Yup! It’s the wonderful, spectacular, absolutely dreaded and loved first chapter. This is perhaps one of the chapters you spend most of your time vacillating over – does the first line hook? Does the page have micro-tension? What about the scene setting? Do I have a hook? Do my characters jump off the page? What about the voice?
This is something I’ve been working closely on with a wonderfully talented writer & also a fellow editor with. After much back and forth, talking, brainstorming, wrist slapping, laughing, deleting, and burning of pages, we boiled it down to what we think is needed. Now, here are a few of our quick tips to get that first chapter to hold up its end of the deal.
Have a tangible goal. Your character needs to want something from the get go. Something that they need to achieve and have an all burning desire for. For example: in my WiP, I have a main character whose goal is to enter a female elite warrior guard and clear her family’s sullied name so she can feel honorable again. Did you see what I did there? I have an exterior goal (become a warrior) and interior goal (clear her family’s name and become honorable). You need to make sure you have a tangible goal. What do they want to achieve in the novel and why? Sum it up in one sentence and make sure it has an exterior and interior drive to it. If you make this evident in your first chapter, you create agency in your character that readers will want to follow.
Have a chapter goal. In general, I’m a plantster (half/half). This means I don’t have a goal immediately going in on some chapters. However, you can bet your sweet cashew nuts that I do when I revise. Take your chapter and study it. What does your main character want to achieve here? Why? What stands in the way? What will the outcome be – success, failure, to be continued, etc.? This isn’t just your tangible goal (but it will be a step toward it) – it’s the goal to drive the chapter and plot forward.
Cut backstory. This is a biggie. Backstory is a lot less needed than you might think it is. Try cutting out all the backstory from your first chapter. Look and see what is 100% vital. I mean, the story won’t make any sense at all ever if it’s not in the first chapter. Only put that back in. The rest can be filtered in as you go through the book. This first chapter needs to be tight and compelling.
Think like your character. A lot of writers can write on autopilot. I know I can. I just tip-tap away on the keyboard and out comes my story. However, sometimes I read back and see my character looks a bit…generic on the page. That’s when I sit down and try to become my character. For me, it means closing my eyes, seeing the scene. It means reading my pages out loud in the accent of my characters (hey, don’t judge!). Do what works for you. Do what works for your character. Be them. Inhabit their very core.
Have fun! Don’t forget that this is your passion, your heart, your art, and your story. Keep your sparkle in there!
I hope these quick tips helped, and thank you to all of those who read my blog! Remember, these are just my suggestions, but I sincerely hope they work for you like they’re working for me!