Monday, April 2, 2012

Chapter One Pitfalls

I love writing First Chapters! I really really do! It's a good thing too, since I'm on version 5 of this particular first chapter. They are so fun to write and so difficult to get right.

After getting feedback from wonderful, amazing betas (you guys are the best!!!), and taking a hard look at  ye olde Chapter One in context of my manuscript, I realized I was making several newbie mistakes. Even after a couple re-writes, I was still including too much backstory and flowery description, and was taking far too long to get to the inciting incident. So, yesterday it was back to the drawing board for me for my WIP's first chapter. As I got ready to rewrite, I decided to collect my notes and make sure I brushed up on the key problems new authors often have with Chapter One. After scouring the web, here's what I found:

     Common First Chapter Mistakes
  • Not enough action
  • Too much backstory
  • Too much description of setting and/or characters
  • Too many characters introduced
  • Starting with a dream, or killing off what appears to be the main character
  • A weak first sentence, weak first paragraph.
  • Using cliched phrases, reactions, characters.
  • Starting with a prologue

First Page Breakdowns:
With Agent Suzie Townsend 

What about you? What are your experiences with writing/rewriting chapter one? Do you have any first chapter weaknesses? Does it take a few tries to pin it down, or do you ace it the first time through?


  1. This is a great post! And it does tie in really well with my post today, haha. I can't even tell you how many times I've rewritten chapter one and it's emabarassing to admit how long it took me to learn the chapter 1 "don't"s you've listed here. What a process ;)

  2. Good points. I usually do a good job with chapter 1. It seems to e the easiest. After that I really have to focus to make sure everything flows with the story. That is my challenge.

  3. Thanks for all the awesome resources. My first chapter is the fifth bullet point, part 2. But only for the first 1.5 pages, then the MC comes in. And I was curious, what's wrong with a prologue?

    I agree. Chapter ones are my favorite. Particularly first lines. I have a weird obession with them.

  4. I know! First chapters are so fun. It's like the whole story is all spread out before you and anything is possible. I love it!

    Of course that doesn't mean that after I write it, the agents are going to love it, which is why I made sure I brushed up on this advice. A lot of the things I listed are (apparently) agent pet peeves: the problems they see, or devices that are overused.

    Amanda - thanks for the prologue question! I just realized I totally neglected to link to the resources on prologues (they're posted now)! I think the main issue is that agents tend to dislike reading prologues.

  5. Oh you've done so much research! I've rewritten my first chapter so many times, but still haven't found a first paragraph I really love. Sigh. Keep trying, I suppose! Thanks for all these links. They'll keep me busy tonight haha!

    I'm curious to see how your rewrite of chapter one will turn out :)

  6. COMPLETELY agree with the chapter one mistakes. And I'm with you- I can't tell you how many times I've re-written chapter one. My obsession has actually moved on to the final chapter of my WIP, which has now been completely revamped three times.

    Nice post!




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