Writing the first chapter is equivalent to a first date. First impressions are everything and you, the writer are subject to some intense scrutiny. But how do you know if you’re dotting all your i’s and crossing all your t’s? Here’s a gold-star checklist for writing your first chapter.
Bring your Chapter One ‘A’ game with a strong main character, conflict, voice, and setting.
These four components are the foundation of your story and should be nailed down in advance. Take time and careful consideration as you create each of these elements before your real writing begins. Once you get a handle on what these four elements look like, present them in your first chapter. Do this in your own unique way–but make sure they shine.
Your main character
Your first chapter should deliver your main character into the open arms of your intended audience. This well-built character needs both inner and outer conflict, as well as significant room for growth. Their inner conflict is the work needed to become a better (or different) human, while the outer conflict is whatever plot obstacles you throw their way. And, hopefully, you’re chucking all sorts of nastiness at your darlings. Which leads us to …
Your story is nothing without conflict. Well, it’s something, it’s boring. People love conflict. It helps us transcend the gooey mess of being a misguided human and allows us to reflect on our own life situations. Carefully examine the conflict you plan on bringing to the table and trot out some inclining of it, right away, in your first chapter.
I’m not going to lie to you here. Voice is tricky. It’s intimate, it’s powerful, and it’s hard to pinpoint just how one should develop it. Voice comes with time and it takes practice, so take care on this one. The voice you choose in the first chapter needs to be spot on because it will set the tone for the entire story. It becomes the reader’s gateway into the internal psyche and overall vibe of the entire story. You can learn more about voice development here.
The setting is an integral part of your story and should be treated as an additional, albeit silent, character in your book. Additionally, your setting serves as a home base where your reader will reside. Think of your first chapter like a foyer. Chapter one is your opportunity to give your audience a preview of the overall lay of the land. It’s where we, the audience, set up camp during the duration of your story. However, don’t overwhelm your reader with scenery. Your conflict, main character, and voice should take precedence over setting in chapter one. Feel free to read more about setting in a previous post.
Fronts and backs
Your opening paragraph should be carefully crafted to pack a wallop of a punch. It should convey the essence of your entire story in only a few words. Sound difficult? You bet your latte it is, but it’s so worth your time and consideration. Don’t stress about it right away, but before you kick your book to your editor, make sure that the first sentence is on point.
The end of your first chapter needs the same amount of consideration but in a different way. You want people to keep reading, so give them a reason to continue. Leave them wanting more. Each chapter of your book should feel like it has its own beginning, middle, and end. Therefore, your first chapter should establish a carefully crafted hook with a micro cliff-hanger at the end.