Let’s talk about the first chapter of a book and the reasons why I scrap chapter one.
Chapter One: The Beginning. The first words of a story, the first scenes and events – for me – are equivalent to dipping your toes in the water, a temperature test, an experiment in preparation.
Obviously, this will not apply to all writers. I’m thinking that Plotter’s must have half as much trouble as Pantser’s, but I have found that my first chapter, in my first draft, often doesn’t add much to the story. As a Pantser, I get inspired, and I sit down and begin to write. I have occasionally begun projects with a scene actually meant for the middle of the book, but, I generally start at the beginning: chapter one. I start with new characters with new storylines and new dynamics.
And so what, right? Well, the problem is Chapter One ends up being an entire chapter of introductions and explorations. This may not sound like a problem, and it may not seem like one at first glance either, but the truth is that when you spend a chapter exploring the lives of your brand new characters in their brand new world, well… not a lot happens. The content isn’t vital in terms of story-line.
This, perhaps, still doesn’t sound horrendous. After all, I am starting at the beginning, just as my reader must start at the beginning; right?
Well, no. As story-tellers, we should never open with our own explorations of our content. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t write it this way – in fact, I encourage it. Free-writing is very stimulating and excellent for discovering your characters and your stories. But that’s our business – not our reader’s.
If you’re a Pantser like moi, I suggest you take a thorough look at your opening. Look at it; critique it; if need be, ditch it.
But… but… it’s set up! It’s introductions!
Nope. We don’t need an entire chapter fluffing around filling in the details of your character’s life, we need a hook. Your reader needs something to happen in those first few pages to make them want to read the next; you cannot hook them with the background details.
Take a look at Chapter Two. If you’re anything like me, that’s where the story starts. That’s when things start happening, when the story gets going. Of course, it’s probably going to need a little work. After all, you probably covered at least a couple of important details back in Chapter One. That’s why we suffer through this torture we call editing. Move some things around, maybe extend the chapter by a page, but trust me (if you’re anything like me), Chapter Two is where your story begins.
Your final ‘first chapter’, in fact, should probably be written last. Unless you have thoroughly pre-planned every last detail of your book (and still, even then) I honestly think you cannot write your best, most effective first chapter, the most important in the whole book, your hook, without first knowing everything else.
Write your book as you like – because you must start somewhere; begin in the first chapter if you like, start with your explorations if that’s how you work… but be sure to critically examine if Chapter One is really where your story begins.