Plot & Structure

How to Write a First Chapter that Works

Tal Valante
Written by Tal Valante

Quick question: What do you do to get a reader to read your second chapter?

Wow them with the first chapter, of course. The first chapter of your novel carries a lot of weight. It’s where you’ll hook your reader for the rest of the ride or lose them for good.

Here are four points to keep in mind when writing your first chapter.

 1. Introduce Your Point of View Character

Your readers will be exploring your world through this guy’s eyes, so it’s crucial that they get to know him a bit and like him a lot, all within the first few pages of your story.

Choose an opening scene that demonstrates your character’s relation to society. For example, if he’s a loner, show him not fitting in somewhere. If he’s rich, show him enjoying the luxuries of something ordinary men can’t afford.

Choose a scene that clearly shows what your character wants. It may or may not be the major desire that drives the plot, but show him wanting something. This will give your story direction and help you pull the reader along.

Choose a scene that shows your character doing something (or going through something) your readers can empathize with. Show something of how your character is not perfect.

(If you have multiple POV characters, introduce one of them, you’ll have to introduce each in his or her turn.)

2. Introduce Your Setting

Your character doesn’t live in a void. Give your readers some context to work with, or they might feel as if the story is groundless.

Make sure the “where” and “when” of your story are clear from the opening scene. Let them set the mood of your story.

For your opening scene, choose a location that doesn’t threaten your character’s comfort zone too much. Later in the story, you’ll want to raise suspense by taking your character completely out of their comfort zone, but first you must establish that zone.

Choose a location/interaction that demonstrates what’s special in your world, if applicable. This is especially true for some genres, like fantasy, science fiction, and alternate history. Specifically, if there’s one major thing that separates your world from our reality, be sure to introduce it in your opening scene.

3. Generate Some Conflict

There is no story without conflict. People read stories to see someone face something significant in order to reach the thing they most desperately want.

Show some conflict that involves your main character and reveals something personal about him.

You could also have some conflict that echoes the major conflict of the story (i.e. your theme). Try to do this subtly; you don’t want to give away your grand finale. For example, in a romance, you can show your character helping a heartbroken friend or dealing with an annoying ex.

4. Leave Your Readers Leaning Forward

Television shows have been using cliffhangers for years to get people to watch the next episode in their series. It makes sense to use the same strategy for the end of your chapters.

Throughout your first chapter, raise a lot of questions, and don’t dispense too many answers. Give the reader enough so that they don’t feel confused, but not enough to make them think they know everything there is to know.

And finally, choose an end point that begs the question, “What happens next?”

The Key to First Chapter Success

We’ve gone over four points that will make your first chapter a page-turning hit: character, setting, conflict, and unanswered questions. Follow these, and you’re sure to set a solid foundation for keeping your reader hooked for the rest of your story.

About the author

Tal Valante

Tal Valante

Tal Valante has been writing science fiction and fantasy from a young age, and she can't seem to kick the habit. When she’s not busy crafting fictional worlds, she’s developing new software for writers, like a website builder and a writing prompts application, as the CEO of Litwise Ltd.

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