This morning I got an email from a writer that I found very
disheartening. It went something like this:
I have written a great novel that I’d
like to send to you in the hope of obtaining representation. Now I know that the first chapter doesn’t really
work, but the rest of it is very good, and I know that you’ll love it if you
read the entire manuscript. Does that really matter? Should I send it to you
now or wait until I figure out how to fix the first chapter?
At the risk of repeating myself: Yes, your story opening
DOES matter. Because if the beginning doesn’t work, the rest doesn’t matter. The
truth is that few readers—and even fewer agents and editors—will read past a
poorly executed first chapter. That’s
why I do so many First Ten Pages Boot Camps and that’s why I’m writing a new
book about story openings called BEGINNINGS:
How to Craft Story Openings That Impress
Agents, Engage Editors, and Captivate Readers
that Writers Digest Books
will publish in the fall. Because I know how much the beginning matters—and I want
to help as many writers get past that first hurdle in the novel-writing process
as I can.
The First Page Sells
That’s what they say in publishing. So take the time to craft
a first page, a first scene, a first chapter that engages readers—and keeps
them reading. Here’s a checklist
designed to help you ensure that your first chapter:
Too often the answer to this is, “not
much.” Make something compelling happen!
Why will the reader care about/relate to the
Readers want to fall in love with the
protagonist at first sight.
How do you want the reader to feel? What have
you done to evoke that feeling?
Art is meant to be an emotional
experience, not simply an intellectual one. Make your readers feel something.
Have you used all the elements of fiction at
your disposal—setting, plot, character, theme, etc.?
So many first pages fail to weave in
all these elements—and you need them all to write fully realized scenes.
Have you chosen the right voice?
When the voice is right on, readers
Does the dialogue ring true?
Bad dialogue kills the reading
experience faster than most anything.
Are the story questions strong enough to keep
the reader turning the pages?
Without story questions, there’s no
Is it clear what kind of story you’re telling?
Readers play favorites with genre;
they want to know what kind of story they’re reading right away.
What makes this story different from others of
You need to set your story apart
from the brand-name competition in your genre—and the sooner the better.
Have you gotten the point of view right?
The misuse of point of view is one
of the big reasons I pass on stories, even when everything else works.
Is the scene well-written and well-edited?
If your story opening passes this checklist test, then you
may be ready to shop your work. Good
luck—and happy querying!
Labels: agent, beginning, chapter, craft, editor, fiction, first page, First Ten Pages Boot Camp, genre, novel, once upon a time, opening, Paula Munier, reader, readers, scene, story, Writers Digest, writing