The first chapter is the one that takes the longest for me to write. I want it to sparkle like many of our big league baseball parks before a game begins. The grass has been trimmed and the lines drawn. The character are set to take the field. Since I am my own grounds crew, it’s a time consuming job.
The old adage “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” seems to also ring true for first lines. But with our fast paced world where readers are presented with so many choices and agents/publishers getting bombarded with manuscripts, expect 30 seconds to grab someone’s attention. That first chapter has to stand out.
Here are some tips to survive:
1. Get the plot points down first and how the inciting event will be introduced. I type mine in a list.
2. Work on the first paragraph. Once written let it sit for a day so you can go back and read it with fresh eyes. I go for a hook in this first paragraph. For my second manuscript I laid out a surprising character trait about my protagonist that will be crucial to the rest of the plot.
3. Next I write the first event to take place, making sure it moves the reader forward and is not just back story.
4. I keep rereading, making sure everything flows, When ready, I continue on with the next scene and repeat the process.
5. I look for a beginning, middle, and end for this and subsequent chapters but try and hit a homerun with my first chapter. I already know how the chapter will end and will move all the action towards that point.
6. Finally, I write the last paragraph and make sure it’s a page turner. My current first chapter ends with a surprise confronting the main character.
7. All done? Not quite. I keep rereading that first chapter several times over the course of a week or several weeks. When I’m satisfied, the chapter is ready for other eyes. I have a cadre of family, friends, and online pals who don’t mind taking 10-15 minutes to see if I’m on the right track. It’s this chapter that most professional agents, publishing houses, or editors will request and I want it to be the best possible.
Putting in the extra time to make your novel have a successful start will require patience and time. I’ve found writing the remaining chapters flow much quicker when I take extra care to prepare the field for my story to be played on. Hopefully these words will help yours do the same.