Please welcome Jenna Barwin, who’s here to share her five “writer’s life” photos! The Photos Something that represents something unique about you I shoot underwater photography. Recently, I considered whether there was a link between the sea creatures I photograph, and my fiction writing. Denizens of the sea and vampires share this in common: they […]
I’ve wanted to write about first chapters for a while, primarily because they’re so important. After all, they’re the gateway to Chapter 2 and getting a reader to Chapter 2 is a fantastic idea.
I did some research and almost instantly the rule-resistant rebel in me kicked in. She’s the writer who scowls at formulas, who insists that form has to fit the story, not the other way around. She’s the reader who doesn’t want to read the same story over and over with different titles.
Well, I suppressed the first-born smarty-pants part of my personality and learned a few things.
First, I learned that there are actually a number of perfectly legitimate types of first chapters. Writer’s Digest has a great article by Jeff Gerke that describes 4 approaches with examples (summarized here):
- The Prolog – A prolog is an episode that pertains to your story but does not include the hero (or includes the hero at a time well before the story proper begins, when he’s a child). It might not be “Chapter 1” per se, but it can serve as a legitimate opening—if it works.
- The Hero Action Beginning – In a hero action beginning, the hero is onstage, doing something active and interesting related to the launching of the core story (it need not involve explosions and car chases, but it certainly can).
- The In Medias Res Beginning (in the middle of things ) – With in medias res, you start at a point deep in the story, show a bit of activity to intrigue the reader, and then you hit the rewind button and spend some or all of the rest of the book catching up to that moment.
- The Frame Device – The final major way of beginning your first chapter is to use a frame device. In this, your story is bookended on the front and back (and usually a few instances in the middle) by a story that is outside the main story. The primary tale is framed by this other story.
With that out of the way, I went in search of tips that apply to Chapter 1’s regardless of the book, tips that I could apply as I conceive of, write, and edit my stories. As usual, there are exceptions to these tips, and the list is not exhaustive.
Context: Backstory, Setting, and Detail
- Avoid backstory. Include the bare minimum necessary and trickle the rest in as needed.
- Don’t overdo setting. Give a smattering of strong, vibrant details to establish a sense of place and time. Then fill in the rest later as the story unfolds.
- Connect the character to the setting so it isn’t just a backdrop. You might show how the character interacts with the setting.
- There’s no need to skimp on details that serve the story. If your story is about snipers, give sniper details. Make sure they’re sharp and interesting. Avoid being vague. Write tight!
Structure: Theme, Mood, and Plot
- Start the book as late in the story as you can. Does your story still work if you start with Chapter 2? If so, Cut chapter 1.
- Write a great first line. A great first line grabs the reader’s interest.
- The theme is the argument that the story is making. The first chapter should hint at theme.
- Establish your mood. Ask yourself how you want the reader to feel while reading the book.
- Think of every chapter as a short story with a mini-plot and conflict, especially Chapter 1.
- Avoid telegraphing. Let the immediacy of the action carry the chapter to the end. Keep your pov tight.
- Most writing experts will recommend introducing your protagonist in the first chapter. Some recommend introducing your antagonist as well. Avoid opening with other characters talking about the main character.
- Make your reader care about your character. How is the character at risk?
- Have your character engaged – active versus passive.
- Not absolutely necessary, but dialog is a great way to reveal character, and conflict and manage pace.
- Have some sort of conflict – physical, emotional, or mental. Conflict disrupts the status quo. Conflict is drama and it’s interesting.
- You don’t need to spell out the stakes for the entire book in chapter one, but hint at why the conflict matters.
- A note on action: Rip-roaring action might be fun, but it’s best if the reader cares about the character. Without an investment in character and context, an action scene can feel shallow.
- End your first chapter and each chapter with a moment of mystery, an introduction of conflict, or a twist of the tale. It doesn’t have to be a huge one; it just needs to be intriguing enough to propel the reader forward.
- Mystery. While action needs context, one of mystery’s strengths is that it makes the reader wait for context. It’s okay not to explain everything. At the same time, mystery does not equal confusion – find the balance.
Thanks for the Tips D 🙂 Source: Writing Chapter One – Tips
I am totally excited to share this excerpt by author Suzanna Burke!
I stumbled across her profile on Amazon and made my way to her website when I was tempted by her blog post about a bit of Paranormal. I was hooked instantly and thought you would love it too! I love her style, great writing 🙂
Welcome to my new work in progress! “Arrival” A Paranormal Thriller.
I will be featuring an excerpt from “ARRIVAL” my latest work (In progress) each week. I have listed this as a paranormal/thriller. I have yet to decide if I should add Dystopian to that genre list.
Your thoughts and comments would be greatly appreciated.
Here we go! (No synopsis)
CHAPTER 1 Excerpt 1.
“Arrival” by Suzanne Burke
The blood was pooling now; the pools becoming rapidly drying rivers in the oppressive heat of early morning.
It caked the whitewashed walls in grotesque patterns, like Picasso on a bender.
The team moved softly, unaffected by the stench of death. As ordered, they were sending ‘activation’ messages to those of the ‘Breed’ that stood watching the carnage without expression.
The other onlookers, the ‘Nontells’ were deemed irrelevant. As always they would do as instructed; unaware, unafraid, robbed of free thought.
Diago Ortega was a Nontell. He watched the Breed team carefully, fascinated as always with the teamwork without words that they excelled at. The poetry of movement between them was a beautiful thing to behold. His brain took a snapshot of the moment, storing it in his photographic memory along with the rest of the horror.
It was only when his own part in this nightmarish scenario was played out that he would stop long enough to reflect. For now the bodies were still warm to the touch; death had not yet visited for long. Dismemberment was carried out in routine order. Diago had a fleeting gratitude that his team did not need to decapitate the body. Taking the limbs was sickening enough.
His face reflected no horror. For he had witnessed far worse.
Why did the the Breed insist that all Nontells leave the room once forensics were underway? Why did the Breed always clean the gore themselves, when they had an army of Nontells to do it? It made no sense.
Why indeed were the ‘Breed’ at all times, the last ones to remain on the scene, and the first to arrive?
Diago tried unsuccessfully to stem the tide of his suspicions. The ‘Breed’ could read his thoughts, he was certain of it; all that kept him safe was their egomaniacal assumption that a ‘Nontell’ would have no thoughts worthy of reading.
He sat. He pulled a beer from the ice-box and drank it down fast; it cleared the bitterness from his palate … for a time. Alcoholism was rampant within the Nontell enclaves; it had been since the ‘Arrival’; in fact, the Breed encouraged it. It was the one thing that the Nontells were permitted to excel at.
Diago remembered well the days before ‘Arrival’. Those days before were forbidden to recall, never to be spoken of. The Breed had succeeded overwhelmingly well in quelling their humanity. But not for all. Not for him.
The memory played out in the theater of his mind, sweet, sweet, memory … of the days when laughter was spontaneous, tears were permitted, and joy was anticipated with delight. Days of sunshine and superman, dogs and children, doughnuts and coffee.
Years of striving to attain a place. Working, long, discouraging, deadly hours; holding on desperately for those times of returning home, to the love of a partner who valued your contribution to their world.
‘Arrival’ had irreversibly altered that sacred pattern.
The ‘Breed-Master’ had declared the days before “Arrival” as a pestilence to be diminished and swept from memory.
It was so ordered.
Diago Ortega chose to disobey.
As did the others … they would arrive soon.
The other Nontells, the ones with enough humanity remaining to dare to be different; to question, to seek the truth … and perhaps more importantly, to locate within themselves the courage it would take to act on what they discovered. Small pockets of them had begun forming, always alert and always at risk.
Diago waited, allowing his thoughts to drift, permitting visions of yesterday’s to enter once more. They blazed with unfettered passion, he could feel the heat as he suffered again in the light.
The loud pounding on the door startled him. He jumped up, spilling the contents of his beer over an already dirty shirt. He glanced around quickly as if a method of escape would magically appear, it did not … He located and grabbed his old gun, tucking the Glock firmly in the waistband of his jeans. The pounding continued and his heartbeat accelerated, all his focus now on that door.
They others had a prearranged signal and this wasn’t it.
To be continued….
I do hope you enjoyed this excerpt. Those that read this, will be the first to do so.
There are millions of apps, tools, extensions, and plugins available online. This is Part 2 of a big list of tools for indie authors that I’ve discovered and tested.
You can find Part 1 of this article here:
So, let’s take a look at Part 2 which includes social media dashboards, Pinterest extensions, scheduling apps for Instagram, WordPress plugins and editing apps.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a time machine to go into the future, so you could learn from experiences you haven’t had yet?
I am giving you that time machine.
I am celebrating my one-year blogging anniversary this month. Either through their words or their examples, the following bloggers shared their tips with me. I am honored to be able to pass on their wisdom to you.
Consider this comment from a reader:
I have heard the longer you blog the better you get… It gives me hope!
What if you don’t have to hope? I brought you the wisdom that a year’s worth of blogging brings, wisdom I garnered from other bloggers.
Now you, too, can get the benefit of their expertise…