First Chapter Blues

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.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...writing middle grade novels.
This entry was posted in Editing, Uncategorized, Writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to First Chapter Blues

  1. Jodi says:

    The first chapter is always the toughest, and for good reason – there is so much that rides on it. If you can’t grab your reader by the end of the first few pages then you might have lost them forever. If I try to write an awesome first chapter right out of the gate I get paralyzed and can’t write a word. I have to hash through one whole draft of the book, learn who the characters are and what their motivations are and then find the inciting incident and then actually write the opening scene. At least then I feel I have a chance with it. After that, its edit, revise, edit, repeat, etc…

    • gpattridge says:

      Thanks for your insights. I do have a sentence or two written down for the remaining chapters so the direction is set. I revise that first chapter dozens of times (maybe hundreds of times) before being satisfied. That occurs even after the first draft is compete. It’s a journey for sure.

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