Writing The Perfect Opening Chapter… and what not to do

The first chapter of your novel is important; its where you’ll hook your reader, introduce your protagonist, hint at the antagonist, reveal their goal and introduce the stakes. And that’s not all, writing the first chapter will set up the rest of your novel, linking all of the plot points together.

Are you overwhelmed yet? I know I am. I thought I knew how to write a great first scene. Turns out, I was wrong and in today’s post I’ll tell you why.

We’re constantly told not to open with a clique start: No starting in the middle of a battle scene, waking up from a dream, or with lots of internal monologue while your character does something mundane like washing the dishes.

But we’re also told to show the character in his ordinary life, just before a pivotal point which will start the story and raise the stakes. BUT make sure it’s not the inciting incident, because that comes a little later. What?


The first chapter should focus on your main character, don’t clutter the scene with secondary characters, unless they play an important role. Eeh?

Make sure you give the reader all the details; age, weather, time of year, appearance, their fears, a goal and, of course introduce the stakes. BUT don’t bog down the scene with exposition. Right?

World build: Know the rules of your magic system and adhere to them. BUT don’t throw too much at the reader and confuse them.

Start with an action scene to hook the reader, something to show the character actively engaging with the world around him, be careful not to write a passive character that gets led alone. BUT remember the reader doesn’t know the character yet, so why should they care if they get killed in battle.

Please, no prologues. Unless it adds to the story, them yes give the reader a prologue.  Ahh, screams at the conflicting advice and throws a fluffy pillow across the room.

Whilst wending my way through the S**t storm of conflicting information, I wrote a great chapter, but I also got it seriously wrong. I did not ask, Why should the reader care about my Main Characters?

You see, I’d used the checklist of Do’s and Don’ts, but completely forgot the power of empathy. We need our readers to become invested in our characters, right from the start.

And there we have it writer friends, there is no one-stop-post to fix your first chapter. It takes persistence, a continuation of building upon your craft, getting honest feedback, and practice, practice, practice.

Never give up, my writer friends. I believe in you.

Fantasy writer Lorraine Ambers blog banner

Please share your experiences of writing that all important first chapter, you know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by, until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2019.
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33 thoughts on “Writing The Perfect Opening Chapter… and what not to do

  1. I’m revising my first draft and I am certain that my first chapter has to be almost completely rewritten. I start with a scene of secondary characters as a way to introduce my main characters. These secondary characters then leave the stage and are never seen again. It was a way to get me to begin the book, many years ago, but now seems lazy and, honestly, a bit dull. I’m struggling with how to fix it, but I’m concentrating on fixing other flaws first.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wanted a prologue to show what’s at my book’s heart, but in Chapter 1 made sure action didn’t take too long to start. It’s by page 5 I read somewhere that you’ve got to hook them. The prologue initially was a dream, but I altered it so instead a dream is retold (only part of the prologue is that).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think the best advice is to keep the rules in mind but don’t overdo it. After all, if everyone followed the same rules to the letter, all the books would be one like another.
    Personally, I discarded two ideas before having my current opening (yes, a prologue) that, based on the feedback I received, works relatively well.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I started my story with my main hero, Ambrose, marching furiously into my villain’s, Mark Caten, office. Ambrose battles his way through Mark’s guards and is all set to punch his face in/utterly destroy him. Mark tells him off and abruptly dismisses him. Mark then calls one of his subordinates to “take care of” Ambrose. And that’s just the beginning. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think the beginning is the hardest part of the book. I’m on draft two of “Blue Cottage” and I really don’t like most of what I’ve written. But with five different beginnings, I’m going to take a chunk from idea #1, add it to something I like from idea #2 and see what happens. If it works out I’ll have something that will interest the reader and make them want to read more. I call this kind of beginning the building block start. Components of all 5 ideas will come together and eventually form the first chapter. By then I usually know what I want to have happen in chapter 2 but that’s when I refer to my outline.


    1. Yes, you have a great attitude. This is how we learn our craft, by editing, re-editing and then another rounds of edits.
      And the beauty of developing our craft is that we never stop learning.
      It might take a 100 tries, but eventually we’ll find the right start for our story.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. So true, Lorraine – those rules can chain us; rings of power? I’m about to rewrite the first draft of a mystery (during NaNoWriMo) and the first chapter is where the initial problem lies. Too many rules broken. LOL. I now envisage a prologue as my way to start as the MC has amnesia – a condition that another rule says is wrong in the opening. Maybe, I can make the opening work in the next draft of my police procedural/mystery.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post, Rainy! The conflicting opinions on things like prologues are a tricky one. Your advice on letting the reader know why they should care about your characters is spot on and given me something to think on as I plan my next project xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Brilliant advice as always, Lorraine! Very true that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to a perfect prologue, but if you make your audience empathise and invest in your MC from the start, they’ll keep wanting to read on. Definitely a big improvement I learned from my first draft!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. After months of editing my book we finally called it good. About a week later I called my editor and told her I was rewriting chapter one. Something was wrong. I wrote it in a day and I have to say it was the easiest part of the book I wrote. Looking back I realized it was so easy because I had already written the book. I knew everything. Who knows, maybe I’m on to something. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Great article. Thank you for say in prologue are ok if they do something for the story. One of my novels has a prologue and I have no interest in removing it. 😁 in fact many of my fave books have prologues.

    I always think chapter 1 should be given the hardest edit because it’s so easy to drop too much exposition in and not realise.

    Liked by 2 people

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