Updated: Apr 16, 2019
This month, I’ve critiqued tons of ten-page samples, and most of them were the first pages of a novel. It’s reminded me how important the first chapter of your novel is. I know, I know—you’ve heard this a million times. But the first chapter represents the whole book. And if your first chapter isn’t fantastic, you may not get the chance to prove to a reader that the rest of the book is.
So, what does make an amazing first chapter?
The first sentence is oh-so-important, but here I’m going to focus on the whole chapter because that first chapter is like a miniature model of the whole book. It tells readers what to expect from the rest of the book and gets them interested enough to find out for themselves.
When I read those ever-important first ten pages, here’s what I look for.
Voice, mood, and tone
Writing that doesn’t show personality isn’t going to get far, even with the most compelling characters and plot ever. Make sure your voice is coming through your writing, and that you’re setting the mood and tone for the rest of the book. Is your narrator funny, sarcastic, or serious? Is this a light-hearted romp or a gritty emotional drama?
Your first chapter needs to be about the event that kicks off the rest of the story and gives your protag purpose. So start conflict. Upset your protagonist. That’s what spurs action and change. But make sure the events of the first chapter are relevant to the rest of the plot. I’m always impressed when something seems random in the beginning but ties into the story in ways I never imagined. And finally, keep the action balanced. There’s a happy medium between too much action and not enough, and you want your first chapter to fall into that sweet spot.