Sunday, December 2, 2012

Writing Stellar First Chapters

Last writing post, we discussed the things that make a terrible first chapter. This week lets go through some things that make stellar first chapters. A boring first chapter full of errors will find me setting a book aside, but a good first chapter will definitely keep me reading. And if the book lives up to chapter one, I will probably want to read other work by that same author.

So without further ado, here are some “how to’s” for writing a stellar first chapter.
1 – A strong opening line – An intriguing first line is always a must and usually not very hard to come up with. Generally this line is dialog or something the character is thinking. Try to use your first line to set the tone of the entire story. If it’s a romantic comedy, make it quirky and fun. If it’s suspense, make it intriguing or action packed. If it’s historical romance, bring the reader into the era.

2 – Action/dialog on page one – I recently read a very old historical romance novel, where the author began by describing the drawing room the characters were sitting in. She went on for several paragraphs, almost a full page, about this drawing room. And after the first two or three chapters, we never again saw that drawing room. Please don’t make that mistake. Give the reader dialog and action as soon as possible. I confess, I skimmed the part about the drawing room and went to the first line of dialog. So although you want to give your reader a sense of time and place, don’t go on for more than a few sentences. Think of detail and description like powdered sugar on top of cookies. Too much and we’re choking on the sugariness. Too little and the cookie is bland.

3 – Likable Characters – Readers want characters they can identify with. Where they can look up from a page and think “I know just what he/she means, I totally get what they’re going through.” Characters we can’t like and identify with are not good characters. Even if the character has done terrible things or is not a very nice person at the beginning, find some way to make them likable or sympathetic. Bringing kids, pets, or some quirk into the picture is a great way to do this.
4 – Keep it short – Don’t write a huge first chapter. Keeping it to two or three scenes and one or two POV characters, makes the reader feel like they’re going somewhere and chapter one isn’t going to last forever. I try and keep my first chapters around 2,500 words.

5 – Creative Phrases – Make your writing sing! Don’t use the first phrase that pops into your head, but find new ways of expressing the same thought. And don’t use clich├ęs, either in plots or phrases. This should be done through the whole novel, but it’s especially important in chapter one.

These are only a few tips, but they’re ones I’ve found helpful. Hopefully, you did too. And remember, just like making cookies, practice makes perfect. J

Happy Writing,


This week I’m giving away a copy of “Be Still My Soul by Joanne Bischof. Along with that three of these beautiful embossed Christmas cards with matching envelopes. So just leave a comment with your email and I will pick a winner this Friday. This would make a great read for the start of the season or a great gift too!

Coming Next Week .........
Next Monday, December 10th, I’m delighted to welcome David and Diane Munson for an interview and giveaway of their book “The Joshua Covenant.” Diane and David write high velocity inspirational suspense novels that combine exciting cases into factional fiction by changing the names and places. David was an NCIS Special Agent and an undercover DEA Special Agent and Diane was a Federal prosecutor, so they’re very well qualified to write these fabulous legal thrillers! I met Dave and Diane at a writers conference recently and it was so cool talking to them, I thought it would be neat to have them on my blog. So stop by next week, to check out their interview and enter the giveaway!

1 comment :

Merry said...

Great tips! I've been tucking your articles away in my "writer" file.
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