Today we have Carrie Butler from So, You're a Writer over to discuss the importance of first chapters.
Carrie and I met a few months back via an ad I posted for critique partners. I definitely hit the jackpot with her. Not only has she turned out to be a super critter—she’s an incredibly talented writer and a great friend, too. (I wasn’t kidding when I said she frequently causes me to spray coffee all over my screen. = P) Unlike me, Carrie’s many writing strengths include beginnings. ; )
“What is the first chapter, Mr. Trebek?”
That is correct.
…Okay, so I’m not Alex Trebek. I’m not a game show host. I never even knew Merv Griffin. But I do know this: If you don’t nail your first chapter, your book could be in jeopardy. (Oh, I went there…)
Let’s say you have an MC named Jill. Starting out, you may feel tempted to lead with her backstory. After all, you need to explain why Jill doesn’t trust men, before she meets her love interest, right?
Sorry, but that’s incorrect. (Oopsie. Went Trebek again.)
Well-written books hook you from the first paragraph. They drop you in the middle of the day things change. Something’s going on, and you have to know what happens. So, what does that mean for your hypothetical manuscript?
Your readers want to tumble down the hill with Jill, as she curses her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Jack. They want to be there when she gets to the bottom and meets Julio—the sweaty, bare-chested groundskeeper. Show that pivotal moment. Entice them to read on. Give them a reason to turn the page!
I wasn’t kidding about backstory in the first chapter. If you bog it down with an info-dump, people are going to drop your book faster than you can say, “royalty loss”. Ease those details in. Lay out the dots, but let the reader connect them.
All of that said, you can’t cheat, either. Don’t start dropping bombs on your characters, only to lead them into a sweet romance. Give us unrealistic expectations and we’ll always be dissatisfied. Oh, and for the love of all that is right in this world, don’t start your book with a dream. They’re usually considered “false starts” and make the reader feel… well, cheated.
Let’s review for the blog skimmers. :)
- Start with a pivotal moment/the day things change
- Provoke curiosity
- Entice the reader
- Give unrealistic expectations
- Write a “false start”
Now get crackin’ on that first chapter! You can do it. I have faith in you. :)
Carrie is an aspiring novelist who graduated summa cum laude in marketing...so let’s gang up on her and drag her back to discuss promotion sometime. = ) Here’s where she hides:
Website | Writing Blog | Personal Blog | Twitter | Google+
Thanks, Carrie, for taking time to stop by and encourage fellow writers.
And thanks to all of you for visiting.
Be sure to join me next Wednesday. Author Nancy Kimball plans to visit with some tips on pacing.
See ya next week. ; )
Very simple and can't get much clearer than this! Love the Jeopardy-related humor. I try to have humor in my writing. Better than laughing at my own jokes!ReplyDelete
Thanks and blessings on your journey to publication! (I am on that road as well)
Thanks for visiting, Susan.Delete
Thank you, Susan! Same to you! :)Delete
LOL! I'm laughing so hard at the review for the blog skimmers... still laughing...ReplyDelete
Carrie rocks. Thanks so much for the fun post ;)
Oh... and Melissa? Thanked you on my blog today :D
You know we all do it from time to time. *grins*Delete
Thanks, Morgan! :D
Oh, and Melissa? I worry that I'm corrupting you. :P
That ship has already sailed.
Thanks for having Carrie over, Melissa. She's one of my heroes. Not only is she smart, she's cute. I think it runs in the family.ReplyDelete
I especially like her comment about NOT writing a false start. Just the other day someone was recommending a book. Honestly, this is exactly what she said, "The book was exactly, starting on page 50 or so."
The author must have had a horseshoe somewhere (cough) on his body.
I can't really speak out about this.Delete
As a writer who started my first book with a dream... LOL
Well, to be fair, there WAS a prologue (and an appropriately-used one), so I guess it wasn't as bad as it could have been. hahaha It's now been rewritten to bury the dream a little deeper into the story.
The "family," hm? If I'm any of those things, it must come from the Butler line! *grins* Thanks, Joylene! :DDelete
Oh goodness. Don't you hate recommendations like that? It makes me want to rip out the first fifty pages.
It wasn't that bad, Melissa. Besides, it was fun getting to help shovel. ;)
Hmm... I agree with not starting a book with backstory or dreams. Because if the dreamworld is so interesting, maybe it's better to just write about that instead. :-)ReplyDelete
Thanks for visiting, Misha. ; )Delete
Well said, Misha! Thanks for stopping by! :)Delete
Great post! I'm a new follower from the campaign. Nice to meet you ... both! :)ReplyDelete
Nice to meet you, too. Glad you stopped by. = )Delete
Nice to meet you, too! Thank you! :DDelete
Thanks for the great post. Nice to meet you, just stopping by from the Campaign!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Kerri! :)Delete
Hi, Kerri. Glad you stopped by. = )Delete
This is a great post. I've followed both of you from the campaign. My first chapter needs sorting out, as it does start with a bang but then goes straight into backstory. The reader should be intrigued enough by the action to want to read the backstory when it comes. Nice to meet you both!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Nick! It's nice to meet you, too. :)Delete
Wonderful advice, Carrie! First chapters can be tough, but you've explained the do's and dont's well.ReplyDelete
I'm a new follower, Melissa!
Why thank you, Empress King! :)Delete
Yup, and it's quite a challenge. In the book I'm querying right now I have a couple of life changing things that happen. I tried to go with the most dramatic first, but it didn't work, so I had to go back to the first one with just a hint of the other to come. We'll see if it works.ReplyDelete
Good point! Sometimes we have to get a feel for the character, before we can appreciate those dramatic, life changing events. :) Good luck querying, Donna!Delete
Same here. Good luck!Delete
I'm a new follower from the campaign! Love Carrie's post!!! My first book I totally info dumped and couldn't figure out why no one wanted to read it. After deleting the first 15 pages and starting with the action (thanks, Janette Rallison for shredding my first chapter) it got published last year!ReplyDelete
BTW...I'm not in the "loop" on the list. Rachael hasn't put it in yet. You can follow me at
Thanks, Betsy! Congratulations on your publication! That's wonderful. :)Delete
LOL - Join the first chapter re-write club. I think a lot of writers have been there. ; )Delete
Nicely done, Carrie!ReplyDelete
And nice to meet you, Melissa. New follower.
Thanks, Melodie! :)Delete
I think many of us share that problem. ;) Nice to meet you, Erin!ReplyDelete
Carrie often makes me spit drinks on my monitor, too! And it warms my heart that she has faith in me. :) Awesome first chapter advice!ReplyDelete
Yup. We're lucky to have Carrie.Delete
Thanks for visiting, Peggy.
Why thank you, Pegasus! :DDelete