Posted on Leave a comment

Five Things I Learned After Writing My First Chapter


With my cursor at the beginning of Chapter 1 of my WWII historical fiction novel, I hit Ctrl+Enter and sighed.

Beginning a book all over again isn’t pleasant sometimes.

I loved this chapter. I mean, really liked it, even though I knew all along something wasn’t quite right about it.

For several months when I first started writing all those years ago, I struggled to figure out why chapter 1 didn’t work as the beginning for my novel.

And now, I needed to start over and create a new Chapter 1.

A few contests, a writing conference or ten, a plethora of writing craft books, and two agents later, my intuition had solidified into a clear direction of where this novel needed to go. The feedback was abundantly helpful, and most of the readers enjoyed the few chapters I had submitted.

But the first chapter lacked … heart. The first chapter was missing the GMC (goal, motivation, conflict).

My chapter lacked a clear, immediate action.

Who are these people and why do you want me to care for them?? 

I can honestly say I’ve always been a writer who struggled to write beginnings. I’m sure I’m not the only one, and there are writers who dislike middles and endings too.

Here are a few things I learned about my now-improved chapter (the Chapter 1 that everyone liked but couldn’t connect with):

  1. Always introduce your characters early enough in the first page that gives the reader reason to continue to the second page and the third page and eventually the last page in as few sittings as possible. Maybe your character is afraid to drive over a bridge or wants to capture a rattlesnake. You want that first page to pop! off the page.
  2. Give your characters interesting, lively dialogue . You want to make your readers laugh and relate to the story, even if in a small way.
  3. Engage your readers. Don’t make them ask the kind of questions that drive them to set your story down and go do something that they had been putting off (like washing laundry or bathing the dog).
  4. Don’t overwrite. Less is always more.
    (This was hard for me at first because I like to describe things. But too much actually hurts your writing and may frustrate your readers. Readers want a quick read they can still enjoy.)
  5. Choose your words well. Your words can endear your readers, or cause them to run. Mark Twain said it best. It’s the difference between lightening and the lightning bug.

Taking an honest look at my first chapter, and based on my family’s and friends’ and judges’/agents’ comments, I’m glad I’m starting over. Last week, I spent four days pounding out a new Chapter 1 — a rough draft right now, but hopefully in the near future it will be a well-rounded opening chapter!

Now, excuse me while I read over this post and check to see that I’ve engaged you, helped you relate to it, caused you to want to read it, and that I’ve used my words well.

Oh, if you want to learn more about engaging your readers with that first chapter, I’ll be speaking about The Felt Need and How to Work with an Editor at two different writer’s events in Summer 2023. Check my socials for details!