I don’t know about you, but I find the first chapter something I have to re-do every time I start a revision. For Stolentime, I already know I’m going to have to write a brand new chapter one and make the current chapter one chapter two. Too much occurs in chapter one for readers to really care yet, so I’m going to have to make a chapter that shows what led up to the current chapter one. I had to do the same for When Stars Die. Chapter one was originally Amelia in her first trial to become a nun, but then I realized I needed to introduce a certain element at the beginning and her best friend so readers could care more about what happens to her best friend. I also needed readers to know a little bit about Amelia before she got to the trial–so that way they can better understand why she even bothers to put up with it.
The first chapter of any book can be very tricky, especially because it is so subjective from book to book. You will have a different reason for having to re-do your chapter one than I will, but one thing for certain is that I always keep a few things in mind when doing the chapter one.
The best way to hook your readers is to make the chapter one character-centered so that way readers can begin to learn about your MC, his/her goals, who he/she is, and why the reader should care. This may not be so in a plot-driven novel, but I myself prefer character-driven novels, which is probably why I love to read YA. You’ll also want to avoid too much action. Stolentime currently starts with Gene contemplating suicide, with no real background, so I know I need to back it up and show what pushed Gene over the edge so people will care that he wants to kill himself, and understand a little bit about what led him to such a dangerous decision.
Your first two or three sentences too can really grip readers and make them not want to put the book down. Now I don’t like the rabid obsession with the hook because it’s a novel and I don’t think readers care as much as writers do, but it’s still awesome to be brought in by exciting first sentences. Here is mine from When Stars Die:
The sound is a dagger scraping crosshatches on a frosted windowpane, its echoes loud in this lifeless room I’ve been locked in for the past few days.
Now keep in mind this first sentence is subject to change, but it manages to accomplish a few things: sets the atmosphere as something eerie, lets readers know where the MC is, and sets intrigue because she’s been locked in this room and readers will want to know why.
Last, you don’t want to resolve your chapter one. I will read chapter ones where the writer seems to tie up everything, and even with my knowing the summary, I don’t want to read on because why? Everything was neatly resolved. The person stalking her went away and her best friend found her. She was paranoid about the stalker because she had been harmed by someone in the past, but it wasn’t the stalker, so everything is resolved because she wasn’t hurt. I love chapter ones that end messy because that makes me want to read on. My chapter one in When Stars Die ends with Amelia being brought to her first trial–with some shadowy beings stalking her and Amelia fearing for her life.
So these are a few tips on that pesky chapter one. It can be daunting to do, but I personally love it.
11 thoughts on “The Madness of the First Chapter”
Interesting. Do people consider a prologue as the first chapter?
That’s a good question. I don’t mention prologues because a lot of writers don’t know how to use them correctly, but there are some that do work, like ones that are from a different POV, like your antagonists. But I think if you’re going to create a prologue, treat both it and your chapter one as the hooking points. It doesn’t hurt!
Wow. I’m actually using them correctly by having villain scenes and the gods of my fantasy world scenes. Oddly enough, I have a lot of trouble with Chapter 3’s. Not sure why.
Ugh…I had to redo my chapter three in When Stars Die’s trilogy five times because I couldn’t understand what my freelance editor meant that nothing was happening. I kept thinking, ‘Stuff is happening. She’s being introduced to this safe house and decides it’s not a threat.’ But I finally got that there was no character or plot development, and so it was an easy fix.
I think I’d drive an editor nuts. I do several character interactions that push their relationships instead of the overall story. It tends to become important later on, but in the moment people don’t usually think of it as more than filler.
Well, you don’t have to have plot development in every chapter. If it’s character development done well, I don’t consider it filler. Sometimes you need chapters where you develop relationships so the overall story becomes stronger, especially later.
Right . . . that done well part is tricky.
You can do it!
Depends on who you ask. I’ve noticed my book is either loved for it’s movie-like pace and feel or despised for it’s use of present tense third person. I have barely any middle ground, which is oddly amusing. 🙂
I meant sequel, not trilogy.
I count the prologue as the first chapter, but I know people who don’t even read the prologue! Which I can’t imagine…