Writing: First Chapter Trouble

Last leg of the blog tour coming up:

VR | JQ | Erika | Julie | Lori | Mary | Chrys | Laura

If you dropped by earlier this year you read that I was having trouble with my new project’s first chapter. It was missing something. I finally determined my lack of hook was lack of tension.

To figure this out I did some reading, and here’s what I found:

Hook: If your feedback hints that they are not being drawn in or not connecting, look at your first line, first paragraph, and first scene. Their jobs are to do just that. Bump up the emotion through concrete details or inner conflict.

Strong Start: If your feedback says they were waiting for the real tree-151444tension/conflict to begin. Move the reflection, contemplation, or backstory to where your reader needs it.

Soft Description: The feedback might suggest its beautifully written but, slow to start. Soften up the description, and get to the who, where, when and tension of your story.

Info Dumping, Character Chaos, and Clichés: Just a reminder since no feedback is necessary. If a reader closes your book, they may never read you again. ‘Nuff said.

Mood, Tone, Genre: Accept the story will not be for everyone. Make it clear within your first chapters that your story is a murder mystery, love story or space opera aimed at specific audience. When your reader decides to read on, they will know it’s for them.

First Chapters are Hard

Rewrite it if you must. Start from scratch if it’s easier. Go back and tweak it anytime you feel the story slip or shift direction. For your reader’s sake, make sure it reflects the whole story and hints at where it may go.

Is It Worth it?

Well, if you want to sell your work you’ll need to get the right. Your friends, family and even some critiquers might put up with a bad beginning, but no editor or agent will. They look for a reason to say no. Nothing personal, they just have hundreds of submission to read and only so much time.

Anything you’d like to add? Don’t be shy you know I love it. 🙂

Gleaned from:

36 responses to “Writing: First Chapter Trouble

  1. Great list, Anna – thanks for sharing!

    I recently read – and loved! – Tawni O’Dell’s new novel, ANGELS BURNING. The first line, the first few lines were like BAM! I was hooked, I was in. 🙂

  2. I think the first chapter is THE MOST re-written part of any book I’ve ever written. The first chapter of the first draft is almost a throwaway.

    And then, wait until editors get involved! In my last three books, my editor asked me to 1) Drop the whole first chapter and start with the second 2)Write a new first chapter and make the old first chapter the second one 3) Switch the order of Chapters 1 and 2

  3. Awesome post. Yes, first chapters are the hardest. I usually end up doing the most revisions to my first chapters too. They have to be just right!

  4. For me a first chapter needs to put me in the time, place and character so I know where I am and who to care about. Then challenge them. 🙂 Nice post.

  5. I reworked the first chapter of my one book more time than I can count. I love it now. After my betas read it, and liked it, a couple suggested a short intro to build the setting and history before the first chapter. The intro is two short paragraphs. I’ll see what agents say when I send it out…sometimes it’s hard to know how to start a story until you get feedback.

  6. I hate it when by the first chapter, I’m already in trouble. Good grief.

  7. “If a reader closes your book, they may never read you again.” So true! How many times have I done this?

  8. That’s why they often say to axe your beginning and start further in, where the real story and excitement begins.

  9. I’ve rewritten my first chapters so many times, particularly the first paragraphs. It’s so hard to know what ‘s right. You only get one chance to draw the reader in. And when different beta readers tell you different things — you just have to go with your gut feeling and use what works for you.

  10. Great post. Yes the first chapter is the hardest and most rewritten chapter. You have to hook readers with the first line (s). Those few lines are the set up to what a reader can expect from the whole story. Raises questions that the reader wants, no needs to find out the answers to. And will stay after, reading the first page to find out.

  11. I sometimes think that first chapters are meant to be left alone after drafted until the final chapter is penned. Only then do you really have the scope and vision to build everything into the first chapter that needs to be there, but there darn well better be a hook and driving tension by the end of that first paragraph, page, chapter.

  12. Great post. I usually have to do major revisions on my first chapters. I move things to later chapters so I don’t info dump.

  13. I recommend reading books in the same genre and studying all their opening lines/paragraphs.
    Sometimes, when I’m reading books to my kids, the hook is not present in the opening and you can feel the kids getting restless!

  14. The beginning is crucial. We have to set up so much in those early pages–it’s a LOT of pressure! Glad you pinpointed the problem.


  15. First chapters are a bit like the title in that they have to hook the reader straight away. Strong action or an intriguing situation are usually a good place to start.

  16. I always have to go back and rewrite my first chapter several times. I never know what needs to be (and what doesn’t need to be) in that chapter until I’ve written much of the story. It often turns out that what I thought the reader needed to know at the beginning wasn’t necessary at all.

  17. Good luck with writing 🙂
    Hope you have a great week
    Ruty @Reading…Dreaming

  18. jennifer@badbirdreads

    I always found the first chapters to be the easiest for me. There is always editing but I still find them to be the strongest.

If you're new to writing, ask me anything and if you're experienced, feel free to share what you know. Learning something new in the craft is always welcome.

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