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There are five rules for chapter one of your book and here they are:
1. Start the story as late as possible
2. Have a grabber opening
3. Make the reader care, usually via the MC
4. What are the stakes? What can be gained or lost?
5. End with a cliffhanger so we go to chapter 2
Need more info? Some details? Let’s read on then, shall we?
1 Start the story as late as possible
Most authors bury the really interesting stuff a few paragraphs in, or worse, in chapter two or three. What’s the first interesting thing that happens in your story? Start there.
2 Have a grabber opening
I like a “grabber” opening to a story and especially the opening chapter. Stories that hook a reader right away and keep the reader turning pages are stories that get read – and will receive comments like “I couldn’t put it down.” Of course, that’s not always possible, but do your best. Like I said, most authors bury the really interesting stuff a few paragraphs in. At least don’t do that.
3 Make the reader care, usually via the MC
Because if readers don’t care… they don’t care. Do you intentionally do stuff – voluntarily – that you don’t want to do? Reading your book is not a job requirement. It’s supposed to be fun, a diversion.
4 What are the stakes? What can be gained or lost?
We know a story’s supposed to have conflict. A story were nothing bad happens is a DULL story, as in, nobody’s reading it. Put your character up a tree and throw rocks at them. Tension. Conflict. All that good stuff. But it starts in chapter 1 by letting the reader know what is at risk.
5 End chapter ONE with a cliffhanger so we go to chapter TWO
Just about anything can be a cliffhanger if you do it right. Ask a question in chapter one that we have to go to chapter two to find the answer. Which we won’t do if we don’t care. Of course, that’s not always possible, but most authors should usually end their chapter a few lines or paragraphs before they actually end it. Instead, we resolve a question on OUR mind, and we stop – big mistake. Leave it for chapter two to resolve it, and readers have to read on.
There are more, but this is good to get started. And chapter ONE’s job is NOT to do everything!
What do YOU try to do in your first chapter?
Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.”
You can check out his work at www.DanAlatorre.com.