Functions of the opening chapter
1. Establishes setting
2. Establishes mood
3. Introduces characters
4. Foreshadows events to come
5. Raises questions
6. Creates suspicion
7. Raises expectations
Decisions, decision, decisions
1. Point of view – whose story is it?
3. Tense – past or present?
4. Where to start the novel?
5. What scene will you use to open?
6. What is the theme about?
Checklist for effective beginnings
1. Begin at the point where your protagonist is about to face the defining
problem of the book.
2. Chapter One is not about explaining everything to the reader.
3. Chapter One can serve several functions for your story.
4. Don’t give the reader too many facts or details – tease information out over 3-4 chapters.
5. Don’t introduce too many characters in the first chapter.
6. Ask yourself key questions about your main character.
7. Remember you are in the process of getting to know your characters.
8. Allow your characters to reveal themselves in the same way as you would allow a new friend to gradually disclose who they are.
9. Start with a situation which is connected with the theme and plot of the novel.
10. You don’t have to have a dramatic start.
11. SHOW the story and the characters. Let the reader make deductions.
12. Don’t use dialogue to divulge lots of information (the characters talking supposedly to each other, but really conveying information to the reader).
13. Engage your reader. This happens when the reader cares about the characters.
14. Make the beginning so interesting that it raises questions the reader MUST have answered.
15. Set the story in motion from the outset.
16. Be consistent in style. Don’t begin with fancy prose, then write simply.
17. The beginning should fit with the rest of the book – tone, mood, setting.
18. The genre you are writing will dictate style to some extent. A serious, literary novel might begin in a more leisurely, lyrical way, while a whodunit will need a taut and tense beginning.
19. As with other chapters be careful where you end this first one. Leave enough unsaid so the reader wants to read on to Chapter Two.