There are many intricacies when it comes to writing a first chapter, but you want to know how to make it great. I am going to give ten pieces of advice that will help you get your reader interested, gripping them with curiosity so they keep reading your novel. Let’s jump into it!
1. Interesting Opening
A great way to open your novel is with something interesting. Some scene of conflict or adventure, that helps establish the character, but more than that, captures the reader's interest. Afterall, your novel is based on something, be it action, adventure, horror and so on. Give your reader a sneak-peek.
With this done, you not only establish your writing style, but you got the reader’s attention. Something that stands out is all you really need to get them reading further. I recommend using tension, it applies to most, if not all, genres.
2. Don’t Establish Plot Just Yet
I know you’re ready to dive straight into the story, give the reader the run-down on how this story will play out with a plot introduction. You can do this many way, like creating conflict between protagonist and antagonist, or perhaps hint at what the main characters plans to do.
However, I am telling you that the best time to establish the overall plot is in the second chapter, not the first. It is best to introduce your reader to the world and the characters they are going to be reading about first. Not all at once, but certainly the most important ones first. After that, you can explain what the story is all about.
3. Start Slow
I feel this is necessary to explain further as some of you might take the first tip the wrong way. Your first chapter should lead the reader into the world, hold their hand as you establish how things work. Something that should be especially clear if you are working with something like a complex sci-fi.
You can start with some action, if that is what you wish, but it cannot be the best action scene in the whole book. These characters mean nothing to the reader yet, so use your action scene to show them off. You can give them some real challenge later in your novel.
4. Start Simple
Touching upon that point, it is also best you start simple. You are not going to get the reader's attention if you are using names you created for certain objects and machines. World-based jargon is confusing to most readers unless you have a character that goes ‘what?’ a lot.
Start simple, don’t throw them into the deep end. It may be a strategy, throwing people into the deep end, that works for other activities in life, but not so much for writing. Give your reader an opportunity to be immersed, don’t exclude them by confusing them.
5. Use Dialog
Dialog is interesting and investing. A reader can get a good idea of character’s personality from their dialog. What they are feeling, what they want to do etc. It doesn’t matter if you are writing in the third or first-person, dialog is a part of writing that everyone enjoys.
If lack of dialog is important to the plot, you can ignore this piece of advice, but for 99% of writers out there, take advantage of this writing technique. Dialog keeps your reader reading more than paragraphs of world building and description.
6. Careful Pacing
Pacing a story as a whole can be difficult, but with time is easily managed. Pacing a chapter on its own is more difficult. Being that is only a single chapter you are writing in the beginning, you need to space the events of the beginning properly if they are to lead to the events at the end of the chapter.
Something that is obvious to some, but not to most. You cannot simply jump from action to calm dialog so fast without a good reason. Pacing doesn’t mean breaking up slow moments with fast moments, it means properly ordering a sequence of events so that each scene flows into the next. Make sure you maintain pacing in your first chapter this way. It’s not a race.
7. Establish Core Details
While you are not establishing the plot so soon in your novel, you need to establish what kind of world and characters your reader is going to be reading about. If you are setting your novel in the future, make sure they get that idea. Some science fiction props and well-described technology can go a long way in setting the scene.
World building is something that you will do throughout your novel. Some details you don’t want to give away soon, I can understand that. However, core details pertaining to your novels setting and characters should be established soon. It will help immerse your reader, get them settled with what they are jumping into.
8. Establish Important Character/s
In this first chapter, it is paramount that you establish the important character/s. Your reader needs to know who they are going to be following through the events of the novel, so time to present them as such. Your character is important, make that clear to the reader.
You needn’t go into too much detail, like describing the main characters favourite cereal, but some basic personality building and role they play in the world is enough. Are they a cocky pirate? A dashing knight? An eccentric baker? That is what the reader needs in their head by the end of your first chapter.
9. Put Your Best Foot Forward
Now is not the time to be bashful or lazy. Your first chapter is the first impression you leave with the reader. It can decide if they leave your book on the shelf or take it to the counter. It is time to show what you're worth and put your best foot forward.
You have some sense of your writing style, so take it up a notch and show what you can write on a great day. Introduce your character, describe your scene and wrap your reader in the pages of your book. Their fingers should be stuck to the book with the glue of interest!
10. End with a Cliffhanger
The final tip should be self-explanatory. Give your reader a reason to read on. Some plot point or introduction of conflict that gets cut off, forcing the reader to turn the page and find out what happens next.
Your first chapters require a lot of effort and imagination, but that is writing in a nutshell. However, your first chapter has to be something special to get the intelligent mind invested. If you give your first chapter the proper amount of attention and follow the tips above, you should have no problem earning a fan.
Thank you for finishing this article. I had a lot of fun writing it and I hope you truly enjoyed it. There are many things you will learn from the writing experience and the 150 above are only a few.
As a big thank you I would like to offer you something for FREE!
A writing course on how to improve your main character!
Click here to check it out your course.
In addition, if would like to receive more content, bonuses and some big discounts on future courses, join the writers group here.
Thank you very much for reading!
Matthew Dewey, Writer & Writing Instructor
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