If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a first chapter is worth an entire book. The first chapter of any novel is everything – the set-up for the story, a dramatic entrance, and the selling point. If your first chapter doesn’t appeal to someone, they won’t bother with the rest of the book. Obviously there are always books you pick up and don’t like the first chapter to. It doesn’t necessarily mean it was a bad chapter, it may just mean the book isn’t for you. But we’re aiming for the people who are the target market to fall in love with your beginning, right?
How To Start
The very first sentence is the beginning of the beginning, and the ultimate tool at a writer’s disposal to hook people in. I did a post a while back about my personal favourite opening sentences and how to do a good one yourself, and you can take a look for some inspiration. I’m not going to repeat everything here, as I did a ton of rambling words on that post, hehe, but I’ll pinpoint the important things to remember here:
- Go straight into the action. Don’t hesitate or worry about whether the story is clear at this point. An opening sentence is not about that. It’s about throwing yourself in, a bit like catching the middle part of an interesting conversation when you come around the corner.
- Short and sweet is the key. Try not to use more than two commas in there, and think ‘snappier, the better’. I’m not saying don’t use a longer sentence, if it fits the bill (this especially applies to historicals and science-fiction). But we all know how much drama and impact a single word, or just a few words can have. Use that impact.
- Think about what would catch your attention. Does your sentence do that? Imagine that sentence, and just that sentence are on a billboard. Would you stop to see what it was about?
How To Carry On
Okay, so we’ve got a strong opener, now what? Don’t let it fizzle out, but don’t rush everything, either. Draw the intro out, draw the reader in. But drop hints of the action or events to come (hopefully in the second or third chapters). A little bit of foreshadowing is okay, as long as you don’t hit your reader over the head with it! If you started your opening sentence as a part of someone’s speech, have it end in an argument. If the action started in a bar, why not have it end in a bar brawl and a crash where the main character becomes a reaper…okay, that’s a shameless plug for Reaper’s Deliverance. 😛 But you get the idea. The point is, pull the reader in by introducing your world slowly, but keep them there by blowing something up, or making enemies of two characters – or anything else that works.
- Think of fishing – keep it slow for the intro, then speed things up. Make it comfy for the reader to settle in, then glue them to the chair so they can’t leave.
- Foreshadowing is okay, but don’t overdo it.
- Keep everything flowing at a steady pace.
How To Finish Up
You’ve got the perfect opener, and you’ve drawn your reader in nicely. Now how do you keep them reading through the next several chapters? The end of the first chapter is often the weakest point, overlooked after so much care has gone into the rest of it. You have to keep a steady pace, otherwise your reader may go into the second chapter, and put the book down. For good. *horrified stare* So how to end it? The best (and classic way) is with that favourite – the cliff-hanger. They’re not just for the end of a book! Putting a cliff-hanger (or a ‘semi-cliff-hanger’, as I call them when it’s for a chapter) can be a great way to keep the excitement flowing. Did that argument end up in two friends becoming enemies? What are the consequences of that? Did they work together, and one of them fired the other? Are they a couple who have broken up? What if the chapter opened with a scene of action, maybe a person on the run from the law, or some dystopian police? Have they found themselves cornered? Lost their way? Been grabbed by an unknown person? End the chapter with another question, one where the answer will appear over the second chapter.
But there are other ways, too. How about revealing an early twist? This can be a good tactic in a murder mystery or thriller, for example. Perhaps the reader knows who the killer is from the first chapter? Or perhaps they see the scene through the killer’s eyes, but don’t know who they are yet? Putting a good twist so early in can also make sure the pages keep flipping over, to see what catastrophes or happiness come from it.
So, that’s a few tips I try to use myself – what about you guys? What tips can you add to making a great first chapter? Do you agree or disagree with the tips here? Let me know in the comments below, I love to know what you guys think! 😉
Other Sources of Tips
This lady has a TON of great advice, and puts a lot of stuff across that I haven’t touched on here – even offers a different point of view on some stuff. Well worth a watch (and a bit of note-taking). 🙂
And if you’re looking for some help on doing the synopsis (I like to do mine before I start the book, maybe you do too!), you can check out my Hubpage on the subject here. As always, my ideas are subjective, but see if it helps if you’re stuck in a rut for how to do it. 🙂