How to write a great first chapter
Hello everybody! Let’s talk about writing great first chapters. Not just any first chapters, but great ones. Now the first thing a reader will notice before picking up a book is probably the cover or title. Then they might read the synopsis and then well you guessed it they move on to the first chapter. A lot of writers stress about the first line…. a lot. But the first line isn’t as important as you think. Most times it’s impossible to hook the reader in one line. You want your first line to be good, but I would put more focus into the first chapter. But don’t worry because I’ve got you covered!
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1. What are your objectives?
Before you write your first chapter, it’s important for you to understand the objectives of a good first chapter. Now I have three that are super important to me, but yours could be a little different. Here are mine:
· Grab their attention aka the hook
· Conflict aka introduction to the story's conflict
· Hold their attention aka don’t make it boring
I am going to be covering these three and more in detail. But before we do start, ask yourself these as questions if you have already written one.
Does my first chapter grab the attention of my ideal reader?
Does it introduce my reader to my story and its conflict?
(And most important…) Does it hold my readers' attention?
Okay, the first thing you have is the hook. The hook grabs your reader and keeps them entranced. Whatever the genre you write, there’s a hook. It doesn’t always have to be huge and explosive. Consider the genre you write and your ideal reader. If you re your ideal reader, this might make things easier for you. Look at books you read and find out what hooked you. Your hook goes hand in hand with the introduction in some ways. Your hook can be an introduction to your characters' or your stories' conflict. If you write a plot driven story, then the hook will be the plot. The first plot point, that is. It doesn’t all have to happen in the first chapter. You just have to hint at your first plot point.
If you write character driven stories, your hook will look like an introduction to your character's conflict. Their fears and, most importantly, their current problem.
Your book doesn’t start at the beginning of your character's story. Your character's story probably begins when they’re born. Your story starts when something big happens. If that’s not where it starts, you have some cutting back to do.
Ask yourself what happens in my character's life that your readers needs to know about
What’s the first major plot point my reader needs to know about?
Like we talked about before the hook and introduction go hand in hand. But the introduction is more than just the hook. And it stretches for more than just your first chapter. The introduction can introduce your reader to multiple things. This can include your plot, characters, and world-building. And it obviously also includes conflict. But you need to consider what the story’s conflict is.
Fantasy or sci-fi novels have a world which you may consider for this. Even in these genres consider whether your book’s character or plot driven? A contemporary or romance novel is probably character driven.
In a character driven story, the conflict lies in your characters. The story follows them, hence you want to show your reader your character's conflict. Give them a glimpse of the characters' development or their journey. You don’t want to give people too much. Start with their flaws and their fears. Again, you aren’t supposed to be giving everything away to your readers. It’ll make the story predictable and let’s face it, your entire story is a lot to unpack over a chapter. Depending on chapter length, this can take multiple chapters too.
A lot of times we associate first chapters with being boring or going too slowly. That isn’t exactly true. A lot of books start off with action scenes, which surprisingly enough are fast-paced. But after that you’ll have to slow it down. Now it’s hard to know whether your book is paced properly.
It’s only the first chapter so too fast, and your reader will have absolutely no idea what’s going on. And if the pacing is too slow, your reader is definitely keeping your book down. Find your balance. Don’t worry about it as much when you first draft the chapter. But go over it and get a few opinions from fellow writers or readers. But when you get beta readers or critique partners, make sure that they read from the same genre you write and the fact that they are your target readers.
The speed f your pacing is the speed at which your readers get the information or experiences the story. Look at what your opening scene and first chapter are. If your first chapter starts with a fight scene, you’ll have to pace it fast and then slow down a little to explain to your reader what happened, but not too much, so they notice a drastic change.
5. Don’t make it boring
This is pretty obvious, isn’t it? But the place where writers struggle is probably what makes the story boring or if it even is boring. Writers mix up boredom with self doubt or the other way around. What makes a first chapter boring? Well, that is a very good question. Only I can’t answer it. That depends from genre to genre.
In genres like fantasy, sci-fi and thriller, you probably want to move fast. Of course you’re opening doesn’t have to be rapid. You can give your reader the information they need to keep reading at a slower pace.
6. Opening scene
Let’s get down to it—the opening scene. This scene is the first glimpse your reader gets into your book. They’ll probably end up reading the entire chapter before they decide on continuing or not, but this is important.
What you should not do
· Long wind descriptions
· Internal monologue
· Backstory… (this one really depends. I’ll get into backstory as a whole in another post :))
Okay, now what should your opening scene be?
Well, the answer isn’t that hard. The beginning. But where is the beginning? Where does your story start?
Your character's story probably starts the day they are born. That may not be relevant to your story. Your opening scene should be where their story (the one you want to tell), really starts.
When your story starts, your character has probably been in a bad place for a while. Or if not in a bad place, their life can get better, but they are too afraid to rock the boat. Your hob of course is to rock the boat and throw them out of their comfort zone. And rocking the boat is your inciting incident. Your opening scene and even your first chapter should probably be a snapshot of your characters before. The life they aren’t content with.
Only if they see this will your reader understand the after, or what has changed after you rocked the boat.
That is it for today, my best advice on writing a great first chapter for your novel. Did it help you? Good, now go write a rocking first chapter. And remember that you’ll need practice—tons of it to get the chapter to its best. Check out my post on drafting your novel fast so you can get moving with the writing.
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Happy writing :)