Thursday, February 7, 2013

Three Tips For Writing Your First Chapter

Well, it's been a morning of highs and lows.  I've been wrestling with my first chapter.  Just when I think I have it pinned down, I think of another layer I could add, or something that it needs to really impact my readers as I introduce them to the characters.

After publishing eight books, though, there are three things I've learned about writing the first chapter.

1.  Don't bother revising the first chapter until you have the ending.  Your first chapter will always change until that end is written because until you know the end, you can't truly have a great beginning.

2.  Be really sure you have a tight balance of dialogue, setting, and character introduction.  Sometimes it's really tempting to introduce your characters with lots of backstory and inner thought in the first chapter.  Don't do it.  Leave breadcrumbs for your reader to follow as they get to know your character.  I mean, if you were introducing yourself to someone in real life you wouldn't tell them your life story and deep dark secrets within moments of meeting, would you?  (If you said yes to that question, we should probably talk.)

3.  And lastly, remember to make your reader care about your character.  If they can't relate or identify with the character or their problem, then they probably won't keep reading.  When you keep things relatable, you keep your readers engaged.  Which is what you want your first chapter to do.

So now I'm going to take my own advice and go back and check that I've done all this with my first chapter. Do you have any great first chapter tips?


Jordan McCollum said...

Good advice! I'd add: make sure it's captivating, and don't worry about all that on the first draft ;) .

Gina said...

The first chapters that make me the most mad (as a reader) are the ones that are too complex. I know you need to establish your setting, and this is hard, particularly for speculative fiction, but you have to tread carefully with too many weird, out-of-the-ordinary details. Or too few. That can be confusing too.

In fact, just don't be confusing.

How's that for a tip?

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Jordan and Gina, great tips, thanks!

Rebecca H. Jamison said...

Nice concise advice, Julie. I've had to learn #2 and 3 the hard way.

Debra Allen Erfert said...

All good tips, Julie! I'll keep these in mind while I read over my first chapter again. I'm about 110 pages into that NaNo manuscript. I want to be finished with it before May and the LDStorymakers conference where I have a pitch session with a literary agent. I do have lofty dreams!

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Rebecca, I had to learn #1 the hard way. I would revise my first chapter endlessly while I drafted. Big waste of time!

Debra, there is no doubt in my mind you will achieve every goal you set. You're amazing!

Stephanie Black said...

I love your reference to "breadcrumbs." What a great way to illustrate how we hook the reader with a little information, making them want to know more, instead of feeling we need to dump a whole history onto the page every time a new character enters. Love it!