Thursday, October 6, 2011

~Writing the First Chapter~

The first chapter of your book is probably one of the most important aspects of it. If a reader can't get through the first chapter then how are they supposed to get through the whole book? Also if you have started the querying process or are about to you know that some agents request sample pages from your manuscript. The sample pages usually consist of the first five to ten pages. Now this is where the first chapter begins to scare me because those five to ten pages could mean your road to publication or the dreaded rejection. 

I have always read that you want the action to start immediately. Drag the reader in as quickly as possible. With all of my finished manuscripts I have not done that. Personally I like the buildup of a story, getting to the action instead of being thrown into it. There are hundreds of published books that don't follow the action immediately policy and they have done very well, possibly even better than the books that do follow the policy. I feel like the first chapter needs to tell the story. Basically make the stage for the rest of the story to play out on. But does that mean all of the action has to be dumped into the first few pages? When I was watching X-Factor last night this came to my mind. How do the two have any relevance? It's simple. Each person had a chance to sing acapella and it was their one moment to show what they had. One woman stepped up and belted it out. And when I say she belted it out, she held a note that seemed to last forever. Impressive, yes, but as Simon Cowell said, "Way over the top," and completely unnecessary. Sometimes more doesn't necessarily mean better.  

I will admit that I do have two first chapters that I started with the action and to be honest they are probably my favorite thing I have written. However, after I finished the first chapter and got it to exactly where I wanted it to be, action but not over the top, I put them aside and have never gone back to them. I have every intention of going back to them but this in my dilemma; I love the first chapters so much that I am afraid the rest of the book will be a letdown. Has that happened to you as a writer and also as a reader? Have you read a book that the first chapter was undeniably amazing and then the rest of the book failed to live up to your expectations? 

Agent Hannah Bowman has a great post about first chapters on her blog: This is part of what got me thinking about this in the first place. You should check it out. 

My most recent WIP I sent to my wonderful critique partner, Kelley and she sent it back to me immediately. She read the first chapter and thought it needed to be reworked. I had characters and a back story but as she said, "Why should she care about them?" She was so right. I gave no reason for the reader to give two shits about the characters. So I had to go back and add a little something extra to achieve that. If it wasn't for her I would have thought that the first chapter was great without seeing that it was lacking the connection that is needed in order to hook the reader. So I added a little action, not a lot, just a little and it transformed the entire beginning. So I do agree with having a little action in the beginning but is it necessary to throw all of your bells and whistles into the first few pages? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Do you believe in action right out of the gates? Or do you prefer a more subtle approach with the buildup? 


  1. It's always great to get feedback! I'm in a writing class that meets once a week. Every week I read a section out loud to the class and I get great feedback. It's true, you can get to caught up in your work and think it is the best thing, but you don't want to be the only reader of your book!

    Also, another thing I've learned is, don't get caught up in making each chapter perfect before moving on to the next. As I've gotten further along with my book, I've come to realize concepts change and revising is an ongoing process. Plus, better to get your ideas on paper before they are forgotten, you can always go back and add!

  2. And now your first chapter is perfect! :) Seriously I got goosebumps after those few small changes.

    First chapters are tricky, especially when you're not writing an action packed, zombie filled, shoot em' up kind of book.

    It think the most important question to answer in the first chapter is 'why do I care?' Agents/editors suggest action because it makes us care. We want someone to be safe, or get away or reveal something totally scandalous, or just make us feel for them.

    If we can answer that question for our readers, they'll continue reading.

  3. Stacey: Feedback is a wonderful thing. A really wonderful thing. And you are so right about "Don't get caught up in making each chapter perfect before moving on to the next" because you will drive yourself crazy. Been there done that. I'm over it. lol. Fix it during edits.

    Kelley: Aw thanks :) And, Yes! Exactly. When you aren't writing a book meant to have tons of action the first chapter is extremely tricky. Though, your advice was the best. For now on that's all I'm going to think when I write a first chapter, "Why do I care?" or more importantly "Why should the reader care?"