How to Write an Opening Chapter

I can’t tell you how often I started writing a book only to realize the story really began in the second or third chapter. When I critiqued writers’ manuscripts the same thing happened. If I told one author the book started in the wrong place I told fifty. It’s common to start the story too soon. The process of warming up to your book, getting to know your characters, getting comfortable with all the backstory shouldn’t actually end up in the first chapter. You should know all this before you sit down to write…whether you write it down or mull it around in your head.

So how do you decide on a starting point? Many writing coaches advise authors to begin the story as close to the first conflict as possible. What does that mean?

Put your main character in his/her ordinary world before slamming them into the story conflict. The reader wants to see them react to life as they’ve known it before it’s about to change. And the character could be inanimate like the sea. The sea is calm before it turns stormy. The sky is stormy before it clears. The hero is happy before the day goes to sh*t. You get the picture.

During this short introduction to the main character and the story, we should learn something about her. She could be leaving the house for work, then the cat sneaks out because the door doesn’t close all the way. She’ll have to call her new sexy neighbor again because she’s running late. Worry. He’s going to think she’s a flake or is interested in him. Well she is…both. The rain hasn’t stopped for two weeks and caused the wood to swell. He’s pretty handy around his house. Hmmm. She drops the papers she’s holding. The red ink runs on  the pages from the raindrops. She curses the rain, but doesn’t actually use profanity. She says to herself–Whatever…most of the kids can’t read yet anyway.

This is just a general rundown. So what do we learn about her in that brief introduction? She teaches youngsters. Has a sexy new neighbor. Is a little flustered. Has a cat she cares about. Seems nice but realistic. This isn’t the first time the cat has escaped. It’s raining and she is late for work. Hopefully the reader imagined more, too.

Do we want to know more about her? Sure. Are we worried about her? Yes? No? Not yet?

Next. What could happen to hook you so you would want to read more?

From this opening I think the writer has several options to introduce the transition from ordinary world to something happens depending on the genre.

  • Another woman could leave the neighbor’s house and kiss him good-bye.
  • Backing out of the driveway, a truck could swerve out of control and hit the heroine’s car.
  • An alien spacecraft could land in her front yard.
  • A ghost could pop into her front seat.
  • Her fangs could descend in jealousy.
  • Her abusive ex-boyfriend could call.

These are a few options.

But what we decide determines the promise of the book. Here is where the reader figures out the genre, decides whether or not this book might be for them. Your voice (the unique style of your writing) and person, tense, pov, as well as word choices define the book at this point.

In a movie or book, the promise is defined in the first ten percent. Included in the first ten percent will be the locale, the identity of the main cast of characters,  the style, the genre, the main characters’ goals and motivations, and ideally, the main conflict. Other conflicts may play a part in getting to the resolution of the goal, but the main conflict should be at least hinted at in the opening ten percent.

Depending on the length of your story, the first chapter may not include all twriting copyhe characters etc. But in the first 200-500 words of any book, the writer must hook the reader. Most readers won’t skim more than a few pages to get into a book. They may skim after they’re curious about what’s going to happen.  And different hooks work for different genres. Read some opening scenes from books in your genre and see how best-selling authors do it.  I prefer reading examples from their early work, before they made a name for themselves. Those books defined them to their reading audience.

And I know it’s hard, but tighten that opening until it squeaks. Pacing is the rate that the reader is pulled into and through your story. Genre will influence your word choices, but so will pacing. Horror pacing and word choices will be somewhat different from romance, but may be similar to suspense. Give the reader a breather every now and then especially after an exceptionally exhausting scene. The ones when you try to get the reader’s pulse rate going. That’s great writing, but you don’t want to kill your favorite readers.

Please leave me a comment if you found this helpful and if you have something to add, your comments are welcome. Thank you.

View my other blog here Eliza March Writes


Writers Block is a Fallacy. My Story Will Demonstrate Why.

This is just my humble opinion. You can write your own blog if you disagree and tell us your story after reading my observations and suggestions.

Here’s how I see it. I’ve had the inability to move forward with a story; sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months, sometimes for years. That’s not writer’s block. It’s a problem with the plot or characters or your motivation. Writing is often work–hard work. That means working through the problems of a story. Not just spitting it out and expecting that all it needs after it’s written is a comma or two in edits.  Most stories take at least a little analysis.

What people believe is writer’s block is actually a point when the writer loses direction or interest and tries to force the story. Pantsers or plotters may need to take time to regroup. A plotter will write out the plan or draw a diagram; a pantser will imagine the solution while running or cooking or staring at the starry-night sky. Sometimes it takes minutes, sometimes months for the solution–the ah ha moment–to strike. Sometimes it doesn’t ever come. Why? Because you’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
That isn’t writer’s block. It’s a convoluted premise. You imagine the story plot and the characters. The characters don’t always do what you think they will. Why? Because of plot flaws or character
. When you fix one the other will fall into place.
Other reasons writers think they have writer’s block is because they
1. don’t like the plot or genre they’ve chosen to write
2. don’t know their characters, especially the hero/heroine
3. can’t fulfill the story promise
4. don’t know how to fix it
Ask yourself if it’s one of these issues. Be honest. What don’t you like? Get to know your characters better. If the plot isn’t headed in the right direction, maybe you need to look for another way to get to the en
d. In the swamps? Don’t know how to get out? Read a book on craft. Ask a critique partner or trusted reader to review what you have so far. Talk over the character or plot problems with another writer. Don’t feel like you have to follow every suggestion. Sort through them all and find the ones that will help you get past your story’s sticking points.
If you still don’t come up with a solution, it’s best to move on to another project. You have them. Let the other book simmer. Sometimes it will come to you later. Go through your other ideas, preferably the ones that intrigue you. They exist in a phrase you wrote down on a napkin, a title running around in your head, a line from a movie you can’t shake, an impression of a scene you need to write. If you don’t have anything. Change it up–read a book, watch a movie, listen to music, do something different until you find that something. Most of all, even if you’re on deadline, don’t force it. It’s the pressure to write something concrete that stifles your creativity. You think proposals are just that–concrete. Synopses often change when the story is written. All because your experience changes, and how you feel, at any given point, is different. The longer it takes to write a book, the bigger the change.
Personally, my career in writing has changed in the last twelve years because I’ve gone from being a student of the craft to a teacher. Ten years of writing experience and editing has given me an insight I didn’t have in the beginning; so my vision has improved and is continuously adjusting. Gemini was a project I began working on many years ago. I shopped it around and had some interest from publishers, but back then no one wanted to commit to publishing a series. Authors didn’t want to write them for a variety of reasons, and those who did took a risk. My goals changed, my voice changed, my knowledge grew. I stopped writing the Gemini series after doing a proposal for five books; completing the prequel and the first book and beginning the second book. You could say I had writer’s block but, in all honesty, I love this series more than anything I’ve ever written. Why would I avoid finishing it?
Pressure. I want this series to be read. I don’t care if it makes money. I want readers to enjoy it. Talk to me about it. Interact.  The industry has changed since I wrote that first book in the series. So now I have a plan and patience.
The prequel will release May 28, 2017. It’s going on Presale March 31st. Sign up for my Newsletter [] and I’ll send you the links of where to buy The Gemini Mythology when it’s available. I’ll also have a contest to give away a few copies to five lucky winners on my website at Eliza March. If you’re a fantasy fan of faery lore and mythology, keep your eyes open for Gemini at all major ebook sites and help me reach my dream. Tell your friends about it.