Tackling the First Chapter: 5 Tips from Bestselling Authors

Tackling the First Chapter:  5 Tips from Bestselling Authors

It’s no secret that the first chapter is one of the most important chapters of your manuscript. In fact, many writers argue that it is the singular most important chapter, and we’re inclined to agree. After all, the first chapter is, for many readers, the deciding factor on whether or not to continue reading. For this reason, this chapter must contain a hook, the first steps for plot development, and characterization; it must also be approached with care, attention, and dedication. But where to even start? We’re here to provide five starter tips for approaching the first chapter, based on our experiences.

#1) Establish characterization from the outset.

When it comes to characters, we recommend introducing a character that makes you smile in the first chapter. Put that character in a situation we’ve all been in and have them react in a way that makes us feel good, or makes us laugh. Alternatively, introduce a character and have us fall in love. Make them flesh and blood. Make them an underdog or make them be having the best day of their life after a severe dry spell. (Then kill them. Just remember, we never kill characters we haven’t first made readers love, revere, or despise.)

#2) Stay focused on the chapter’s voice/hook.

For us, it’s all about voice and hook. The reader should immediately be sucked in from the first paragraph, with a unique tone and something that makes them think, “I have to know more!” You don’t want readers to be able to put it down until they get to another paragraph, and then another, and so on. 

#3) Add a cliffhanger.

End your chapter on a mini cliffhanger, but make it a real one; no sudden sounds that turn out to be a pet. Looking for some extra guidance on how to approach cliffhangers, check out our Writing Passport on the topic.

#4) Rewrite the chapter. Many times.

Often times what is your first chapter in the initial draft isn’t actually your real first chapter. It may be the 10th time you’ve rewritten an opening, but the reader doesn’t know that! The best thing you can do is start writing your story. Then, once you’ve gotten several chapters (or even drafts) in, you’ll have really tapped into that voice, world, etc. Rewriting the first chapter entirely new is what always helps us make it really shine, now that we have “experience” inside this world we’ve created. 

#5) Pare down your initial draft.

While editing, try cutting your chapter in half. Make it short, bold, and punchy. If readers fly through it and move onto the second, you’ve conquered your first hurdle. Struggling to nail down your initial draft? Try writing the first three chapters and asking yourself which is the most captivating. Find a way to make THAT your first chapter, even if you have to time jump. 

We’re wishing you all the best on your first-chapter-writing experience! Check out our Writing Passport on Openings for more tips from the Scribbler Team + an additional bestselling author!

The Scribbler Team

Victoria Scott started Scribbler in 2017 after traditionally publishing an impressive number of books with companies like HarperCollins Harlequin Scholastic and Macmillan. Victoria is an Uber-hailing city girl who is passionate about writing and helping other writers find their voice.

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