In For Writers, Plotting, Tools & Resources, Writing

As I begin to develop my plan for tackling the next major revision of my manuscript, one of the elements I’m considering changing is the first chapter. Honestly, I never thought I’d be faced with this particular decision because, well, I LOVE the first chapter (hence the challenge with trying to edit your own work!). Not only do I feel strongly about it, but it tested really well in my writing workshop. However, my book doctor helped see how my current first chapter might mislead readers as to what the real story is about. After taking a step back and considering this, I can totally see her point (which reinforces just how critical objective feedback is).

Considering this shift in direction, I thought it would be helpful to revisit the elements of a good first chapter. According to The Writing Show host, Paula B., the first chapter of a novel or memoir should:

  • Grab the reader from the get-go
  • Introduce the major characters and their conflicts, and demonstrate what they want
  • Establish point of view
  • Build tension and suspense
  • Foreshadow action to come
  • Present major themes
  • Set the tone
  • Introduce the setting
  • Leave the reader wanting more

Though this is a tall order, this is what agents, publishers and readers alike will be expecting from your first chapter.

Anyone else out there revising a manuscript? What challenges are you facing?

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  • lizziebeth94

    Well, I’m not at the revision stage yet but with the novel I am writing (which has been changed quite a bit since I started it 3 years ago) I am having troubles with the first chapter. I never feel like it leaves the reader wanting to read more. I guess I wouldn’t know as I’ve never shared it with anyone but still first chapters can be a hassle.

    • Erika Liodice

      Hi lizziebeth94,
      I struggled with the first chapter in both my novels. The resource that helped me most was the book Hooked by Les Edgerton. It was invaluable.

      Hope it helps!

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