Written by Alex Jenson
Writing the First Chapter
What elements should you include in the first chapter of a story? - I am gearing this more towards the novella or novel, although some of the points here could apply to the short story, but not necessarily, as the short story is a more focused form of storytelling.
The ideas here are not exhaustive and are written as a beginners guide, with some hopefully useful tips on how you go about writing that all-important first chapter. Here are some of the elements that I believe are worth consideration.
1. Introduce your main character. Your protagonist. In the case of stories with multiple points of views and multiple main characters this might not necessarily apply, but if your story is about 'someone' it is a good idea to have them appear somewhere on the first page. It helps the reader and reassures them. It helps avoid confusion. Remember that just because you have written a book, does not mean that someone is going to read it from start to finish. Put yourself in the shoes of the reader ...what would you want to know after reading the first few pages?
2. Do not give too much away. The first chapter should be a teaser. It should intrigue and create anticipation and suspense, whilst also giving enough detail on the character and the world of the story to keep the reader interested. But don not try and cram too much information into it. You might want to raise questions in the mind of the reader. Establish a problem or ask a question that the rest of the book will attempt to address. It is a scene-setting chapter, and while some writers will insist on planting a visible 'hook' on the first page, this is not always necessary.
3. Set the tone and style. Is there a strong voice coming through in the first chapter? How are you marking yourself out from all those other stories and writers out there? Try and establish your own unique style and tone, make your authorial voice loud and clear, but without bashing people over the head. Readers are wise, and have probably read as much, if not more than you have. They know what to expect from a story, so it is better if you can upset that expectation somehow by giving them something a little bit different. But make sure that your style is consistent with the rest of the book.
4. Stakes. What is at stake here? What is the story about. The first chapter should satisfy the reader's need to understand what the story is going to be about, what challenges the character will face, the odds stacked against them. Can you establish empathy with the main character in those first vital few pages? This should be one of your main goals. If the reader does not care about the character, they might well give up on your story.
5. Make your character human.
Presenting the character as a fully-dimensional person with believable attributes, who is in a situation that the reader can relate to. It sounds obvious enough, but is easier said than done. Try and speak to the reader as if you are talking to them on a personal, one-to-one level; make it intimate, intense and present them with a character and situation that is unique, intriguing and makes them want to read more.
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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 16 June 2010 )