Every writer I’ve met has a mentor they either follow or chat with often. The blogs and sites I read keep me in the loop on what editors like and don’t like. They also keep me informed on what is selling and how readers react to what authors are writing. I guess you could say, I now know a thing or two about what people like.
All the writing I do has come from years of research, it isn’t BS thrown together on a whim. I use this site as my guide. I take from my research and write articles so I don’t have to keep searching and bookmarking all the sites. This makes it easier for me to keep everything organized, and it makes it easier for me to share it with the world.
Writing the first chapter of a book was one of the hardest things I have done. I could write the Dickins out of a story, but trying to perfect the first chapter, well, that took me longer than I like to admit. Like most content on this site, this is a work in progress and I will continue to edit this piece until I perfect it. You are welcome to add to it, and I will add your information and give you credit if I use it.
First Fours; 1st Sentence, 1st Paragraph, 1st Chapter, 1st Chapter
I’ll start with the Four First and Chapter Hooks.. This is friendly advice if you haven’t heard it before. I would do an entire post on this, but thought it fit perfectly in this one since it goes with the Hook and First Chapter.
First Sentence: This should always stand out. Please don’t start by describing the sky or saying Once Upon a Time unless it feeds into the story.
For instance; It was a gloomy night here in Chicago as Tim sat on the porch swing.
This doesn’t grab the reader’s attention. It says nothing about the story. It does nothing other than tell you Tim likes to sit on his butt on his porch swing and he lives in Chicago.
Try this instead; Tim sat on his porch swing and saw a man’s body dangling from a nearby tree, which made the Chicago night more gloomy.
What about now? Does it make you wonder why there would be someone hanging from a tree near Tim? Maybe this guy hung himself and wanted Tim to see, or maybe he was murdered. Either way, it packed more of an intriguing question than the first one did.
An article I once read suggested that a novel which began with the pronouns “he”, “she”, or “they” had more success. Give this a try, or experiment with different first sentences and see if what works. Another suggestion is to read first sentences of your favorite books.
First Paragraphs: The first paragraph should reveal something. If you only need to reveal “this something” in the first sentence, then leave it alone. If more needs to be revealed, then continue, but be careful not to drag away from the mood. The first sentence has already set the mood, and it needs to continue this way throughout the first paragraph.
First Page: In almost all apps you can read the first page before buying a book. In almost all bookstores, you will see the potential buyer reading the first page before deciding to purchase. Many will judge the first page.
The first page should mention your main character and have a balance of action, characterization, dialogue, humor, mystery, adventure, or suspense to make it a page turner. The first page should foreshadow the love interest, murder, humor incident, or adventure to come.
Since the first page is a mini description of what is coming, don’t do a full-on description of our main character. The audience need not know what she is wearing, what the clock on the wall looked like, or how the sun glistened against her bronze skin. Get to the point and do it fast before you lose the reader’s interest.
First Chapter: The first chapter is the hook. The hook keeps the reader going. We leave the reader with cliffhangers to make them want to turn the page. If they don’t turn the page, then they won’t know what happened to the man dangling from the tree. Everything in the first chapter leads up to the moment before things become so intense that the reader can’t put the book down.
Introduce Your Main Characters:
In the first chapter, you will introduce your major characters. It doesn’t matter if they are happy or sad; we need to meet them. They are in their ordinary world doing their ordinary things, in their ordinary life. If your protagonist is a shop owner, then have us meet them while working at their shop. If they are a mother, have us meet them while doing motherly things. The reader should perceive them just as they are when time has not shifted. We don’t need to meet them all or the ones who will not play a significant role in the story. Too many characters will offset the story. If Jamie has eighteen children, I’m sure all eighteen won’t be the main characters. We might say she has eighteen, but only two of them might be the main characters.
Prologue is where background information is given in a book. Sometimes it might be useful to give information to help the readers along, such as in a Sci-Fi novel about an alien world where the reader knows nothing about it. From what I have gathered, agents hate prologue, as do most readers.
Some authors have included a prologue as a separate page altogether, while others have included this in their story. If you are one to include it in your story, ask yourself why. I used to do this, but it kept the mystery out of the story. If the prologue adds nothing to the story, leave it out.
Back-stories don’t belong in the front, they belong in the back. Too many stories get bogged down by back stories. Flash-backs and back-stories make for marvellous stories and they fit in, but you need to know where to put them. If you put them in too early, it will bore your readers.
The Story’s Setting:
The first chapter should reveal the story’s setting. In the story setting we should know what the weather is like, where they are, and what time period it is. This isn’t something the reader shouldn’t have to guess at.
The Here and now:
Time shifts are not good within the first chapter. Have you ever read a book where it flashes back to another time? Confusing, isn’t it? Back-flashes shouldn’t be placed in the first chapter, and if they are, they should be short and not confuse the reader. The reader needs to see the protagonist in the here and now as stated in the section on Introducing your Protagonist.
Begin with Something Interesting:
This doesn’t have to be the major conflict, but something interesting to keep the reader’s attention. Try providing key information, just enough to get them interested. Raise and intriguing question such as…Why did Mary hang herself? (She didn’t, they murdered her) Who was the man standing in the shadow? (The protagonist’s long-lost father) Why was Jacob robbing houses if his family was rich? (He was being blackmailed) They each pose a question need to be answered. It made the reader want to read the page to find the answer.