With NaNoWriMo less than a week away, many of us have finished plotting, or begun to plot our novel. However, something that all authors, I included, struggle with is writing the first chapter.
The first chapter of any novel can be the most crucial chapter you will ever write. It needs to draw in your reader, excite them, and keep them turning the pages. Unfortunately, there is no set formula to writing a killer first chapter. However, there are elements that all successful first chapters share, and I'll going to share them with you today.
Element One: Choose a Good Starting Point
All characters and places have pasts and futures. It's vital that you get rid of unnecessary details and jump into the "midpoint" of your story. What sets your story in motion? Does a significant event occur? Is there a mystery that needs to be solved? Your goal here is to intrigue the reader and make them want to know more. If you need help with this, I recommend picking three of your favorite books and comparing how each author chose to start their story. What did they do to draw you into their story? Then pick a tentative starting point for your novel and start writing. You can always come back and change this as you edit and learn more about your characters.
Element Two: Introduce the Main Character
A novel is nothing without a protagonist. This character doesn't necessarily need to be strong, but they do need to be compelling and interesting. You want your reader to bond with the main character and to do this you need to give your character depth. The best way to do this is to get to know your protagonist before you start writing. What is their goal, age, and social status? What positive and negative personality traits do they have? I recommend doing a character sketch or conduct an "interview" with your character before you start writing so you can flesh some of these details out.
Element Three: Think About the Setting
A good writing tip is to introduce the setting in your first chapter. However, you don't want to overwhelm the reader. Give them a taste of where your character is in history and remember that you have an entire book in which to give your readers more detail. Your goal here is to make the world feel authentic, and the best way to achieve this is to do some world-building before you start writing. It doesn't have to be much, but it does need to be enough to help your readers immerse themselves in your novel.
Element Four: Give Your Reader Some Conflict
Now, I don't mean that you have to begin your novel in the middle of a war (although you can if you wish!). However, you want to give your readers just enough trouble to let them know that things are about to go down. Author Chuck Wendig said it best when he said:
"Begin the book with conflict. Big, small, physical, emotional, whatever. Conflict disrupts the status quo. Conflict is drama. Conflict, above all else, is interesting. Your first chapter is not a straight horizontal line. It’s a jagged driveway leading up a dark mountainside – and the shadows are full of danger."
Element Five: Set the Tone
Your first chapter will set the tone for the rest of your story, so you want to pay careful attention to this step. Don't start a romance novel with murder or begin a romantic comedy with a gruesome murder scene. Doing this will only confuse your readers. Instead, stay true to your genre, your tone, and your voice. This way, you will attract the right readers to your novel and then keep them reeled in as they continue to read. If you're having trouble establishing the tone of your story, I recommend picking five books from your chosen genre and reading the first chapters of each. How did those authors set the tone for their books?
Above all, be confident. Read over the information I've presented, but ultimately do what feels right for your novel. Are there other elements you think are essential to crafting a killer first chapter? If so, leave them down below.