Daisy Jones - to "First"

Dear RWD member,

This week, we continue the story of Daisy Jones and the Six, reading up to the section break "First."

Synopsis: The two plots develop in parallel here. Daisy attempts to write songs and gets rejected. The Six record their first album and begin to tour. Both Daisy and Billy do a lot of drugs: for Daisy, the drugs seem to be a daily, habitual, almost low-key management of life; for Billy, the drugs come at the end of shows and are tied to cheating on his wife, in cycles of increasing self-destruction. The Six's album is good, we learn, and their fame is beginning. 

Craft lesson: where to begin

One question we might ask about these chapters is -- should they be in the novel? If the story is essentially "Daisy meets Billy and drama / magic ensues," could we not just begin, later, with the two of them meeting? Or perhaps have a dual prologue where we see them getting started, then jump forward to the meeting?

That I can ask this question is a clue to the limited help that knowledge of "structure" gives us. After all, you might think, "Well, Daniel, the answer to that question is easy -- let's just consult the Hero's Journey and see what the chart says."

But a moment's thought reveals that there is no obvious answer here. Sometimes, you are writing a novel that fits the model, and the whole act structure / 22-steps / Saves the Cat vision of story planning really helps.

Other times -- you aren't. In particular, many novels are interested in the past -- the "how we got here" is as interesting as "what is happening now." In such a story, it can be hard to figure out what is truly past and what is truly present moment. As a coach, I am always advising writers to focus on the present in their fiction, to drip in past events little by little as the protagonist takes real actions in the present of the story -- but that is just a technique -- a useful technique -- it does not remove this essential difficulty.

The choice is therefore: do I start "chapter one" in the past, and work up to the starting point of the "real story" over several chapters, or do I begin "chapter one" when the real story begins, and use flashbacks and reflections to fill in whatever key info is necessary from the omitted past?

One question you might ask yourself: are these sections of the past that I want to include genuinely dramatic and compelling? Are they story-shaped? I think that the story of Daisy and the Six starting their music careers qualifies by that condition! But many such backstories would not. In this novel, we see both of them struggling -- in radically different ways -- to find success.

(It's so clever how Daisy is shown to be frustrated music biz royalty from the start while the Six have to push their way up from the bottom with workman blues-rock.)

Another question: Does these past events show an important character shift or development? In DGAT6, we see Daisy and Billy start to use drugs heavily in these chapters. That seems like it's going to be important later.

(Note: I am using the word "development" deliberately here to indicate a story-type quality to the character demon material.. AKA this isn't a reason to begin chapter one with a difficult childhood or traumatic event, but rather the character changing distinctly in a scene or scene sequence -- does that make sense?)

Lastly: is there a genre-specific reason why showing the "past" is important? DGAT6 definitely qualifies here, as a fake biopic. A biopic would absolutely include this material, and would naturally proceed chronologically through the artist's life.

Hmm. I feel like I haven't uncovered the secret of starting in the past yet. Almost always, I would encourage a writer to start later. But I love how it works in this novel....

What do you think?

Discuss below!

  • Steve Dennett says:

    I found the first sections about The Six (“Rise of the Six & Debut) rather boring, perhaps because 1) the band wasn’t anything special, at least not until Daisy joined them, and 2) their story wasn’t unique, but rather the typical band story (garage, local gigs, get a break, cut album, go on tour, lead singer has personal & drug problems, etc.). Daisy’s story is more interesting because her background isn’t ordinary, and because she’s portrayed as being a star from the start.

    I would have opened the book with Daisy’s story, but cut down to the essentials, then introduce The Six when Daisy joins them. If there’s anything the reader needs to know about the Six later on, I’d work it into the first chapters through dialog and perhaps flashback.

    • I also found Daisy’s sections much more compelling. She’s a good character to hang a book on – a few memorable characteristics and a clear, thwarted desire.

      On the other hand, the sections about The Six felt more sprawling and less focused, probably because there were… six… of them (plus Camila, a producer, and probably a few others). Billy’s centrality to the story – which I’m mostly guessing at based on the above lesson – isn’t really obvious in the beginning, and I spent a lot of my reading energy being confused about which character was which. This seems like an inevitable shortcoming of the faux-biopic-transcript format, and as a reader I’m having a hard time overcoming it.

      But many people loved this book and TJR knows what she’s doing. Maybe the effect is intentional, a Greek chorus of bandmates commenting on Billy’s self-destructive behavior prior to meeting Daisy.

    • I’m not in Reading with Daniel. But I got an email link to a sample of the story–maybe because I’m in PPN–and read through the sample till I was asked to pay to read the rest of the book and declined to do so. I, too, found the first sections about the Six cliched. The shift from Daisy to the Six wasn’t exactly jarring, but it felt out of balance and a little inexplicable. And that section about the Six felt long in comparison to the initial section about Daisy. By the time we get back to Daisy, it feels like we’ve been in Western Pennsylvania too long and have to readjust to Daisy and her world. If this were an actual biopic of a massively famous band, that probably wouldn’t be the case, as we would know who the Six were, each member, and we’d be interested in the backstory of each member. Starting a biopic on Van Halen by shifting among each member’s backstory? Sure! I’d happily sit through that, and I wouldn’t be bored. But this author is not asking us to read about Van Halen. She is giving us a story of a fictional band in the form of a biopic. Why? It’s almost feels gimmicky. I think the author is relying on our prior knowledge of pop culture and the form of the biopic, allowing culture to do some of her work for her. But I don’t know if that tactic works here. Also, Daisy wanting to be taken seriously for her creative talent rather than being appreciated only for her looks feels cliched. I’m not saying it’s not a good character motivation, and I’m not trying to be politically incorrect, but how many times have we seen this in one form or another? I did find the story engaging enough to read the whole sample, but not engaging enough to purchase the book.

      • joycecorey says:

        “almost feels gimmicky’ –I agree. I see a lot of cliches here and I am not quite finished yet but I am wondering if I can predict the ending? Something tells me no.

        • I’ve only read the sample, and I don’t think I can predict the ending. But I don’t think a plot twist where Daisy and Billy get together would be a surprise. Nor do I think a relationship between Daisy and Billy unraveling in a big way would be a shock. One thing I was wondering–since I’m in PPN and since we all know how Daniel feels about eye color in a novel–is why we know what any of these characters look like. I’ve never seen a biopic on a famous rock band where the members or former members talk about each other’s looks. They already know that we know what they looked like at the height of their fame, so they don’t need to tell the interviewer about each other’s looks. This makes me feel like the writer’s desire to inform the reader of the characters’ appearances conflicts with her choice of the biopic form as a vehicle for this tale. I don’t feel like I’m being captious by saying this. Why go through the trouble of using a very realistic, biopic-style opening–the reporter–to cement form when you’re just going to flout form by having the characters say things that nobody in a biopic would say? And is the writer in fact aware that she is flouting form in this way?

  • I really liked that while these chapters were about the past, the characters speaking about it were in the present (I think). This makes me want to see what they are like when we get to the present, based on how they are discussing and remembering the past.

    • joycecorey says:

      I liked that aspect too–that the characters were in real time, talking about the past, and probably changing in some ways when the story get to real time.

  • Nic Nelson says:

    “Are they story-shaped?”
    What a great question… I will apply that to my early quasi-chapters to see whether I should include one or more of them, or just leave them as they are (“runway” writing exercises to get the story off the ground, then left behind as “not part of the airplane itself”).
    A couple of them were obvious candidate for short stories, so I am thinking of releasing them as pre-launch teasers to give readers a peek at a couple of key characters and settings.
    But since my story is also partly a “how did they get to this point?” sort of story, and I’m no longe confident about how/where to begin it, that one question might be the litmus test I need. Or at least a fresh lens to see and sort out those scenes…

  • Cynthia Robinson Young says:

    I’m glad that you attempted to tackle how to begin. I’ve written my novel starting at the inciting incident, and then was advised by my grad school professors to start with the back story, and go chronologically. Neither method seems to be working, since the inciting incident really pulls in the reader, but starting with the backstory felt like it made more sense. I’m still confused. I think Reid did it perfectly.

  • Adding my comment late to catch up with the course. I did not enjoy reading the beginning because it seemed to lag. At first, I wondered if I’d even finish the book had it not been for this class. As I’m writing this comment after finishing the book, I can say I enjoyed it. Having said that, I wouldn’t recommend it generally. But if I thought a person might like the experimental feel of the writing style, I would.

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