First Chapters: What To Include

12:54 AM

Lately I’ve been learning a lot about how to begin your novel. Personally, I think this is the most important part of the book because it determines whether or not the reader will even give your story a try.

As a reader, how many times have picked up a book only to give up on it after reading the first few pages? When those pages didn’t grab you, you dumped the book and moved on to something else.

As a writer, you have to give your readers a reason to stick around right away.

Set up your story in the first paragraphs

An easy way to remember what to include in your opening paragraphs is the four W’s. Who, what, when, and where?

Who? Who’s story is it? You should introduce your protagonist in the first paragraph, using the right point of view, of course. Readers want to know who the main character is and what that person is like. They need to know who to get emotionally invested in.

What? What’s going on? What is the character doing? You’ll need to add enough details for the reader to visualize everything clearly.

Where? The reader needs to know immediately where the scene is taking place. Even if you don’t specifically say where you are, sensory details can help determine the location.

When? When is this story taking place? Is it sometime in the past or is it present time? What time of year is it? This is especially important if the “when” is essential to the plot.

Opening paragraphs usually include:

Limited backstory. You should always start your book with an actual scene.Too much backstory right away gets boring. Especially when your reader doesn’t even know the characters well enough to appreciate it. All you need is enough to keep the reader from getting confused.

Action. Something significant needs to happen to grab the readers attention. Readers won’t stick with a book when it’s all talk and no action. Show, don’t tell. And use all your senses. Readers want to experience the action, the blood, sweat, and tears, not simply hear about it.

Minimal setting and background description. Too much detail about the setting gets boring fast. You can always explore everything in more detail later, but for the first chapters, the reader only needs enough to know where and what they are looking at.

The story’s mood or genre. You should really set the mood and tone of the story early in beginning. For example, if it’s science fiction, it should feel like one right away.

First chapters must achieve these goals:

Grab your readers attention. No matter what it is, a unique voice, a great bit of dialogue, or a startling action, something must grab your readers attention and hold onto it.

Intrigue the reader. You need to give the them a reason to continue reading. The events, or plot, should give the reader some kind of puzzle to solve, or something to wonder about.

Your first chapters are your chance to impress readers. Have you taken the time to introduce your characters, setting, and stakes in your first chapters?

Tell me all about it in the comments!


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