Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Goals of Your First Chapter

Just like your query letter, your first chapter has a job to do. The goals of your first chapter are as follows:

1. Grab the editor’s, agent’s or reader’s attention by your compelling first few lines, sentences and paragraphs. 

In THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak, his sixth line reads “You are going to die.” What? Why?! You are immediately intrigued, curious, maybe even frightened, but you keep reading.

2. Introduces the main characters.

In THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, on the first page we’re introduced to Katniss, Prim, their mother, their cat and on page six, we meet Gale. By the end of the first chapter, we know these characters well, know about the reaping and learn Prim has been selected as a tribute. (A collective gasp was probably heard in every bedroom.) We know Prim will not survive the Hunger Games, but Katniss, the hunter, the defiant, the courageous has the skills to make her a formidable opponent.

3. Hints at theme.

In THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS by Katherine Paterson, we learn in the first chapter Miss Ellis, the social worker, has placed Gilly with multiple foster families desperately trying to find a home for her. The theme is about love and belonging.

4. Sets the tone.

Is your story a silly, laugh out loud, adventure like SUNNY SWEET IS SO NOT SORRY by Jennifer Ann Mann or is it a serious subject like rape in Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK?

In SAVVY by Ingrid Law, we learn in the first two pages that the main character’s brother can produce hurricanes complete with hurricane force winds, uprooted trees and pelting rain that makes everyone run for cover. This story promises an unsettling ride where anything is possible.

5. Lays down the foundation for conflicts or problems that will arise later.

In WRINGER by Jerry Spinelli, Palmer doesn't want to be a wringer at the 63rd annual Pigeon Day, but it is inevitable, it is a rite of passage for every 9-year-old boy. Short of catastrophic illness, there’s no way out.

Once you've completed your novel, you may have to revise your first chapter to strengthen or include one or more of the elements listed above. 

You can do it!

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