Peggy Bechko’s World: Does Your Novel’s 1st Chapter Explode Out of the Gate?

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by Peggy Bechko

Speaking of books:

The first chapter of your book is important.

Very important.

It doesn’t seem like such a big thing, the first chapter, or does it? It’s the beginning, that which should tantalize your readers, draw them in and hold on tight. So full of promise – what adventure lies ahead?

That first chapter shouldn’t be the thing to set terror fluttering in the heart of the writer, but rather to be exciting, invigorating, fun! That first chapter can lead to so much. It can grab readers. It can hook a bored editor who’s looking for the kind of book you’ve written. It can keep a browser on Amazon reading that Kindle edition and asking for a full sample leading to that coveted sale because that reader is hooked and just can’t stop reading.

So, NUMBER ONE: don’t succumb to terror. Don’t let the white of the screen before you intimidate you.  There are all sorts of warnings out there that are a trap to intimidate writers. “In the beginning,” they say, “grab me from the first sentence!” or “Don’t waste a single word!” or “get it moving, start your story somewhere after the first couple of chapters and skip the intro altogether.”

Heard this? Read this? Between writing coaches, teachers, editors, agents and script readers it feels like all they’re out there to do is to intimidate writers and scare them into giving up before they even start.

Okay, you, as a writer, don’t need all that tension. The truth is, they’re all looking for that great book and you just might have it. So relax. They aren’t actually expecting perfection from writers. They’re looking for originality and powerful. So breathe in, breathe out and get those first words up on the screen; just let the words flow. The bad and the good.

Editing time will be the time to sort it all out. Oh, and by the way, as a general observation, it’s just fine to want to write a book to entertain. It doesn’t have to have a great and deep message or some thrumming theme. Write what your inner writer wants to write.

NUMBER TWO: have a light touch with description. Yes, yes, I know, you can see it all in your mind, every blade of grass, every cricket chirping at a window, every hair on the black dog’s head. Sounds, sights, emotions, textures and colors. The story you’re writing is so powerful you want the readers to be right there with you, to be immersed in the story.

But don’t feel you have to spill it all in those first few sentences in that first chapter. Sketch out the bones with enough details to give it some punch. Your readers don’t want to hear about the weather, every detail of the hero’s street and how long he’s lived there all in the first few sentences.

Readers always trust writers to fill in detail as the story moves forward. What’s needed in the beginning is those few details, just a taste, just enough to give a feeling of place. Then trust yourself to add the needed information along with the forward movement of the story.

Now turn that blank white screen into a writer’s chapter to be proud of.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. blog. Learn more about her HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.