Long time no see! I’ve been crazy busy with editing my book and school and haven’t had time to write the next installment, so I do apologize! But anyway.
This is similar to the last post, which was talking about the importance of first lines. If you’ve missed the previous installment, you can read it here.
This is going to be about the importance of first chapters. You can probably guess why this is so crucial, even more so than first lines. Your first chapter sets the stage for your book. If you screw it up first time around, it’s going to cause a lot of heavy editing to fix it. I speak from personal experience as most of my books’ first chapters are me trying to get a feel for the story from its earliest stages. And, being the beginning, I didn’t have an idea for how I was going to voice this story or anything because that usually becomes clear the further I write the story itself. Which has resulted in much tedious work rewriting the beginning of many of my books because I lacked a clear vision.
To put it simply, I want to save you all a lot of heartache by saying what is most crucial in your story’s opening. It can be helpful to think of it as literally setting the stage.
When you watch a play, you see the characters, the scene setting, and the tension of the plot at the beginning. While you don’t necessarily need to spell out the stakes in your first chapter, it’s crucial that you have your setting and some of your characters introduced from the start.
If I as a reader am reading your book and I either can’t see the setting your story is supposed to take place in or I have no idea who are what the story is about, I’m going to be bored and probably will quit.
This is where first lines can be important. They are the hook to your story. If you’re going with description, you’ll probably be setting the atmosphere for your story. (By the way, description is my favorite opening, personally.) If you’re going with dialogue or action, you’ll probably be introducing one or more of your characters. Either way, first lines and openings give you the opportunity to effectively set everything up.
There’s one more important aspect that can be a make or break for your opening. This may be something you change when editing, but it’s a life-saver if you already have it developed when you begin a new story. This is voicing.
Voicing is partly style and partly prose. (Correct me if I’m wrong!) Style is something that only comes with practice, but prose is something you can start working on even from the first stages of being a writer. Prose is essentially how you word and phrase everything while writing. Some people write more lyrical prose in the sense that it sings when you read it. Others have prose that is very matter-a-fact and is blunt. Readers are often divided on these things and you’ll find an audience either way.
But, there is one type of prose that you must avoid. It’s called purple prose. Essentially, over-describing everything and trying to wax so eloquently poetical that the point you’re trying to make is lost in a sea of words that are, in the end, meaningless. Maybe you guessed by that previous sentence that I was trying to make an example of purple prose. While I do love poetical prose and especially prose that sings off the page, purple prose is an extent that I hate. Of course, part of this is personal preference. One classical author in particular, G.A. Henty writes in purple prose and there are many readers that love him. But I don’t. If you write in purple prose, then maybe you will find readers that love it, but in most cases, it’s not something to pursue, especially if you’re looking to be traditionally published.
Hopefully this gives you all some ideas as to what to keep in mind in your first chapter. If you’re looking into querying or traditional publishing (though any type of publishing is also important for this!), your first chapter matters because it’s often going to be your selling point to your agent or press and eventually your readers.
I believe one of the reasons I got so many rejections (besides the fact that my debut novel is a very niche work!) was because my first chapter was not the best it could be. While I had edited my book 5-6 times before querying, there were things in my first chapter that were still not as polished and refined as they should have been. When going through line edits, I realized that I should have had a clearer idea with how to begin that story as it would have saved me so much trouble.
Don’t worry if your first chapter is a wreck. You can always change it with editing. But it certainly helps to have a clear goal with it even from draft one.
I hope you all found this helpful and feel free to continue discussion in the comments below!