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Writing Your First Chapter

By Expert Author: Stephen Simmons

Writing the first chapter of a novel can be exciting and frightening at the same time. You have this fantastic story you want to share, but if you don't know how to hook a reader from the first chapter, no one will read it.
If you want readers to go on to the second chapter you need to know what to include in your first one.
The Hook
You need to include something that will hook the reader. Whether it's a unique character, a distinct "voice," an usual setting, or an unexpected event, there must be something that pulls the reader into your story, something that shouts, "Keep reading!"
Read your first chapter and see if you can pinpoint the hook.
Engaging and Realistic Characters
You are asking a reader to spend hours with your book. Will your characters hold the reader's interest? Are the characters engaging? Do they each have their own distinctive voice? What makes each one unique and interesting?
Don't make your characters so outlandish that you lose credibility. Unique is one thing, completely over-the-top is something else. Make sure that your characters feel real. Fill out a character sheet for each character and make sure you understand why that character needs to be in the story.
Characters are one of the most important parts of your story so take time to make them rounded and fully fleshed out. Don't make your characters simply place-holders that move about just to accomplish your plot. Give them depth.
You can also interview your characters. Ask them about their dreams, fears, strengths, weaknesses, childhood memories, likes, and dislikes. You might be surprised by what you discover.
Don't forget about where your story takes place. Make sure that readers know where and when this novel is set--you don't want your readers wondering. Include details that make the setting feel real, even if it takes place on Mars or far into the future. You want readers to believe this setting is a real place.
If you aren't familiar with your setting, do some research or do some world building. You don't need every detail of your world, but you do need a good understanding of what it looks like, what the political system is, and what the time period is. If you aren't consistent in your setting, a reader will notice.
The way your characters speak, including their speech mannerisms, is a great way to characterize them. Dialogue should not only give readers a glimpse of the character, but it should also move the story along.
Dialogue should also sound natural. Try reading your dialogue out loud and see how it sounds. If it's stilted or boring, you need to change it.
Story Goal
From the first chapter, readers need to know what goal the main character(s) wants or needs to achieve. If readers know what the character(s) wants then the reader can root for that character and the reader will be willing to invest his/her time in reading about that character. No one wants to read about a character with no goal and no direction.
A story goal can be revealed through dialogue, interior monologue, action, or reaction, but the reader must know what's important to the character(s) and why. Does your character need a job, want to climb a mountain, want to win the lottery, or need a heart transplant? Whatever the story goal is (what the character will be working to achieve throughout the story), readers need to know it.
Mechanics Matter
Be sure that your first chapter as well as the rest of your book is free from grammatical and spelling errors. Do not depend on the spell checker to find your mistakes. Once you've fixed all the errors, let someone else read it over. In fact, let several people read it over to catch anything you might have missed.
Your first chapter is the introduction to your writing. You want it to be as clean and error-free as possible.
So What?
At the end of the chapter, you want a read-on prompt. You don't want your reader to say "so what?"
To avoid this, end the chapter in the middle of the action or with a cliffhanger. Imply that something really important or exciting or devastating is about to happen so readers will want to keep reading. Don't give a reader any excuse to stop reading at the end of the chapter.
Your first chapter is your best chance to show off your story and to invite readers to take this journey with your characters in your world. If you include the above elements, readers will be more likely to continue reading.

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