Who knew your first chapter had a job to do? Some of my examples are personal favorites, well known or current titles. The goals of your first chapter are listed below:
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. Introduce the main characters
In THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins, Rachel is a heavy drinker, divorced, and unhappy. She lives in Cathy’s flat, a former school friend, and frequently leaves drunken messes that Cathy cleans up. We learn about Rachel’s former life with Tom, her ex-husband, who she still loves. Rachel doesn’t respect boundaries and drunk calls and texts him which causes problems between him and his new wife, Anna. Rachel is obsessed with a couple that she watches through the train window at a signal stop. She calls them Jess and Jason and has invented a perfect, happy life for them.
3. Hints at theme
In THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS, a Newbery Honor, 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 humorous with silly plotlines line the CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS books by Dav Pilkey or is it a serious subject like gangs and police violence in THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas?
5. Lays down the foundation for conflicts or problems that will arise later.
In THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas, Starr and her friend, Khalil, suspected of being a drug dealer, run out of a party after shots are fired by a gang member. They drive away, but see the flashing lights of a siren behind them. We have a shooting in a black neighborhood and a cop pulling over the main character and her friend, what could go wrong?
Once you’ve completed your novel, you may have to revise your first chapter to include or strengthen one or more of the elements listed above.
You can do it!