Thursday, March 17, 2011

First Chapters

First chapters are hard, right? RIGHT? Good. Glad we’re all in agreement. Because let’s be honest, a first chapter can make or break a book. Or at least they determine whether someone keeps reading.

The funny thing about first chapters is that they’re usually the last ones we write. Your book probably isn’t ‘done’ until you’ve rewritten the first chapter about fifty times. Maybe that’s hyperbole. Maybe not. *shuffles in front of over-flowing trashcan* *kicks crumpled pieces of paper under desk*

We have to pack so much stuff into them… but at the same time make it look like we haven’t. A dash of back-story. BUT NOT TOO MUCH because people will lose interest. Action, but not too much of that either. You gotta make your readers care about your characters before you send them to the guillotine. You don’t want them saying, “sure, hack off that head, I don’t care.”

So how do you do that? How do you make them care? Is it internal dialogue? External dialogue? Setting? Descriptions? Action? Tension? Characterization? Voice?

I think it’s different for every book. It’s the way you sprinkle all those different aspects in, like your very own recipe. But I think every good first chapter has at least a little bit of all of those. It’s finding the right balance. And of course, it all really does boil down to character. You’re basically asking your readers to take a really long road trip with your characters. Do you think they’ll agree to get in the car without knowing them first? And if it looks like you crammed too much into the back seat, or if the air-conditioning is broken, or if the radio’s busted so it only gets AM stations? Well then, good luck. The only one who’s gonna get in is that creepy-looking hitchhiker standing there with his chainsaw.

What do you think makes a good chapter? What keeps you reading? And what makes you want to stop?


  1. Just 50?!?! :) I love this blog post. I wish I could say something groundbreaking, but I can't. I'm on the road to discovering the key to finding "essence of first chapter". Especially because, right now, that creepy guy is in my back seat.

  2. LOL! Notice I didn't offer any advice on how to get rid of him... Because I haven't figured that out yet :-P