Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Importance of a First Chapter

My students' next assignment is to submit a first chapter. What great timing -- I've just found this article on Nathan Bransford's blog, all about that all-important first chapter. I couldn't agree more with everything in this article.

I actually can't think of a (first-draft) first chapter I've ever written that stuck around in the final edits. Usually, my problem is that I start my first chapter too soon. I give unimportant information - or, offer it in a way that doesn't draw the reader in like it should. I find that if I ditch the first couple of pages, that is where the action is. Page 2 or 3. That's where my story should really begin.

It's also a good idea to take a stack of 10 novels (whether from your own bookshelves or the library or a bookstore) and read their first chapters. See how other authors are doing it. Do they start with dialogue? Description? Action? And what, in your opinion, is most effective? Study the masters; see what works.

And, no matter what, remember to start en medias ras -- Latin, for "in the middle of things." It doesn't have to be as dramatic as a car chase or bomb going off. But it does need to be intriguing - to compel and coax the reader to want to read more. That's really the sole purpose of the first chapter (aside from offering key information). Because if you can't "hook" the reader in that first chapter, you likely won't hook them for the rest of the novel, either.

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