Monday, January 11, 2016

Writing the First Chapter: How to Plan a Strong First Chapter

Developing a strong first chapter is often a matter of trial and error.  The first chapter is usually the one that is rewritten the most.  Here are some tips to help you get it right the first time

The first chapter is the most important chapter in the book because it is the first example of your writing the readers will see. It must have the power to draw them in and interest them in the rest of the book. The first chapter also determines the voice, tone, and atmosphere of the story.

Start with Conflict or a Point of Interest

While the first chapter doesn’t have to start with soap-opera drama, it must have enough action to interest the reader.  Many writers choose to begin their story at a point of conflict such as at a place where the hero is in immediate danger.  For example, the logical place to begin a mystery would be with the discovery of the body, not the detective commuting to work or reading the morning newspaper.

Providing Background Information

Many instructors habitually advise their students to throw away the first chapter.  Should you?  That depends.  Many writers make the mistake of including far too much background information in the first chapter.  This is because they are anxious to set the groundwork for the rest of novel. They want readers to know everything about their character from the start.

The first chapter should start where the action begins.  This action can be either physical, such as a fight or a boating accident--or emotional such as losing a love one or other trauma that might cause strong feelings. 

The first chapter should not start with a lot of who, what and where explanation about your character and how he got into this mess. The first chapter should provide only the bare essentials in background information.  For example, it might be necessary for the reader to know where your hero lives, but not, at this point, where he went to school, how many kids he has, whether or not he gets along with his mother.  These points can be introduced if and when they become pertinent to the story. Though additional information is necessary, it does not all have to be crowded into the first chapter.  If there is too much explanation, most of it can be discarded, and what is essential should be threaded into to a later part of the book.

What goes in the Middle of the First Chapter

Now that you have gotten their interest, you must develop the chapter by deepening the conflict.  If you have started with a point of action, now is the time to bring into focus the details of the event, and the character’s reactions to the event.    

If the chapter begins with a car accident, now the protagonist can react to the situation and a bit can be told about his or her reaction the the situation.

End with a Question or Cliffhanger

Just as the first chapter begins with a bang, it should not end with a whimper.  The final lines should pose a question that draws readers into the next chapter.

If your book is a mystery, have the detective discover an unusual lead or clue he plans to follow up on.  If your story is a romance, cut the first chapter off at the point where the boy asks the girl for a date, not after the reader already knows her answer.  If you are writing a thriller, stop the first chapter with the hero hanging onto the ledge of the building, not after he has jumped to safety.

By the end of the first chapter the reader should
*be introduced to the main characters
*know where the story takes place
*Have a feeling for the atmosphere of the book
*be introduced to the main problem or conflict and some kind of mental or physical excitement

  More Writing Tips:  Fiction: From Writing to Publication

Check back for more tips on writing the middle part of the novel and the ending!


  1. Very informative blog post. I will send this to my granddaughter, who is a beginner writer already at age 15 (and extremely good at it). Sounds like you ladies have figured it out and are successful!. Hurray for you. Best wishes for continued success. Elaine Faber:
    Black Cat's Legacy;
    Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer,
    Black Cat and the Accidental Angel;
    Mrs. Odboddy-Hometown Patriot

    1. We're glad you found the post informative.

  2. I also like to share one tips.. After you have written a bunch, read through what you have written, make sure it comports with controlling case law, so some more research if necessary, and then revise some more.

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