The first chapter of your novel is the most important chapter. We spend more time on our first chapter than any other. We want our readers to jump into our story with both feet.
Chapter one must pull your reader into the story. Your opening should peak your readers curiosity and lay the emotional foundation for your book.
Your first chapter needs to present questions that only reading the rest of the book will answer.
We hope these 4 tips will help you write a great first chapter.
Tip # 1 Start Where the Action Is
Do open your first chapter with a significant event. Your first scene must grab your reader’s curiosity. This is called the inciting event. This incident starts the main character moving into the story.
Do put conflict in the first chapter. Conflict generates tension and the emotional spark needed to capture your reader. Without conflict, your first scene will not seize your reader’s attention.
These are some forms of conflict.
- Inner conflict
- conflict between friends
- conflict with the antagonist
- family conflicts
Check out these 10 examples from Nownovel.com
Do create an event which generates a new goal, a new yearning, a new idea. Something that will motivate your character and drive your story toward an unexpected adventure.
Don’t begin your chapter with an unnecessary scene. The first scene must be dynamic. It must move your character quickly into the heart of your story.
Don’t dump backstory into the first chapter. Allow your character’s backstory to evolve as the story unfolds.
Check out these other Tips
Tip # 2 Introduce your Main Character In the first Chapter
Do Create characters your readers will want to get to know, make them dynamic, likable people. You need a protagonist and an antagonist capable of pulling your readers from their everyday lives.
Do let your readers get to know the personalities of your main characters by their actions. Give basic descriptions of your main characters
- Name, maybe nickname, if significant.
- Physical description, keep it short, add details later.
- Something distinctive about your main character’s personality by their actions or dialog.
Do Introduce the villain, if possible, to reveal the possibility of conflict. It will let the reader know they can anticipate the problems your main characters may face.
Don’t introduce your entire cast of characters, in the first chapter. Have you ever gone to a party, and been introduced to a dozen people? Later you could not recall more than one or two. Don’t confuse your readers with too many characters in the opening chapters.
Don’t give unnecessary descriptions of the secondary characters. Keep the focus on the main character. Save more detailed descriptions of your secondary characters for later in the story.
Don’t relate back story about your character, even if it might seem relevant. The readers do not need to know why the event happened or why the character reacted like they did. Save the explanations and backstory for later chapters. You want the first chapter to make your readers curious about why the event happened and why your character did what they did.
Writing The First Chapter is Challenging
Tip # 3 Establish the Genre
Do let the reader know if this is a mystery, romance, or whatever. If the reader likes mysteries, you must give them a reason to believe this might be a fascinating mystery, one that will keep them enthralled. If your novel is a romance, hint to your readers how this romance will be unique.
Don’t try to fool your reader about the genre.
Tip #4 Create the Setting in the First Chapter
Do let the reader know the time and place of your story. This prevents confusion for your readers.
Do use the things your characters use or interacts with to give your readers clues about the time and place.
Example: The carriage slowly wound its way through the streets of London. Amanda was desperate to see Queen Victoria.
Example: Butch and his horse were covered in dust as he rode into Dry Gulch. He needed a bath, and a shave, before he met Sarah.
For more ideas about how to use your setting see:
Do use dialogue to help establish your setting.
- Speech pattern of your characters
- Word usage
- Accents of your characters
Do show the details about your setting from your character’s point of view. Use Dialog.
- Let your character describe what they see.
- A character can tell interesting facts about the place.
- They can say how the place makes them feel
- A character can state what they think about the time they live in.
Don’t overload your readers with your setting.
I love historical novels. I just started reading one. The author spent the first three pages telling about the history of the place. I never got to page 4.
Remember books are about people. Tell your reader about the people in that time and place. Give your reader enough information to establish the setting through action and dialogue.
Don’t use long paragraphs about your setting. We are told to show, not tell, but building a setting by showing can be tedious for your readers.
Don’t slow the pace of the action in your first chapter by long descriptions of anything.
Perhaps you can imagine yourself writing a novel. Maybe you have a marvelous story in mind. You don’t need to know everything to start writing. There is something magical about the prospect of having your story read by millions.
If you are new to writing, don’t get bogged down with the first chapter. Write your novel then go back and create a marvelous first chapter, using everything you have learned along the way.
We hope these tips will unleash the novel within you. Practice will expand your abilities. If you dream about writing a novel, you should continue striving toward your goal. The first chapter is only the beginning.