, with the dull moments taken out.

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

That we don't need and making his coffee because that is not significant into what is going to set up expectations for what the real story is, right In the next scene, interacting with someone like Dom or the little girl with the pipe cleaner, bunny, that he gives very important for his setting.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so the POV is very important. The point of view here being an omniscient reader and I think the best comparison example I can give of this is that we cannot be limited to Eddie's point of view, right, even though it is about his shift. But Eddie would be too biased right into not believing in his value. So, while we're going to have other characters point blank saying to him why he had value in us, it's more than telling necessarily, because we're going to see scenes that prove those points Right, while you go into these moments of these people that he meets, if you were to limit us to Eddie's, I think it would do a disservice to the story because we would be too limited to the sense of seeing something like this first chapter does why Eddie is this actually like, not actually, but why he is this meaningful person and why he actually offers such great purpose to the lives of others, to life itself, despite what he sees as small, being just this maintenance man working at this pier that he's. He feels a little bit like he's been frozen or trapped in his entire life, right, and I think that, whereas and right, you get that pretty early in the first two pages. He had broken the emphasis, yep, you can just find it. And then there's the question where it talks about how he just eventually, he just settled and he just accepted that he was going to be this maintenance man who followed them the footsteps of his father. And you get the sense, through that omniscient point of view, that Eddie looks down on that a little bit. Yeah, also, it's more like built into his resentment or his disappointment and what he had dreamed his life to be and what it didn't become because of circumstances that were really out of his control, like going to war, right, and eventually then just kind of accepting and settling that. So I think that that's very there's a pretty universal feeling, I definitely.

Speaker 1:

I think that people can understand it, even if they haven't experienced it themselves the feeling of thinking that your life is going to be more, but then also the reality of what life is as responsibilities come in.

Speaker 1:

As an adult, so as a child, you can dream about your life being this big, grandiose adventure. And while I'm not saying that you can't have adventure, I think what that life of adventure is drastically changes when you become an adult and you see that you have to do things like work or job to feed yourself. So I think that that's something that really sticks us into an understanding of why Eddie feels like he's been a bit frozen in life and he's disappointed at that at the age of 83, his birthday. But if you were to limit yourself only to Eddie, we would miss key interactions like how the children, how you would be. We'd be focusing too much on how Eddie is reacting and how he's feeling to the children. We want to go on the roller coaster ride with him, for example, versus how having a little bit of distance allows us to see that in an unbiased interaction and forces how good of a person Eddie is, even if he can't see it himself.

Speaker 2:

I think that's interesting too, because there are parts in the first chapter where the omniscient narrator is telling us how good of a repairman Eddie actually is. So, although he looks down on it, there's a part where he's kind of like I can hear the wrongness happen or he can hear trouble and he hears certain things in the equipment. So he's really good at his job. And it even says his job was maintaining the rides, which really meant keeping the people safe. So he has an important job. He's really good at it. Like you said, the children are reacting to him in a different way and I agree that, being in Eddie's head, he would be an unreliable narrator if we were in his head. But the thing I want to ask you, because I know you have a lot to say about this is we're not getting a ton of Eddie's interiority because we're in the omniscient point of view. However, there's a lot of voice. The opening is not neutral. Can you talk about the voice in this opening a little?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I think. Well, I think that there is. When you do, it's not quite interiority, but when you do get pulled into Eddie as a character, we feel his grumbliness. I'm going to call it and it reminds me. This came out before a man called Uva by Frederick Backman, but we have a very similar character here in that we haven't a natively good protagonist, but they're old and grumbly because life has caused a lot of emotionally challenging obstacles, has come into their life throughout their life.

Speaker 2:

And they've lost their meaning.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, they've worn them down a bit and like case in point, like as an example of voice, I found that paragraph. So it's on page five if you have the printed version, but I'm just going to read it really quick to show you this. So greasing a track, Eddie would say, required no more brains than washing a dish. So like, right there there's attitudes there Required no more brains than washing a dish. The only difference was that as you got dirtier you did it not cleaner. And that was the sort of work that Eddie did Spread grease, adjusted brakes, tightened bolts, checked electrical panels.

Speaker 1:

Many times he had longed to leave this place, find different work, build another kind of life. But the war came. His plans never worked out. In time. He found himself graying and wearing looser pants, in a state of weary acceptance that this was who he was and who he would always be. A man must stand in his shoes in a world of mechanical laughter and grilled frankfurters. Like his father before him, like the patch in his shirt, Eddie was maintenance, the head of maintenance, whereas the kids sometimes called him the ride man at Rupee Pier. Right, that's omniscient in the sense that we are detached. It's a narration of Eddie, but through that we see insight to the grumbliness of Eddie and how he is this kind of like old, grumpy man, but also a teddy bear, you know, when it comes to the right people, and also his opinions and his thoughts as to what has brought him to where he is. So I say this with voice. It voices so challenging sometimes, Savannah, because it's one of those things that it's both character and author.

Speaker 2:

I feel and either way. It can't be neutral.

Speaker 1:

It can't be neutral and like there is. I know it's a tricky word to kind of define because you have to define it in its own way yeah, but it has attitude. Yeah, that'span's they said Carrie. That attitude defines the type of character that Eddie is. At the same time, it's not necessarily Mitch Alvin who's telling the story, but if you read any Mitch Alvin's books he has this voice, yeah, and it's easy to read.

Speaker 1:

It's very Specific with the diction, I would say, and how it is, selecting ways to describe Certain characters and descriptions of the setting and the action, as well as the emotion, so combining things with like. And that was the sort of work that Eddie did Spread grease, adjusted brakes, tightened bolts, checked electrical panels. That is what he is going through as the motions of his everyday life, that's what he does. So you know that's kind of telling us something, but then we get pulled into this character and why this voice matters and how you create attitude, because many times he had long to lead this place, find different work, build another kind of life.

Speaker 1:

But the war cane, yeah, it does a good job at Basically creating these simple sentences, but these simple sentences that have a lot of emotion in them, at the same time varying the amount of words that are in each sentence, which I always like to say. You want to have sentence variation like, because that allows us to feel voice more in a harmonic way then necessarily falling into the trap of sentences that you'll like, the similar length and Skipping the voice a lot. So, especially in addition, when you don't have such an opinionated first person Riding the story, we need to see that rhythm in an innovative way, right yeah?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and so this kind of leads into the next question, which is number four which character should we care about the most? I think it's probably pretty obvious. Yeah, thank you.

Speaker 1:

We also care about the girl. Yeah, that's true that he's gonna say obviously, eddie is the protagonist here and I think what most connects us to him is how other people might perceive his purpose versus how he perceives his purpose and meaning. And that creates sympathy for him because we see how he is, again, an innately good character. We kind of chuckle a little bit when he has the interaction with the teenagers and he waxes cane against the roller coaster and that scares them off. And that's funny because earlier we we see how children loved him just based on his appearance. It made it look like he was always smiling like a dolphin, but teenagers Didn't really like him and he didn't like teenagers. And then we see that interaction which adds to the humor of that moment and I think that with kids that's one of, you know, a very saved the cat moment, right in the sense that he's also elderly.

Speaker 1:

So, like double-captics, there's Chloe, a couple techniques to use with, say, the cat is anyone who Saves or helps elderly people or children is immediately a likable character.

Speaker 1:

And he is elderly and likes children, so the children gravitate towards him and while he kind of grumble, grumbles with, you know, with with even this little girl who.

Speaker 1:

He interacts with a pipe cleaner, he turns into a bunny you can see he's like where your parents and she's like moms with her Boyfriend and he goes, oh you know, in his night. He didn't say it out loud, but the narration shows us again Eddie's voice through that. Yeah, so we, as an adult reader, understand how much hacks into that realization of oh, but that girl is just a innocent little girl who's now alone in the theme park and then is, though of course, intentionally placed as the one who's going to be crushed by the ride, and I think Eddie would save whoever was gonna be crushed under that ride. But it adds To the type of person he is when he is so desperate to get there and save, and save that little girl, and that Really bleeds and molds into the story itself, because a huge arc in the story is going to be a A mistake he made by accidentally killing a little girl in the war.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and I think if I were listening to us and you keep saying he's grumbly, I might be like, okay, how do I write a character that's not perfect and super likable in In a way that people are gonna relate to them? And I think a lot of what you said is the answer to that question. You know, like we need to see, like how they're interpreting the world, which we do get, even though we're an omniscient narrator, or the save the cat moment, like you talked about, and just the other people's reactions to him. So we see him, you know, not only deal with children and things like that, but he gives Dom some money to take his wife someplace special. Yeah, I think it's their birthday or anniversary or something, right, abigail, yep, yep. So like we see that he's this very nice man actually, no matter what he thinks of himself.

Speaker 1:

So yes, yes, he's very selfless and like even, and he also doesn't.

Speaker 1:

He's, he knows, I think, what you said earlier, savannah he's extremely competent at what he does and that's another time you have with creating an interesting character is making them really confident at something.

Speaker 1:

He's confident at maintenance, but also you can tell that he is worldly. Yeah, having only lived at the pier, I mean, he's, he's been I think it was vietnam, so I he's been to war and one of the the things that you can see where he Is humble is that when Dom makes a comment, after he gives him that gift, about how they're with fishing, one day we're going to catch a halibut and Eddie's line is something, well, the narrator's line, the next line is something like Eddie says basically, yes, you. And then it's again pulling us into Eddie's character voice a bit. Although he wouldn't, he knew that you could never pull that big of a fish out of that hole that they were fishing, and I think that's a choice, right, that's a choice from that character to either shut someone down, what is something that is hopeful to them, or just to kind of allow them to have that. Yeah, that again reinforces the innate goodness that I believe is exists within Eddie and his humility, despite feeling him in his own heart that he doesn't have value.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and I think it's important, no matter what kind of character you're writing. Like Eddie's a good example of someone who's not just one note, so he's not all grumbly, or he's not like all super nice, right, he's a mixed bag, like all of us are. So I think it's really important to show that, no matter what kind of character you're writing. Mm-hmm, yeah, but the next question is setting. So where does the story take place?

Speaker 1:

Yep, so this is at Ruby here, right, and then then we're actually going to enter heaven, so we know that he's not going to be on earth very long. You know that by the title, so that's how you kind of go in there. But when this chapter opens up, we are in his place of work at Ruby here.

Speaker 2:

Yep. And then the sixth question is how should readers feel about what's happening in this opening chapter?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I think that for me when I read this first chapter, how I feel is Well, I mean, this is kind of a silly word, but I just feel emotional. I feel emotional. Yeah, they have big feelings. I think that that longing, that that terror of wanting to add value to life, and also, I think, even if you haven't been at some place in your life to feel this way, but feeling like you can reach a place of just exhaustion and acceptance of what your role is, and Still not feeling like that is adding value in the way that you hoped to give to life itself or the world or people.

Speaker 1:

I think that's where Eddie is and that's a sad Truth that he's struggling with. So I'm sad for him Because I see, from this little bit detached perspective, how he already is instilling value in the world and in people's lives Just by being him. But he doesn't see that and that makes me sad, right. So I think that's an emotion that I go to. You know, sympathy is an empathy is definitely an emotion that I go to. I don't want him To suffer with that lack of, you know, sense of meaning, right, and I think that that's what you're hoping for by the end of this book is that he Can have joy and peace with who he was in his life.

Speaker 1:

And I like to say, like it's a very it's a wonderful life situation when you have a George Bailey and they are a good person and they've done a lot, but they feel small and I think that not everyone who feels small gets the opportunity to see just how important they are, and you don't even. That importance doesn't even have to be to a massive amount of people. It could be to one person, but it could be a life-changing experience and we don't get to see that. We don't get to see our ripple effects all the time. Most of us won't get to see our ripple effects in as large of a way as they can be. So I think it Is a book that ends us with hope and a great sense of meaning, but we feel sadness and I mean like stasis, really right, and not even. It's almost. It's like your exhaustion. I I think it's a word that I'm going to put myself into, adi it's just kind of like acceptance, right, acceptance in a way. That's like this is just what it is.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and I think, like based on if we were crafting a story like this and we know the ending's kind of coming with that Hope, we need to show the opposite right, to show that arc of change, so it sets us up to have that emotional payoff at the end. But I also feel sad, like when I read the question I was like yep, the first word that comes to mind is sad. I feel a little worried, I guess, like I read about it and I'm like gosh, I hope that doesn't happen to me. You know we've all had moments like that, but I don't want to be 83 and feeling like eddie.

Speaker 2:

So I feel that I feel curious about, like, what actually did happen, because we we know that he dies, but we don't know about the girl. We just know that they class pans. We don't really know anything else. Did anyone survive? You know things like that.

Speaker 1:

So and I do feel fear during that as well, so you'd feel fear when the dry.

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I'd go say wire.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and so then, stakes is the next question, and we want to ask why should readers care what happens next? Why should we read into the next chapter?

Speaker 1:

This is a really interesting questions for this first chapter, because the main stakes it feels in this first chapter are life and death, but they're not the only stakes like the internal stakes and the external stakes, for what is really at risk here and what happens in this actual chapter Are equally weighted. I would say, yeah, you have life and death stakes in this first chapter we are going. We also know that he's going to die. It is the catalyst for the story. So you're dealing with life or death on the physical landscape and then you have these psychological stakes, this latke sense of meaning, and I think you don't really see it until, necessarily, he starts really getting into the other characters.

Speaker 1:

But you can see how, in the moment that he's saving that little girl or, you know, attempting to save that little girl, he probably, and in his heart of hearts, if he was honest with himself, you wouldn't be risking your life, unless you're hoping that that's going to be successful.

Speaker 1:

And like you, he wants to save her. He doesn't know if he saves her or not. Whether or not he saved her or not doesn't mean that he would change his attempt right. So I don't think he's going in there with like I'm gonna be the hero type of attitude. He does it, it is instinct. But at the same time I do think as we get into heaven he desperately asks at the very end of every conversation with each person did I save the little girl? And I think because he's genuinely concerned for that little girl's life. At the same time, I think that it feels to me almost like if he can say that he saved the little girl, it would feel like there was a greater sense of meaning or like some purpose to what he was supposed to do with his life.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it's interesting too, because I feel like children are the ones that actually made him feel important or seen. So you know, to have it be a little girl versus the little girl's mom or someone else, I don't know, it just stands out to me and I think that that is I'm gonna give all right.

Speaker 1:

So this is a big spoiler If you haven't read this. This is very old. Yeah, I put your mouse on. You learn that the point of Eddie's life is because of children and you go through the story and you learn that he is unable to have children of his own but his life at this peer is able to protect and love children. Yeah, and like you get that at the end in this like extremely emotional moment where he has an opportunity.

Speaker 1:

What happens is that during the war, he accidentally burns a little girl alive in a house. He didn't realize that she was in there and the last person in heaven that he meets is that little girl and she's covered in the bird marks and he's able to take a stone and rub the bird marks off and she's the one who tells them your purpose for children. And it's like I'm like almost crying now. It's very emotional for me. You can tell like obviously I don't know. It's like to go through a life, to imagine going through your life feeling like you had no purpose and to finally like to see the bigger picture of it. That's cathartic.

Speaker 2:

You know, especially out of a situation that you remember is such a negative, horrible thing. You know.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and the other cool part about this again and this is why I wanted to kind of bring this up quickly making sure that when you have these internally driven stories why they can't just be about the sermon or lecturing the internal storyline, why they're going to be the most effective is when you're able to take all of these external plot lines and use them as a way of weaving them together so that they're enforced in a climatic moment that is cathartic because it is showing a physical, like a physical action that reaffirms what the internal lesson is. And you can't do the external action unless you have achieved the internal shift. And Eddie's fear is that his life had no meaning, right, yeah, his entire. And I think that when he's able to see his chance, that really like forgiving himself and finding value, and he's able to scrub those bird marks off, that he's able to do that because of the lessons that he's learned throughout the chapter. I think he would have been too afraid to do it if she was the first person that he met.

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

It has to be the fifth person. And then he asked her, did I say the little girl? And he asked about the hands, and the little girl tells her those hands are mine. So it was like. I just think it's something that's really important when you are, when your goal is to write an internally driven story, you have to always very intentionally use these external plot lines as a way of eventually threading them together in a climatic moment. That shows how everything comes together with purpose, and that purpose is how the internal view shifts because of what they're able to do based on the lessons that they've learned.

Speaker 2:

Right and to point or to highlight something that you said is this is how you write escalating conflict in an internal story because, like Abigail said, the fifth person was that girl, right, so she's not going to start out as the first one. Each person he meets is going to get harder and harder to accept what they're saying, deals with what they're saying and things like that, and that's a perfect example of escalating the conflict and the stakes in an internal story.

Speaker 1:

And nice for the question is, he goes on then to be the first person for that little girl, and she does so which is cool.

Speaker 2:

So okay, so that's a big picture. Look at what this opening chapter tells us. I know we went a little into kind of the next few things, but that's a lot for one chapter, right? So this is what we all want our first chapters to do is give us a glimpse of the big picture and answer those questions. And now we're going to dig into the scene structure. So we're going to identify how many scenes are in this chapter and we're going to analyze the scene, or the scenes, using the five commandments from the story grid. So if you're a fan, you'll recognize the structure. But given the chapter summary you went through earlier, abigail, what would we say is Eddie's goal? Because we always like to start there.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah. His goal is simple in my mind it's just to go through the day checking out the rides, right. Specifically, he wants to ride the roller coasters today because he wants to keep people safe and he chooses of one ride a week to focus on what issues could be.

Speaker 2:

Right, yep, and I think this is really important to establish because if we keep this in mind of like, I want to make sure the rides work so that people are safe we can identify what's the conflict that gets in the way of that goal. So two things I want to talk about big picture. First is how many scenes do we see in this chapter? I see one scene, one chapter, yep, and so we agree on this. We think there's one scene in there. And then also, if anybody has the book, you'll notice there's a lot of like breaks between moments.

Speaker 2:

So I think this could be a confusing thing for certain people to analyze because they might say, okay, here's a little blurb where he talks to the young girl that goes for a page and a half and then there's a break. And then there's another little moment where he's talking to Dom and then there's a break, right? So Abigail and I ignore these breaks and we're just kind of looking for the arc of change that we can focus on and what's the goal? And then what's the conflict that gets in the way of that goal that creates change? Anything to add there quickly, or do you want to go into the structure?

Speaker 1:

No, I think it's important to ignore the breaks in my and I think that you'll notice that when there are breaks this was often they are weaving in some backstory, some quick backstory details. But those backstory details that are saved in this first chapter are not just impodemping, they're purposeful on that. What happens before them makes sense as to why Eddie is thinking about something from his life, right, and also they are actually sending us up for conflict and people that we're going to meet in heaven. So they are very intentional. They're not just random, but we'll see them pay off.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and Abigail and I were talking off podcast before about something that Donald Moss calls postcard scenes. So I looked up this definition, which we can talk about later if we want. But if not, you guys can go look up Donald Moss postcard scenes and it says while scenes consist of action and move the plot forward, postcards are moments when the author pauses to take a deep dive. That causes change, not in the situation or any of the characters, but in the reader's view or perception. They're moments that lead to deeper understanding. So some of these moments Abigail is talking about that are backstory. Obviously a lot of them do this right. In some books you see full scenes of backstory and in this book we're not getting full scenes, rather these postcard moments.

Speaker 1:

Yes, a good example of a full scene is backstory woven within a first chapter is JoJo Moy's the Giver of Stars. I use that one as an example where you have like a good like two pages, I think, a backstory within the context of one scene. So this is a much shorter version of that, but if you wanna see a longer version of that, then I would say read the first chapter of that one, the Giver of Stars.

Speaker 2:

Okay, so thinking of the goal, which is to maintain the rights, to keep people safe, what are we saying? Is the inciting incident or that first little moment of conflict that gets in the way?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so it doesn't happen actually for quite a bit into the first chapter. It's when the right has an issue the Freddy Feet Fall Notice on the first page that we are informed that the Freddy Feet Fall is new right and this also kind of bumps up against Eddie's perspective of how things aren't as good as they used to be, kind of that, like you know, elderly mentality that can sometimes maybe feel tropey, but it's not tropey in the sense or not cliche in the sense, because we see how it applies to how he goes through his day. But I think that's we get it. We get the sense that this Freddy Feet Fall it's a new ride and that is going to be the one that then comes back full forces with having an issue with the inciting incident.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And so specifically in the text it's a woman yelling oh my God, look. And so he's got his eyes closed and he's listening to all the sounds that he says he could sleep through them all like a lullaby. But this voice was not in the lullaby. So it's like, okay, something's happening right, we kind of know. Then there's some conflict that builds. So he comes to out of his nap and he's like, okay, what's going on? He's looking around for things, and then what we're looking for next is a turning point. So that's the peak moment of conflict, where it's like now this has happened and we're gonna force Eddie into a crisis decision between two equally good or bad choices. So what will we say? Is that turning point?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so I think there are two places, but they're basically the same thing. But if you wanna be getting really specific, it's either when the ride actually falls, the car seat actually falls, and then he's gonna make that choice of go save the little girl who's underneath it or not, or it's his realization that there's an issue with the cable and that what he knows Dom is going to do will actually cause the ride's cart to fall, and that's when he starts screaming at people to get back. So they're kind of the same thing. But I guess, if you were to pick a specific one, is that what you saw, savannah? And if so, what one did you mean towards?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So I either saw it as when the cart started to fall, or when he sees the little girl and he, you know, yeah, I kept asking myself, like if he didn't see the girl, would he have run towards the cart at all? That's a good, probably not right. And then, like you were saying before, when he realizes that the breaks aren't going to work, or whatever the first option was, I'm kind of wondering, like what were his other choices right? Is there another choice? Or is he just kind of like don't push the brakes because it's not going to work.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I think you're exactly right. I think it's the when he sees the little girl. That is what would motivate him to move forward. Yeah, and it's almost involuntary, right. It's like so instinctive to him. He saves people and he saves specifically children. Right, when the people it's like. You know, when he shouts at the people to get back, it mentions that people did get back. So if the cart's just going to fall, who cares about the ride? If the part's going to fall and crush the little girl, that's a different story.

Speaker 2:

Right, well, and it's interesting because it actually happens. I'm just looking at the page now. It's like he sees the little girl and he's like Amy, annie, don't know who. His eyes shot from her to the carts. Did he have time? Her to the carts. And then it says one too late, the carts were dropping. So actually the carts drop after that. Right, but it's all like the same moment, right. It's like do something or do nothing.

Speaker 1:

I'm really going to think about, like how that action is reinforcing the internal struggle, right, which is a fact, uh-huh. So that's it. The stakes are raised, because I think if he doesn't act, he would never be able to live with himself, right.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so it's like not literally dying, but you know his psyche and his heart will be ripped out of his chest if this little girl dies or he's going to risk death literal death, right. So that's like his choice. We don't spend a ton of time with him going. Should I do this or should I not? Because there's just not time. But you know he's consciously saying like she doesn't have time to escape. What am I going to do, kind of thing, right? So that's the crisis and then the climax. We know this is like what action they take. So his action is he goes to the little girl. We know they clasp hands and the resolution, I think, comes probably in the next chapter. Yeah, yeah.

Speaker 1:

So the resolution I would just say is he dies. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

You know, I think the resolution is he dies and then the other little girl that you will get to learn pulls him to heaven. So the next chapter is the journey, which, like you're saying, is that could really be the resolution if you were to combine it with this first chapter if you wanted to, because it doesn't really have a decision in that. It's more like his wanderings about where he is and what has happened, and did he say the little girl? So it is, it's very quick, so you could call that resolution.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so, but I like what you're saying. Like the result of all of this is that he dies, which we were told in the very beginning, right. So now that we have kind of identified the structure, we can look at, ok, what's changed and how do we feel about the arc of change? And the most obvious one is that he went from alive to dead. Right, but there's obviously a lot going on underneath that too.

Speaker 1:

Right, right.

Speaker 2:

So I mean he took action. Obviously he thinks life in general has some meaning, maybe just not his. Maybe children are worth protecting. We know he thinks that. We know that's part of his arc, so we see that enforced in the beginning. But yeah, I think that's a great change.

Speaker 1:

It's a great example of how, when you have life or death on the page, it's very difficult to not see that as a value shift. Because it is a value shift, right, we go from life to death and usually you can pinpoint I guess I'm just generalizing here, but I think that it's easier Sometimes it can be easier to pinpoint the external shift, but if this is a worldview story, you can absolutely argue why this moment impacts the big picture. Right, it impacts it and with the worldview challenges like the main value at stake, meaning that you're dealing with a spectrum that goes from meaninglessness to meaning, or sense of meaninglessness to sense of meaning in his case, and this absolutely would impact that, and I think that's actually reinforced with his wondering of did I save the little girl? Because they're inseparable to him. His death will have more meaning if he had saved her.

Speaker 2:

Well, and it's kind of like we can piggyback on the change. He goes from alive to dead. He goes from alive wondering if his life had meaning. He's still wondering that by the end. But now it's like you're no longer alive, so your chance is out, right Kind of thing. So it's a very interesting place for the story to start and I think obviously the arc of change works because we're at this point we're like OK, well, now what?

Speaker 1:

Right Bond advances characters developed absolutely.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and so you. When we talked earlier, you mentioned something about how Census Book is so short. How do we think about this first chapter, Like, is this the majority of an Act? I and we had a quick math which I'll just quickly say before you add your two cents.

Speaker 2:

OK, go for it we did some quick math, because I like to see percentages, and so what we came up with was the end of this chapter represents about 8 and 1 half percent of the total book, and usually we see that beginnings are somewhere around 20% 25%. So it's interesting, because if it's not the total beginning, is it the inciting incident? There's so many questions we could ask, but go ahead, abigail.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and this is where I think I'd have to read the whole book again in order to save this confidently. But it does feel like the first chapter is a large chunk Of the beginning, right, a large chunk of Act I. It's absolutely the catalyst of the story. So that's questionable to mine. New Year's Inciting Incident has happened by the end of this chapter. I don't know quite where I think his point is this is right after we did it again or quite where I think his point in a return decision is, which might need to define when we shift from the beginning to middle or excellent to exhale, because he's going to go into heaven and he doesn't seem to really have much choice on meeting these people.

Speaker 2:

Right. So I don't know because I haven't read the book, but it would be an interesting case study to look at.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I mean, I do think that your point in a return, you can either be forced into it or you can make that choice. Right, this might be more of a case of you are dead. So this is what's happening now, right, but did we start with the middle as the first person that he meets, or is there a shift somewhere after that? I'm not quite sure. I'm having visions of me years ago looking at this and asking the same question randomly, and then I'm just wondering, when I did the math, if it's after the blue man who's the first man that he meets, first person he meets, if that's technically where we think he goes into acts in the middle. But yeah, it's a large part of it.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it's interesting to think about, because not that everything has to go according to the percentages we see out there on the internet, but it's just something. If we were to write a story like this, these are good questions to ask, just to think about. So we don't have an answer, but it's a question that we are pondering and we'll give it to you guys to ponder. Yeah, I think it's good to ask it regardless.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so I think this was a fun opening to study. It's definitely different than a lot of current commercial books, which is cool. Any parting thoughts?

Speaker 1:

Apigale, just that. I love this story. If you want to quick read, I can think I just reinforce. I think it's a great example if you want to write an internally driven story of how hey, go read it, take a deep dive and really pay attention to what you think are external stakes in the story as he eats the people, because we know that life and death is not really a steak because he is dead already. But there are life and death stakes sometimes that can exist in the page based on how the backstory moments, through less of a post-it and more of an experience of how it's written, play out. But a great example to see how you can take a variety of external stakes or external plot lines and use them as a way to thread a really cathartic moment in the climax that ultimately is empowered by the internal shift.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Yeah, I agree, definitely worth studying if you're writing something like this or something internal. But yeah, I think this was a really fun one to do, so thanks for doing it with me.

Speaker 1:

Apigale Of course, always happy to be here with you, savannah. Thanks so much.

Speaker 2:

So that's it for today's episode. As always, thank you so much for tuning in and for showing your support. If you want to check out any of the links I mentioned in this episode, you can find them in the show notes listed in the description of each episode inside your podcast player or at savannahgilbocom forward slash podcast. If you're an Apple user, I'd really appreciate it if you took a few seconds to leave a rating and a review. Your ratings and reviews tell Apple that this is a podcast that's worth listening to and, in turn, your reviews will help this podcast get in front of more fiction writers just like you. And while you're there, go ahead and hit that follow button, because there's going to be another brand new episode next week, full of actionable tips, tools and strategies to help you become a better writer. So I'll see you next week and until then, happy writing.

Analyzing the Opening Chapter
Genre and Plot Analysis in Books
Point of View Analysis in Stories
Eddie's Life and Compelling Characters
Analyzing a Chapter's Themes and Structure
Book Narrative Structure and Change Exploration