By: Emily Wenstrom
The first chapter of a novel is arguably the most important—if a reader isn’t hooked, she won’t keep reading. And if that happens, nothing else you write matters.
Think of your first chapter as the tip of the iceberg—sure, there’s a ton more to your story that readers may not be seeing yet…but that’s what the rest of the manuscript is for. In the first chapter, you just need enough to hook the reader and get them curious about what’s going on under the water.
How to Write Your First Chapter
But what does it take to create that hook? I thought a lot about this as I wrote and edited my first novel. And my conclusion is that, while there are many different ways to creatively introduce a story in the first chapter, there are three key things a first chapter must do to pull a reader in.
1. Establish the main character
The protagonist is the reader’s conduit into the story. So you’ve got to make it easy for readers to make this connection—quickly.
This is simple to say, sure, but can be harder to execute. How can you be sure your protagonist hits the mark? Start your story from a place where your lead character is vulnerable or shows their strengths.
For example, it’s easy to immediately feel for Harry Potter because of how terrible his aunt and uncle are to him. It’s easy to love Katniss Everdeen right away because of her pragmatic strength as a provider and protector for her sister. Even unlikeable characters need to be able to make a connection with readers.
2. Establish a setting
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