First Chapter
So everyone says you need a damn good first chapter. It's true. Welcome to aggravating little corner where you have a competitive market colliding into ADD America.

The first thing about a good chapter is a DAMN good first paragraph, perhaps if you're talented enough a first damn good sentence. Here are some examples:

The adventure for Mr. Maule began in the fading daylight of a long June evening in Chicago, with the racket made by a terrified vampire pounding on his door. -- Fred Saberhagen, A Coldness in the Blood.

The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault. -- Jim Butcher, Blood Rites.

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. -- C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Justice?—You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law. -- William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own.

While there are some really brilliant opening sentences out there, I wasn't lucky enough to find one. I settled for having a damn good paragraph though. My first paragraph sucked. It was brought to my attention why exactly it sucked, and after the brutal enlightenment, I agreed. It did suck.

So, I went out looking for a change. I wanted something that would grab the reader instantly, and let's face it -- you don't learn much about my MC when you first meet him, so I decided it would be best to give the readers a bit of a sticky note about the character.

In the original version of my book, Bryce Bourbon starts off 15 years old. When I committed myself to the re-write, I up'd his age to 17. I didn't want him to seem like such a frightened child like he was. With the two year age different, my little frightened boy has grown up. I've turned him into a pot head and womanizer. Don't ask me why, but it just seemed to fit.

While I'm still getting a couple of opinions and I might change it around, this is how I started my first chapter:

It was convenient my boss's granddaughter lived only two blocks away from the Arcade; even more convenient that my boss worked almost all hours of the day. I zipped up my pants as Ash's strawberry flavored lips continued to kiss me. Everything seemed normal today. I aced none of my tests. I skipped school after lunch. I hooked up with Ashley, and I was perfectly on time by being twenty minutes late to work.

I would have never guessed such an ordinary day would be the day that I came face to face with the devil.

Instead of using some brilliant catch line, I opened it up about my character. I made sure it wasn't too long and was a bit upbeat. It got the point across without flowery descriptions, storming weather, waking up, and a mirror somewhere in there. My point was it was a normal day. Yep, normal, boring, ordinary day that the reader probably doesn't car-- oh a devil?!

At least that's the effect I'm hoping it'll have. I'm still learning this.

Once you have an eye-catching paragraph, you're going to need a damn good continuation.

You need to start your story with some type of tension. Understand, this does not mean you need to start it with a bloody fight or people screaming and a warzone. It doesn't have to be action-packed, it just needs to have tension to hook the reader.

So get your character(s) out there. What are they doing? What are they struggling against? Why are they even bothering? What happens?

As always, I'm putting my book up as an example. The first chapter has lots of break out moments. You meet the main character. You meet the main antagonist. Bryce's parents are killed in front of Bryce's eyes, and his body literally is slowly getting taken away. Everything I added in there was for a reason.

As the two main characters are introduced (the protag and antag), they're aren't sitting down having tea. They aren't shaking hands and writing each other's names down. He doesn't just become suspicious of her. Shit hits the fan. Yes. In the first chapter.

Not every book can do this. I don't see many romances able to have shit hit the fan instantly, but look at your story. Can it? I saw some good advice floating around Absolute Write where somebody said, "Your opener usually should be what you start writing in chapter three." It makes perfect sense. By the time you hit chapter three, you're comfortable with your characters and the world they live in. Action usually starts once you reach that plateau.

So the best advice for getting the best first chapter?

  1. Hook the reader within the first five paragraphs.
  2. Have constant tension.
  3. Put as much action in the first chapter as you can.


Things you should avoid? (Now, please, realize people can make things work. You might be able to, but by all means, these are standard "nonos." None of the don'ts are truly off-limit. Just use 'em with caution.)

  • Memory loss.
  • A mirror.
  • A question (No matter how cool you think it sounds, my smart ass remark sounds cooler. And I'll set the book down after I crack myself up.)
  • A dream.
  • A character waking up.
  • Info dumps (Don't do these anywhere, though.)
  • Flash backs.
  • The weather.
  • Vague shit ("My life will be over if THE package doesn't come in two hours after noon.")
  • A list.
  • Too many characters introduced.

Think I've covered it all! Good luck! And remember, if you want great reviews Absolute Write Water Cooler has a share your work area where other members give you feedback. Their opinions are invaluable.

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